Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Verdict Is In...Lives Expendable

I am in complete disbelief about the new healthcare guidelines issued today for mammograms. It's a hard pill to swallow when you find out that the value placed on your life is less than a few hundred dollars. I was so bothered by today’s news that I did something that I have never done before. I fired off a rather lengthy letter to the editor of Dallas Morning News. Of course, the likelihood if it getting published is slim, but I was overwhelmed with the consequences this decision will have for women all over this country. Mark your calendars. It won’t be on the news, but lives were lost today. I cried for the boys and girls that will lose their mother because she thought she was safe and decided to wait until 50, but never makes it. I cried for the women that will know they need it, but won't be able to pay out of pocket. So, they too will die. If there is one single woman that you know and love, send this to her. Send it to the men you know that have women they love. Send it to everyone you know that needs to hear it. People just don’t know the truth. I didn’t until it happened to me. It might take 2 minutes to read, but I know it will save lives. Here's my story and what I had to say:

From: Birlew, Yvette
Sent: Tuesday, November 17, 2009 03:47 PM
To: 'letterstoeditor@dallasnews.com'
Subject: Expendable Lives

June 29, 2009 I left work early to get a much overdue mammogram. I wasn't worried about it because in my mind I shouldn't even have to be doing it. I wasn't even 40. But my doctor insisted, so I went. It had been over 2 years since I’d had one. (They found some “harmless” calcifications when I had my original baseline at 35.) I went back for a 6 month follow-up a couple of times. Then I made the decision that I didn’t need to go anymore, at least until I was 40.

This trip to the mammogram place was different. I went in at 2:00 and walked out a little after 5:00, 9 films, 2 sonograms, and a probable diagnosis of breast cancer later. I also got an appointment for a biopsy. It was a full afternoon. Since then, nothing has been the same.

One of the most unbelievable parts of it all is this: 80% of all Breast Cancer occurs in Women with NO Family History of the disease. Some quote a higher percentage, some slightly less, but it’s right there around 80%. No mothers, no sisters, no cousins, no grandmothers. They call it sporadic. Now, I am that statistic. Who knew? I think if more women knew that, they'd never miss a mammogram. I certainly wouldn't have. I had heard so much about having a family history or genetic predisposition that it never occurred to me that I was at risk. No one in my family has ever had it, and I do not have either of the BRCA genes. Besides, isn’t that something that happens to women who are older than I am? That’s what I thought. It isn’t always true.

Since this diagnosis I have spoken to many people about breast cancer. Many tell me all about the frequency of their self-exams. It’s very good that women are doing those, but that is not enough. Don’t assume that because you feel nothing that you are okay. I couldn’t feel mine. My OB-GYN couldn’t feel mine. The people at the mammogram place couldn’t feel mine. Not even my breast surgeon could feel mine. Because of its location it was hidden away like a pipe bomb ready to secretly grow, flourish, and one day take my life. We found it with a mammogram. It really is that simple.

I happen to have a type of breast cancer that is so aggressive that my prognosis could have been quite different if it had the time to grow to a size you could feel. Thankfully, that is not the case. Now thanks to a bilateral mastectomy combined with reconstruction, I have a great prognosis. I will live to raise my young son. To be sure, we are waging war with chemo and adjuvant therapy. A year from now, it should be over. My hair will be growing back, my life returning to normal. Then I will join the ranks of the breast cancer survivors. Too many others won’t have the same outcome.

Now to my horror, I find that a government advisory panel has decided that women like me aren’t worth saving. My government believes that my life is expendable and so are all of the other lives of women who are diagnosed under the age of 50. “Statistically speaking” it isn’t worth the cost of the testing. Really? Tell that to my 5 year old son. Explain to other boys and girls like him that the numbers just didn’t work anymore. Let’s let the people on the advisory panel do that job personally. They can look into the eyes of those children and share that news.

They have justified their reasoning with the fact that some women mistakenly thought temporarily that they might have “it” and were distressed by having a biopsy. Have we grown that stupid as a country? Are we completely asleep at the wheel? Are we going to let them use a statement like that to dictate life and death decisions about our healthcare? Shouldn’t the doctors have a say? After all, I owe my life to my OB-GYN. He made me go. He wanted to be sure. I went because I trust him and my insurance paid for it. Today they say that this recommendation won’t affect our insurance coverage. I don’t believe that. Insurance companies are not in the habit of paying for things without encouragement. Soon, they won’t have to pay for these mammograms either.

This disease touches so many lives, and it takes far more than it should. Because of this new guideline many more will die. That will happen with or without changes in our insurance coverage because women will think it’s safe not to go. Some of them made that decision today. They don’t know it, but today some of them decided to die. They feel more confident that it won’t happen to them. The advisory panel said so. It must be true. Besides, it hurts and it’s embarrassing.

No one wants to do it. But, there is only one way to be sure. Get a mammogram. Pick up the phone and make the appointment. Make today the day that you decide to be sure. No one like me thinks it will happen to them, but 80% of the cases are just like me.

Yvette Birlew
Murphy, TX


Lori T. (Bird's cousin) said...

Hiya Yvette—I thought your letter was excellent; I'd be surprised if the DMN didn't publish it. I'm enjoying your "blog, though I wish you hadn't had this particular subject matter to write about. Brayden sounds like a great kid and the joy of your life. Awesome. Know, too, that I've forwarded your letter to the editor to all my San Francisco friends and I expect they will forward it on to their loved ones. You're on a personal journey of such magnitude, and I'm so very glad you're allowing others to vicariously experience your journey. Thinking healthy thoughts for you. :), Love, Lori T. (Bird's cousin)


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