Ask any of her friends and they will tell you, Martha did everything right. She was trim and fit, exercised religiously, and had an excellent diet. She was the picture of health. Yet she, like millions of other American women, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I’m telling you my story because I am no different from anyone else who has ever encountered breast cancer. I am certain that no one has stood in line to take the hit of breast cancer. I’m also certain that anyone experiencing breast cancer dislikes being put in the position of being courageous or spending untold hours considering the effects of breast cancer and its impact on ourselves, our families and future generations.
But we don’t have choices in this disease. No one with breast cancer deserves to have it. No one did anything to really cause it. No one was singled out to be a target of this disease. It just happens, and then we have to deal with it.
With research where it is today, we can and should be doing so much better. I don’t even know how to communicate the intensity that I feel about this last statement. It is unconscionable that we have accepted the status quo and have settled into just treating breast cancer rather than diagnosing it earlier.
We need to provide the technical component that doesn’t put a huge burden on the person. Think about it: We are asked to go to one doctor for a general exam. Then, we’re expected to go to another specialist for a mammogram. And, yes, we also need to perform a breast self-exam on a monthly basis. This approach leaves so many variables open and so many opportunities for failure.
Then (and this is the worst part), if breast cancer is found, then the person is somehow guilty for not doing something earlier or finding it earlier. Or, if it cannot be found until later, the doctors take a hit: “That doctor didn’t find my breast cancer.” Or, the blame game begins. “She probably didn’t have her mammogram on time,” or “She probably didn’t do her breast self-exams.” “It must run in her family, but not in mine,” or “She probably should have exercised more.” “She probably didn’t eat right,” or “I feel sure she had too much stress and didn’t handle it very well.”
We must be kinder to ourselves and to each other. We must act to provide technology to remove the opportunity for blame, guilt and disassociation from the true vulnerability that exists for us all with breast cancer. We are all in this together. No one is free from this disease.
OK, I’ll take a deep breath and try to settle down so I can continue telling you about Sherlock’s project.
Following surgery, as I was going through chemotherapy, I walked Sherlock a lot. And, I talked to others, hearing many women say, “I was diagnosed with breast cancer. They didn’t find it on imaging but …” Then, they would add how their breast cancer was found, very often accidentally. This kept haunting me because I knew it wasn’t how our medical community would want things to be. They would want to have a tool to be able to diagnose this disease more accurately, more reliably and earlier. Most breast cancer is in the body 5 to 8 years before the existing technology can detect it.
I tried to make the haunting go away. Sher and I walked a lot more. I kept hearing that same little voice that I had heard earlier encouraging me to investigate my Sherlock signal. Yep! Sure enough, it was Matilda saying, “You’ve been given a chance to be here, now what are you going to do with it?” Then, I’d think, “Oh, man, do I have to do this? I’m not anyone special. I’m not well connected. I don’t have lots of money. Surely, there must be someone else who could do this far better!”
I didn’t want to be the one to take on any large project. I didn’t want to be out of my comfort zone doing whatever it took to move this forward. I didn’t want to be noisy about having breast cancer when I was more comfortable being quiet about it. All I wanted was to know that research was looking for a better, more accurate, reliable and earlier method to detect breast cancer — so that we didn’t have to wait for it to do so much damage, so that we could intercept the disease earlier and begin treatment earlier.