From the Left



Just Do It

Susan Estrich on

No, not run a marathon, although that would be nice. Lacing up my sneakers would be a step. This is easier, or it should be.

Make the appointment; that's the first step here.

Going is the second. That's where I ran into trouble.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. It's ending. It's the month where, despite our best efforts at avoidance and denial, the mammogram message is almost unavoidable. you look at your calendar, and for most of us, there is only one answer: You're behind schedule. It's been more than a year. Someone you know and maybe someone you love has been diagnosed since your last mammogram. Someone younger. Someone who takes better care of herself. Someone no more likely to have a lump than you.

So, why aren't we lining up? Why -- we who raced to get ourselves or our kids or spouses their COVID-19 test -- do we somehow, every year, fall behind on mammograms?

I know the tricks. Schedule them around a child's birthday. I started with February. Then February became May, and all of a sudden, it's October and I'm behind.

This year, my doctor, who knows me, made the appointments for me. A veritable afternoon of women's health tests. Marked on my calendar for weeks in advance. I couldn't find anything that would force me to cancel. No conflicts. My assistant crossed off the whole afternoon. What could stand in the way of me making the appointment? I was, miraculously (actually, not miraculously, but because Perla is more efficient than me), only a few months late, although I'm not sure that's right. It might be a year and a few months if I checked, which, of course, I didn't.

I woke up with a stomachache that simply would not quit, not my regular stomachache but a special, Tuesday-is-mammogram-day stomachache that made the prospect of a mammogram ...


Mammograms aren't pleasant, but neither is having a baby, but that didn't stop me from racing to the doctor every time there was a sonogram to be had. Dentist visits are more unpleasant than mammograms, but I go without making a federal case of it. And pelvic exams? We women face a lot of unpleasant moments in our medical landscape, but few inspire the denial and avoidance that mammograms do.

But here's the lesson I learned this week. It's what happens when you cancel because you wake up with a stomachache.

My new appointment is Dec. 30. Next available. Not next week. Not even next month. Practically next year.

Does having women in high places make a difference? Two members of Congress, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, both breast cancer survivors, have introduced legislation aimed at making it easier for women to get appointments for mammograms. They knew what I didn't. It isn't just avoidance and denial. There is also a huge problem of accessibility. I live in America's second largest city, and I have very good insurance, and hopefully, a two-month wait won't matter. But there are women for whom the wait is far longer, the costs far greater and months waiting does matter.

Former Rep. Pat Schroeder once said that men fund what they fear, and they did not fear breast cancer. An enormously successful movement has grown up to support breast cancer research and treatment, and while there are certainly arguments to be made that science and not politics should determine funding priorities, it doesn't work that way. Women have made enormous strides. But if you think we're come far enough, if you're ready to put your pink ribbon aside for a year, try getting an appointment for a mammogram. It may make you think again. Or schedule well in advance. But if you haven't, for goodness' sake, just do it: Make the appointment. We've come a long way, but it's still 1 in 8.


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