We can win the war against breast cancer. I learned this first hand. This is my story of how I learned we could win this war – not just for me but for all women.
I have dense breasts. Dense breasts are as they sound – dense. Cancer is also dense. The two are difficult to tell apart on a mammogram. For this reason, my cancer was missed. By the time I felt heaviness in my breast, had a mammogram, and the cancer was detected, it was stage 4. That was 2018. It’s probably been missed since 2012.
The chance of having a good day again, healthy and free, was one in 100. That day, I promised to fight for my life and for everyone else in my situation. I kept my word.
Here is what I learned. My cancer escaped mammograms because I have dense breasts. More than 40% of women have dense breasts. The risks associated with dense breasts were not discussed with me. I was not offered an additional screening that could have caught the cancer early, nor did I know how to request it, nor was it covered by insurance. These same conditions still exist in most states.
My oncologist, Dr. Elyse Lower, and I assembled a team: UC radiologists Mary Mahoney and Ann Brown, Ohio State Reps. Sedrick Denson, and Rep. Jean Schmidt. Together, we drafted a model bill that guarantees all women the right to an annual mammogram, additional coverage for additional peak screenings, removal of age limits, and clear warning letters to women at risk dense breasts.
These few provisions alone will help ensure early detection and literally end thousands of breast cancer deaths each year. Wearing pink and wearing carnations, seeking to pass this law, I learned that once lawmakers learned the truth, they wanted to see this legislation passed. Without a single language change, HB 371 passed with only two negative votes from both houses.
It’s above politics. It’s about saving lives.
But what does Congress say? When we turned to DC, we found that instead of giving women the right to lifesaving technology, Congress was fighting over whether early detection guidelines should be followed as of 2008. Yes, guidelines over ten years old. As for research on vaccines and the “cure”, it is no longer a priority since Bill Clinton.
The question is simple: continue to be divided and miss opportunities to save thousands of lives or unite to end breast cancer.
Luckily, icons like Katie Couric and Kristen Dahlgren on The Today Show weren’t waiting either. Couric was following my story and when she interviewed me, she promised to bring this mission to the nation. Today, congressional legislation for the early detection of breast cancer is being pursued.
Now in my third year of complete remission, I know my cancer can come back. And I know there will be more women whose cancer will be missed. Millions of people live with this knowledge and this fear every day. Guess what? Again, the science is there. Now we need political will.
I learned that with a coordinated effort, we can end breast cancer as a fatal disease in as little as one year. We need your help to achieve this.
Every day Congress waits, more than 116 women die in the United States from breast cancer. Will you have to see yourself, your mother, your sister or your daughter die needlessly? It’s time to end breast cancer deaths.
What started as a fight for my life may end with the end of breast cancer. Let’s win this war. Cincinnati is the city that ended polio. Just as you thought our Cincinnati Bengals’ chances of making it to the Super Bowl were hopeless, that wasn’t the case. This fight found us. He found me. Let’s get it over with. Join me at timesupforbreastcancer.org. Let’s show the nation again how we Cincinnatians fought breast cancer and won.
Michele Young is a mother of five children and wife of Gregory S. Young. She is a 2020 Cincinnati Enquirer Woman of the Year and Julia A. Stauberg Lawyer of the Year from the Cincinnati Bar. More recently, she was recognized by the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County for her work to end breast cancer.