Mammograms, breast exams, follow-up doctor visits, costs delivered with lack of compassion

October 24, 2018 in News

By Deja Abdul-Haqq,

Contributing Writer,

Estimated new cases, 2018 (by cancer type)Estimated deaths, 2018 (by cancer type)When the nurse told me the image of a mass was captured during my mammogram, I tried hard to listen to everything else she said. But, I was also telling myself to not be scared and I couldn’t hear us both. I remember nodding to accept my secondary appointment at the breast imaging center. I remember walking across the clinic parking lot thinking I was not prepared to handle what was coming next because I didn’t know what to expect.

My secondary visit spat on my bleak expectations.

After the screening, I was placed in a room to wait on the results of my secondary mammogram. Once the doctor came into the room, she never looked at me. She engaged with other staffers about my file and looked back and forth at her chart and the monitor presenting internal digital pictures of my breasts. I didn’t look at the screen. Instead, I watched faces for indicators of my condition in the hopes that this human condition would give way to human compassion, if needed. But suddenly, the doctor did an about face and started to walk toward the door. Still looking at her chart, she said something about it being difficult to extract my information from their system because I had two case files: one with a hyphen in my last name and another without. She chastised me for the error as if the internal issue could possibly be my error. Then she said to follow up in six months.

During this vulnerable time, I was treated poorly and no one explained to me what was happening with my breast. So, I picked up my wounded spirit and left with my questions, my fear and my lump.

The experience was a violation of my rights as a patient, as a vulnerable person during a vulnerable moment, and as a human being. It didn’t help that in six months when I returned for my follow-up exam, I was told the visit would cost over $800 out of pocket.

According to the American Cancer Society, the number of estimated breast cancer deaths represents nearly 40 percent of the number all new estimated cases of breast cancer in Mississippi. Many of those deaths are attributed to late diagnosis due to a lack of screening. Beyond the standard reasons a woman delays or dismisses getting a screening, including being too busy, the pain or discomfort of having a mammogram, oblivion to the possibility of breast cancer because they feel and look healthy and do not think they are at risk, or the fear of being diagnosed with breast cancer, there are also thousands of women that avoid breast cancer screenings for the same reasons many vulnerable populations (e.g., women, the elderly, the poor, people of color, LGBTQ communities, people living with HIV) don’t seek medical screenings and care: the shame of being disrespected and ill-informed during our most vulnerable moments.

Fortunately, for me, after I returned for my follow-up nearly two years later, the staff was quite pleasant and the physician was thorough, patient and provided me with all of the information I needed – including the fact the mass had not modified in size leaving me free to leave with a clean bill of breast health …and my little lump.

It’s is hard to take charge of your health when the systems we depend on seem to be working against us. But we have a responsibility to fight for ourselves. There is no cavalry. We have to stand up for our own breast health and demand quality treatment.

Breast cancer, as with many other health disparities that disproportionately affect vulnerable communities, gets the upper hand when care providers do not invest in and respect the whole patient. But we have the power and right to demand the respect from our care providers, health care systems and the legislative process that either ignores or catapults health screenings and culturally-competent care to the forefront of Mississippi’s agenda.

It’s a long row to hoe – the battle against breast cancer. And we are all on the same team, we must all fight together.