What I Learned from My Breast Cancer Scare (And America Can Too)

Updated: Jan 7, 2020

When I started having pain in my right breast, I was disconcerted, but not as disconcerted as I was when my doctor had me in the next day to check it out. Turns out pain is not a good symptom. Sure, it could be an infection, but the worst case scenario was in play. Don’t worry, we’re catching it early, whatever it is. I had to sit on this for the holiday season- Merry Christmas, Jenny. I just bought new bras- I was going to be mad if I didn’t get my money’s worth out of them. With the internet as an enabler, I catastrophized.

A couple expensive tests later, it’s inflamed tissue. Ibuprofen and warm compresses.

I have a confession to make. Despite the fact that we are pushed from puberty on to do self exams every month, I have done them sporadically at best. I really should know better. I’ve been in for diagnostic mammograms and ultrasounds twice. 

Between having dense breasts and a father who has had cancer, I’m high risk. Why didn’t I do them? Fear? Arrogance? There is certainly at least unconscious arrogance in walking away from two diagnostic mammograms/ultrasounds and not starting exams posthaste. And it got me thinking.

I got lucky but America did not- we’ve got a cancer in our country and have for a long time. So while we fight for our lives, we need to examine our habit of not examining ourselves.

We have never gotten in the habit of self-examination and like my previous clean ultrasounds, we used things like Obama’s election to lull ourselves into a false sense of security and continued to skip self-examination. In that case, we focused on the election of the first person of color as president and glossed over the horrifying amount of racism that came out of the woodwork during the race. 

Look, it’s not about an expectation that we’ll catch every single little thing before it can grow into something bad. It’s about maximizing the chances that we catch something before it gets out of control bad. An unfortunate product of the patriarchy and white supremacy has been this tendency to coast without much self-reflection. We focus on Lincoln abolishing slavery as an act of good, and not his real motivations- to bring the South to its knees economically. And as divided as we are today, with an impeached racist president to boot, what have we learned since? 

*Pig law, Jim Crow, **redlining, Confederate statues staying up, Japanese Internment camps, the horrid treatment of indigenous people and immigrants of color over the centuries, continued segregation that is informally enforced- yet Trump’s election was a bucket of cold water in the face of so many people. If we had paid more attention to the state of our union, maybe it wouldn’t have been. Maybe we could have headed this off at the pass. Maybe we could have made life better for all Americans.

The good news is, just like for me, it’s not too late to start self-exams. As Star Wars pointed out, the Dark Side defeats us by making us think they are more of them than there are of us. There are more of us. We need to act like it. And once we have cleaned house Return of the Jedi-style, let’s start self-examination regularly. Even if it’s scary, even if it turns up something untoward- we treat it, we keep self-examining. 

We can do this. I believe in us. Now soap up and check things out, why don’t ya, America?



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