Wednesday, February 06, 2008
I stole an issue of Time magazine from my doctor’s office last week. (We get Newsweek these days.) I learned some shocking and sobering stuff, mostly about breast cancer and its status in developing nations.
First of all, did you know that an estimated one million new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in the world this year? About 500,000 new and existing patients will die from the disease. Feel like you know way too many women who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer lately? The fact is that one woman in eight in the US comes home from a meeting with her doctor with this grim news.
According to the article in Time, breast cancer used to be a “malady that mostly affected white, affluent women in the industrial hubs of North America and Western Europe.” Now, it’s everywhere. By 2020, this article goes on to say, “70% of all breast cancer cases worldwide will be in developing nations.”
But, as you have probably already guessed, detections and care are not proportionate worldwide. “Half of all Indian women with the disease go entirely without treatment. In South Africa, only 5% of cancers are caught in the earliest phase of the disease. In the US, that figure is 50%.” In places like desperately poor Kenya, if you don't have the means to travel overseas for treatment, a woman just basically "sits and waits for her death."
And, of course, cultural understandings of the disease differ wildly. “Americans may live in a world of pink ribbons and ‘Livestrong’ bracelets, but in other parts of the globe, breast cancer is still a shameful secret. Every three minutes an Egyptian woman is informed that she has the illness, and one of her first fears is that her husband will leave her. In India, women with breast cancer may be forced to use different plates and spoons because of the widespread belief that the disease is contagious.”
And so, of course, I think of my African women friends as I go through this experience… as I go for my mammogram and needle biopsy and lumpectomy and, tomorrow, mastectomy. As I share openly with everyone, as I am not shunned, as I get the surgery and treatment I need.
I know it is unequal; I know I happen to be on the lucky end.