October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month!

By Kate Meyer*

Have you ever been on the phone with the Second Lady of the United States? I have! In fact, Dr. Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President and long-time ally for women’s rights Joe Biden, told me all about her work raising awareness about breast cancer during the White House conference call last Friday in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Dr. Biden co-hosted the call with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius. The duo, along with Tina Tchen, Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, convened the call in order to raise awareness about breast cancer in women of all ages, the importance of early detection, and affordable prevention and treatment options. And the White House turned pink for the occasion!

Even I, with my squeamishness and predisposition to passing out in doctor’s offices for fear of needles, was fascinated by the science of breast cancer they shared with us. Sebelius had both good news and bad news about early detection of the disease. The good news was that early detection can bring the five year survival rate to 98%. The bad news is that late detection can lower it to a mere 23%. Unfortunately, a recent study revealed the racial disparities in early detection. According to this article, Black women and Hispanic women experience greater delays in obtaining a diagnosis than White women. Even with insurance, the delay in diagnosis time between White and Hispanic women was 36 days—over a month!

All of the speakers on the call harped on the point that breast cancer is a very personal disease. The two breast cancer survivors on the call, Lorene Nelson and Joy Foster, shared very moving, personal stories of their experiences and how it has motivated them to raise awareness. 500 women a day are diagnosed with the disease. Clearly this is a disease that touches many people’s lives.

But the call did not end on a sour note. Sibelius emphasized that the Affordable Care Act will soon require insurance plans to provide free recommended preventive care like mammograms. All new insurance plans won’t be able to deny you coverage based on any pre-existing conditions, such as being a woman or already being diagnosed with breast cancer. Sebelius also highlighted that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) allocated $1.3 billion dollars for new cancer research. Here’s hoping that by next October, when we see the Pink House again, we’ll be one step closer to equal, affordable healthcare and to that elusive cure.

*Kate Meyer is a Research and Programs intern at the National Council for Research on Women. She recently graduated from Cornell University where she studied Government , Spanish and was a member of the Cornell Women’s Resource Center Advisory Board.

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