My wife's annual mammogram has always been a time of great anxiety. It's my least favorite week of the year. Not because she has cancer but because she just might. And that fact scares her as it does me. So to hear this week that all emotional energy was a complete waste was a slap in the face to both of us - and to the millions of women who faithfully abided by the medical establishment's admonition that this annual rite of passage was mandatory.
Guys, if you don't know what al the fuss is about imagine going into a waiting room full of men, one or two of whom have no hair because they've already gotten very bad news.
You get led into a sterile room and are told to strip. Nurse Ratchet appears. In a clinical voice she tells you to place your manhood on a metal surface. You have to awkwardly adjust your posture as your sexual organ is squeezed painfully and zapped with radiation.
You put your clothes back on and go home. And then you wait. And wait. For the next week you wait for the call that will determine your fate. Finally it comes and you are too afraid to pick it up. All you can see are your young children's faces through your tears. You answer. The secretary is chewing gum. "Your test was negative," she says in a bored tone of voice.
You are safe. For now. Until you have to go through the whole process again next year.
Now imagine that, after enduring this torture again and again and after watching close friends go through chemo and going to more than one funeral, Nurse Ratchet appears on television to report that all the manhandling of your manhood has been for fun. It has no impact on whether you will need your penis cut off or will die from the man disease.
Don't get me wrong. It's not that breast cancer hasn't been the beneficiary of tireless efforts to cure the disease. Many have thankfully devoted their lives to the battle resulting in dramatically improved mortality rates. But the news this week shows just how far we all have to go. In underscores how we think about patients in this country, particularly if they happen to be women.
The timing of this announcement, with the Health Care Bill literally being debated on the floor of the Senate, is an amazing coincidence at best. It does leave me wondering if all this poking and prodding had been about men's sexual organs, rather than women's, would we be so cavalier about the process or its usefulness?
It's stating the obvious but we as men has just as much at stake here as women. We are talking about our wives, mothers and daughters. They are the ones who have been treated in a barbaric fashion, often left for days to nervously wonder their fate, and have now been told that all that agony is for naught.
As the husband of a 40-something woman and father of a 15 year-old daughter, I want to understand how it could be that mammography is really so useless to protect my loved ones when it was thought to be so crucial just a week ago? If current technology isn't good enough to accurately find cancer in the denser tissue of younger women than how about we improve the screening technology rather than just telling the woman that they should wait for advanced symptoms of cancer before seeking treatment?
The screening process also has to be improved and standardized across the country to make it more humane. A few hospitals, like Faukner in Boston, have led the way in this regard by having all the necessary experts on site to read mammograms immediately and discuss the results, and any further procedures, with patients in real time.
Not only should we improve the technology by which we screen for breast cancer, but hospitals across the country should be required to follow Faukner's lead and implement maximum wait times for results for mammograms and biopsies and require the radiologist or oncologist involved to talk to the patient directly to explain the results.
As men we should demand improved screening technology and protocol on behalf of our women, rather than standing by while they are poked like so much cattle and are then told that it was all some kind of sick joke.
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