The novel coronavirus has impacted our world in ways many of us could never have imagined. But women undergoing treatment for breast cancer, including those trying to prevent it, have faced a unique set of challenges.
Having a mastectomy can be life-altering. As someone who underwent a preventive double mastectomy at the age of 26, I know firsthand the physical and emotional repercussions of this type of procedure. I chose to preventatively remove my breasts because, by the time I turned 16, I had already lost my mother, grandmother, and great aunt to breast cancer, with my mother discovering her own breast cancer at 27. Her diagnosis was the result of an early mammogram, which she only received after months of persuading her doctor and being repeatedly told that she was “too young to have breast cancer.” Her first mammogram identified an invasive tumor measured at the size of a golf ball. By the time it was removed, only a few months later, the tumor had grown to the size of a grapefruit.
The sad reality is that my mother’s story is not unique. Young women are often denied screening. And by the time cancer is discovered, it’s too late. This is why breast cancer screening, at any age, is vital to the health and well-being of women. However, it’s one of the latest victims of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Access to life-saving screenings like mammograms, MRIs, and breast ultrasounds has been deemed “non-essential” in a COVID-19 world. These screenings afford women the opportunity to catch breast cancer early (when it’s most curable) or give them the information they need to save their own lives through preventative surgery. By postponing annual screenings, the healthcare industry is primed to receive an onslaught of late-stage breast cancer diagnoses, increasing the ever-expanding burden women face during this pandemic.
Now let’s imagine for a moment receiving a breast cancer diagnosis in 2020.
If you’re thinking: “Surely cancer patients must have access to care during the pandemic”—well, you’d only be half right. Women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and have undergone a mastectomy are also being denied access to breast reconstruction surgeries—now classified as “elective procedures.” However, affording women the ability to reconstruct their breasts is not elective, it is simply the completion of their medical treatment. And while breast reconstruction may look different for every woman, it is often vital to the health and well-being of those faced with a mastectomy. By denying access to this important part of medical care, we are likely welcoming a myriad of other health issues as a result. While we all take the necessary precautions to eliminate the spread of coronavirus, the healthcare industry should take particular caution in avoiding myopic restrictions impacting the health and well-being of women.
As such, I would encourage all women to take time to learn what they can do to be proactive in their breast health. Small things, such as learning how to correctly perform a self-breast exam can be vital in early detection. Implementing this five-minute ritual once a month could save your life! Interested in learning how? A step by step tutorial (and other helpful tips) can be found on Instagram, YouTube, in blog form or you can tune into Create and Cultivate’s “Self-Care Sunday” on IG Live on October 11th at 10 AM PDT for a live demonstration. See you then!
About the Author: As a 24-year-old Miss America contestant, Allyn Rose made headlines across the globe with the controversial decision to undergo a preventative double mastectomy after losing her mother, grandmother, and great aunt to breast cancer. Allyn’s story inspired celebrities like Angelina Jolie and a new generation of women to take charge of their healthcare choices. Determined to encourage other women to know that their scars are beautiful, Allyn boldly became the first woman with a mastectomy to model for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit. She is the founder of The Previvor, a 501(c)(3) non-profit women’s health platform, which serves as a resource for women undergoing mastectomy and the creator of the #SelfExamGram, a social media movement encouraging women to perform a monthly self-breast exam.