Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Reality Check About Breast Cancer

By Kelly Cogswell, HuffPost

It's that time of year again when gangs of women in pink stride purposely down the sidewalk, and the NFL adds luminous fuchsia stripes to football uniforms. And, sure, many women's lives are saved by the big push calling attention to breast cancer. But other women are killed by the tits-crotch model of health care, giving them a false sense of security when their mammograms or pap smears come back negative.

The truth is that women are more likely to die from heart disease than all kinds of cancer combined. And when it comes to cancers, lung cancer is tops, then breast, then colorectal. Kidney cancer will get you before cervical cancer, and who checks for that? After cancer comes strokes and after that, chronic lung disease.

So why do most of our health check-ups still focus mainly on breast exams and pap smears, when we're a dozen times more likely to drop dead clutching our chests or hacking up a lung?

Prevention is part of it, and early treatment. Catch breast cancer early and your chances are good. That means fewer of us are dying from it. So numbers don't tell the whole story, and you still have to take care of your tits.

But there's also the misogyny factor. For centuries, the medical establishment has boiled down women's health to the female aspects of our bodies. No lungs or guts for us. No hearts. No little vessels waiting to explode in the head after a decade or two of cigarettes. And for dykes, don't forget the extra stress from lesbophobia.

No, the establishment is way more comfortable focusing on breast cancer, where the girly factor is reinforced by pink ribbons and fundraising walks held by cosmetic companies. Heart disease is so... butch. It makes you think of a fat guy dropping dead with a hotdog in one hand, a beer in another. Or a high-powered male exec who keels over between power meetings.

Another problem is the comparative difficulty of marketing heart disease prevention. For breast cancer, all you need to do is sell a quick visit to the gynecologist. But people fighting heart disease, strokes and lung cancer have to persuade folks to quit eating Big Macs and Snickers, get up off the couch and throw away the Marlboros. Not just for one afternoon. But weeks and months and years. The entire rest of their lives.

Lesbians (and bi women) probably suffer the most from the tits-crotch health care model. The community talks a lot about finding dyke-friendly health care providers because nobody's going to go to a clinic when they're afraid of a homophobe poking around in there. But because dykes smoke like chimneys compared to hets, are more likely to be heavy and have a ton more stress, it's absolutely urgent for us to have more general health care programs encouraging us to quit smoking and get fit. And for that matter, encouragement to come out. Hiding your sexual identity or living in the closet increases your stress level, which raises your risk for heart diseases, high blood pressure and strokes, not to mention depression and substance abuse.

Which brings me to the point, again. You want to save women's lives? Gotta look past that loverly pink.

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