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A Pink Roster

*Amy Robach, 42, *Anastacia, 34, Andrea Mitchell, 64, *Ann Jillian, 35, Ann Romney, 59, Anne Klein, 50, Bella Abzug, 73, Betsy Johnson, 58, Bette Davis, 75, Betty Ford, 56, Brigitte Bardot, 49, Carly Simon, 52, Chrissy Amphlet, 51, *Christina Applegate, 36, Cokie Roberts, 58, *Cynthia Nixon, 40, Dame Maggie Smith, 73, Diahann Caroll, 62, Dorothy Hamill, 52, Dusty Springfield, 55, *Edie Falco, 40, Elizabeth Edwards, 55, Erma Bombeck, 65, Evelyn Lauder, 71, Gloria Steinem, 52, Greta Garbo, 79, *Guiliana Rancic, 36, *Hoda Kotb, 43, Ingrid Bergman, 60, Jackie Collins, 71, Jaclyn Smith, 56, Jane Fonda, 72, Jennifer Saunders, 51, *Jill Eikenberry, 39, Jill Ireland, 48, Joan Kennedy, 69, Joan Lunden, 73, Judy Blume, 75, *Julie Chrisley, 39, Julie Harris, 56, *Kate Jackson, 39, Kathy Bates, 64, Koo Stark, 46, *Kylie Minogue, 37, Linda Ellerbee, 47, Linda McCartney, 50, Linda Tripp, 54, Lynn Redgrave, 60, *Marcia Wallace, 43, Marianne Faithful, 59, *Maura Tierney, 44, *Melissa Etheridge, 43, Minnie Pearl, 73, *Minnie Ripperton, 28, Myrna Loy, 70, Nancy Reagan, 66, *Olivia Newton-John, 44, Peggy Fleming, 49, Peter Criss, 69, Richard Roundtree, 51, Rita Wilson, 58, Robin Roberts, 47, *Ruby Dee, 45, Rue McClanahan, 63, Sandra Day O'Connor, 58, Sandra Lee, 48, *Shannen Doherty, 44, *Sheryl Crow, 44, *Shirley Temple Black, 44, *Susan Sontag, 41, Suzanne Somers, 54, *Tig Notaro, 41, VC Andrews, 63, Wanda Sykes, 47

This is just a snapshot of notable women (and men) and the age they were diagnosed with breast cancer. I’m sure there are some that I missed – and more yet to be diagnosed. These people have walked in our shoes. They have faced their mortality. Many have survived, some have not. When I initially began putting this list together it was going to be a way to wrap-up October…a listing of women and men from all walks of life, be it actors, singers, politicians, humanitarians, athletes, comedians that we can all relate to in some way – that have fought the same monster. But then the American Cancer Society changed their guidelines for mammograms from a baseline at age 40 to a baseline at age 45 and I looked at this roster a bit differently.

How many of these 74 people were diagnosed before the age of 45? Well, there are 23, they have the stars. In my own life however, since being diagnosed at 38 I personally know 35 women that I interact with on a regular basis that were all diagnosed before the age of 45. If I had never had my baseline mammogram at 36 (they were wavering back in the early 2000’s about the baseline being done between age 35 and 40) they would have never known how quickly my tumor had grown. They would have never known how aggressive it was. They gained knowledge and planned treatment based on that baseline.

Is the ACS now saying that we young patients do not matter? I ended up being diagnosed TWICE before my 45th birthday. Is the ACS saying that my life doesn’t matter? Or it matters less? What about all those starred names above – do they have nothing more to contribute?

To me – you need to do these screenings earlier, simply because in younger women breast cancer is far more aggressive and fast growing (much like how pap smears are done once a girl hits 18 or is sexually active). Cells divide quicker and there is a rich supply of hormones to feed off of. The earlier you can catch it, often the better the prognosis. Who wouldn’t prefer extra years instead of extra months? FACT: a diagnosis that is made after age 55 often reveals a slower growing cancer.

By shifting these guidelines every few years the ACS is creating a very nebulous grey space that is confusing. It lulls us into the ‘I’m not that age so I don’t have to worry about it yet’ mentality which is dangerous.

Screening is a decision that should be made between the patient and doctor, based on family history and overall risk factors. Until a blood test can detect breast cancer (ahhhh wouldn’t that be lovely) we need to advocate for ourselves. How about a baseline breast ultrasound at 30 (because younger breasts are denser breasts) and then a baseline mammo at 35 unless your doctor feels otherwise? Is a mammogram still the ‘gold-standard’? What about breast MRI’s, where do they fit in to this picture? I’m sure those have saved lives…oh wait mine. My second cancer was found through an MRI but was undetectable on a mammogram because it was considered a lesion – it hadn’t matured yet to a lump.

This is a big topic and we younger patients should not have to fight for the tests we believe we need when something just doesn’t feel right. Our concerns should never be dismissed because of government agendas or health insurance loopholes.

Get it together ACS, send a clear message and above all – like our bras - one size does not fit all.

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