October is breast cancer awareness month. Many are wearing pink, and stores have a variety of pink merchandise to choose from. But what lurks behind the pink is more alarming than any cute shirt could ever convey. Women who have cerebral palsy are more at risk of not surviving breast cancer than women without a disability.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, with an estimated 249,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Women with cerebral palsy have a three times greater chance of dying from breast cancer, compared to someone without cerebral palsy. Women with disabilities are also 15 percent less likely to get a mammogram than women without a disability.
Why do women with cerebral palsy have such terrifying statistics with breast cancer? Unfortunately, there are a combination of reasons. Cerebral palsy affects each person so differently. From having one limb affected to the entire body being consumed with spasticity, cerebral palsy lacks consistency. That being said, medical staff training in assisting someone with cerebral palsy during a mammogram has been inconsistent.
When nurses, technicians and doctors treat you with disrespect, it is difficult to return to their care again. Some women who have cerebral palsy decide that it’s not worth the effort to fight for the mammogram. Women call ahead to let the mammogram technicians know what type of assistance they need, and when they arrive, no one is ready to help them. Also, the changing rooms are physically too small to maneuver a wheelchair and, if needed, for a personal care attendant.
In some cases, accessibility to the office to get a mammogram is the biggest obstacle. Public transportation isn’t reliable or even nonexistent. Some facilities have steps to get inside — even one step is one too many. The doorways can be too narrow to get a wheelchair into the exam room. There aren’t any power doors to enter the office. All of these components are just a few reasons why women who have cerebral palsy avoid mammograms.
From personal experience, I’ve had many things occur that made getting a mammogram even more challenging than needed. Technicians greeted me as a major inconvenience to their day. They talked to me as if I were a child, or just ignored me altogether and talked to my assistant. Since I have trouble getting my body to stay completely still, a mammogram can take a longer with me. Technicians can seem very impatient and rude as I try my best to sit for the best results. Dressing rooms have also been challenging as I needed help in a tiny room — obviously not meant for someone in a wheelchair.
However, despite my not so good experiences getting a mammogram, I’m glad that I never gave up having one. In January 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. As difficult as it was to have cerebral palsy, I never imagined that I could also have cancer. But cancer doesn’t discriminate, no matter who you are, your age, what you do, your appearance, or what disabilities you might already have. This is why getting mammograms and fighting for what you need are imperative to your health.
Now is the time to change the statistics and begin to make healthy choices. Women who have cerebral palsy need to request mammograms on a regular basis. Mammogram machines won’t be changed unless there is a need for them to change. Medical staff need to be educated on how to really help women who have cerebral palsy receive a mammogram. Women need to be treated with dignity and respect, all women, and they need to figure out the unique needs of their cerebral palsy.
Note: Cerebral Palsy News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cerebral Palsy News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cerebral palsy.