Seventeen years ago, Jennifer* was told that she was too young for a mammogram, despite having found a tiny lump, and that she shouldn’t worry.
Jennifer was 33 years old when she died from breast cancer. She was 28 when she went to her OB/GYN after discovering a tiny pea-sized lump in her breast and was denied treatment because she was “too young for a mammogram.” She died just before her 34th birthday from an aggressive form of cancer that developed after she was told, “it’s probably nothing” and not to worry.
Two years ago, we published a post about Jennifer’s story in the hopes that things would be different. We wanted to initiate a conversation for change in light of the American Cancer Society coming out with new guidelines for mammogram screenings.
In 2015, the recommended age for getting an annual mammogram increased from 40 to 45 for the general population of people who are considered “of average risk for breast cancer.” The ACS’s website states that “women should have the choice to start screening with yearly mammograms as early as age 40 if they want to.” But what does that mean? Does it mean that women who are under the age of 40 are too young for a mammogram and shouldn’t have the choice to get one? Jennifer* didn’t even make it to her 34th birthday.
Almost two decades later, things remain the same. Last week, another young woman, Kayla Redig, posted an article detailing her own experience with the medical community dismissing her concerns and denying her pleas to be seen.
Kayla is 24 years old and she has breast cancer. As happened in Jennifer’s case, after discovering a lump on her own, Kayla went to her doctor, only to be told that she was too young to need a mammogram because she was “too young to have cancer.”
Only after demanding to be seen and after several arguments with her doctors, nurses, and ultrasound technicians, Kayla received a mammogram. She describes her diagnosis as “vindication” that she was right to stand up for herself and wasn’t overreacting at all.
Kayla’s story might end differently than Jennifer’s, but it begins the same, with dismissal and disbelief.
Kayla has now become an advocate for people who find themselves in the same position she did; “I learned that cancer didn’t look like me, because the young adult cancer population didn’t have a face. So, I decided to become it.” She has recently created a film detailing her experience and offers guidance to people who are also dealing with the same thing. The documentary is called, “Vincible.”
Things haven’t changed yet but maybe they will if we keep asking the questions, just like Kayla did. If we can keep the conversation going and keep it growing, maybe it won’t take another 20 years until we see the medical community take women like Kayla and Jennifer much more seriously.
*Jennifer’s name has been changed in this story