My appointment for the dreaded annual mammogram is coming up fast. (Note to self: start praying now for a blinding blizzard to hit that morning.)
It doesn’t make much sense that after all the medical challenges I’ve endured, my knees buckle (figuratively not literally, folks) at the thought of this X-ray. I’m sure most women understand the dread. It’s just not a pleasant experience no matter what shade of pink is painted on the walls.
If you’re a woman with a disability, the unpleasantness is magnified by how many times you’re asked if you can stand for the X-ray to be taken (no, a thousand times no!); by having to twist your upper torso into unnatural shapes; and by the X-ray techs who mean well, but who speak to you as if you’re 5-years-old.
My appointment was supposed to be in October, national Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but I chickened out and rescheduled. (Have you noticed how the focus of Breast Cancer Awareness Month is more about buying “pink” products rather than the disease itself? But I digress.)
As much as I whine about the mammogram, I’m lucky to have two medical facilities in my community that are very accommodating, with mammography equipment that lowers to my level, and even dressing rooms big enough to fit a wheelchair.
Not all women are so lucky. A report published earlier this year (“Environmental Scan on Women with Disabilities and Breast Cancer Screening”) found that “women with disabilities are significantly less likely to be screened for cancer than their able-bodied counterparts.”
Many factors play into that finding, including poverty rates, lack of access to health prevention services, and inaccessible health care facilities. But the study (published by the Canadian Breast Cancer Network and researched by the Disabled Women’s Network of Canada) also pinpointed important attitude issues.
“It’s really hard for healthcare professionals to think of a patient with a disability as a woman first, due to stereotypes and unknowns,” Doris Rajan, author of the report, told the Toronto Star.
“Common problems,” according to the article, ” include being ignored in the waiting room, poor communication and assumptions from healthcare providers that all women are heterosexual and that all bodies move and function in a particular way.”
If we’re to be totally honest, we share some of the responsibility for the lack of screening. “Some women feel ashamed by the implications of what is ‘normal,’” Fran Odette, who has brittle bone disease and uses a wheelchair,” told the newspaper.
Rather than sitting on the shelf and collecting dust, the study is supposed to lead to more research and the development of new education tools, “including videos from women describing their experiences.”
“It’s time people realize how critical this issue is,” Rajan told the newspaper. I couldn’t agree more. Do you?