I am the mother of four daughters. Raising them is not easy – but it is filled with joy. I learned how to be a mother from my mom. Her tireless devotion to her daughters is rivaled only by her relentless commitment to saving thousands of women’s lives from breast cancer. Mother’s Day is a great day for us. But not for everyone.
This year, some companies are asking customers if they’d like to opt-out of Mother’s Day emails. This outreach is meant to acknowledge that Mother’s Day is not easy for everyone and can elicit painful reminders for those who don’t have a mother to hug anymore – or that they do not have children of their own.
But our response to pain and difficulty should not be to “opt-out.” Pretending like Mother’s Day does not exist may not be the right, or even the compassionate, approach. Rather, I would posit that, in our age of information overload and easy activism, everyone -regardless of whether or not they celebrate Mother’s Day – should use it as a reminder of the work that we need to do for women’s health. Then, more women will have babies to cuddle, and more children will have moms to celebrate with into old age.
In my personal life, I cheer for four little girls. Professionally, I have fought for girls’ and womens’ access to better and healthier lives. Most recently, I led the Brem Foundation to Defeat Breast Cancer to increase access to personalized, risk-based screenings. These efforts, along with those of so many other tireless advocates, has led to great change – much of which happened in just the last two months.
Since March, the US. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) changed its requirements for breast density inform across the country, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) started recommended biennial screening at age 40, instead of age 50, and the American College of Radiology (ACR) updated their recommendations and lowered the age of first risk-assessment for breast cancer to 25 years old and more intensive screening for high-risk women. These are steps in the right direction. But they are baby steps that do not go far enough.
The FDA’s new, final rule recommends that women with dense breast tissue speak with their providers about screenings in addition to mammograms. While better than staying silent, this approach is ripe with pitfalls. How often are women going to actually initiate follow-up conversations with their physicians? How many providers are willing to engage in a meaningful discussion about breast cancer screening? How many women will show up to get the screenings that they need? This is even before the painful conversation about whether insurance covers those extra screenings (which all too often it does not).
The USPSTF’s updated guidelines are certainly better than recommending that women start screening at age 50. However, USPSTF recommended biennial screening. We know that annual screening is the best – and should be the only – approach to screening for breast cancer. Approximately 9% of all breast cancers occur in women under age 45.1 These cancers tend to be more aggressive and harder to treat.2 Starting to screen annually at age 40 will save lives, many of whom are mothers still raising their children. But the USPSTF should recommend screening every year. Then, and only then, will we maximize all women’s chances of finding earlier, more curable breast cancer.
As Mother’s Day is upon us, we should use it as a wake-up call. This wake-up call is not just to remember to tell your mother how much you love her, but also to help advocate for a world where more mothers have more time with their children. Breast cancer is but one example of women’s health challenges that plague those for whom Mother’s Day may be more difficult than it is joyous.
In addition to a national holiday, Mother’s Day also marks the beginning of Women’s Health Week in the United States3. Women’s Health Week reminds us to get our screenings and checkups, to eat healthy, stay active, sleep, and manage stress. Women tend to care for others before they take care of themselves. But w/e often forget that if we are not well, we cannot take care of those we love. So commit to taking time for you. Get your mammogram, pap smear, or well-visit. Go outside, exercise, and eat well.
Some of us worry about what to get mom for Mother’s Day. But, deep down, we all know that there is no better gift than time. The FDA, USPSTF, and the ACR’s recommendations determine – for so many – whether they will get another Mother’s Day with the people they love most. So, as we commemorate Mother’s Day this year, remember that the best gift you can give the women you love in your life is more time. And maximizing your chances of having more celebrations, birthdays, and hugs requires risk-based screening for breast cancers and other women’s health issues. Take this Mother’s Day as an opportunity to push for better and more legislation that opens doors to insurance coverage for lifesaving preventative procedures and screenings while also committing to taking better care of yourself. Then, we will live in a world where far fewer people will dread Mother’s Day.