During my years as a patient navigator, many of the women I met with in NYC’ s public hospitals had English as a second language. The translator phone was my best friend. I could speak to them in their own language, real time. I learned very quickly that breast cancer was not like any other cancer for many of these women; it had multiple implications that spoke to their status in their cultures, their families and communities. For most, it impacted on their self worth and self image as women, wives and lovers. Even when they couldn’t express themselves in words, they spoke with the universal language of tears.
More real than their fear of what cancer could do to them were their fears about how their husbands or significant others would react to the scar of a lumpectomy, or worse yet, having a mastectomy. How could they lose their hair and still have a man care about them? These fears are not limited to women coming to the US from other countries. For many women in the US, breasts are part of how they define themselves as women. They believe breasts are an integral part of their sexuality and attractiveness to men.
In the US, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every three minutes. That a lot of women; that’s a lot of breast cancer. Until we begin to redefine what makes us women, important to ourselves and attractive to others, breast cancer is going to continue to shake our self confidence and threaten our self image.