I am a 37-year-old Indian woman who has lived in four different countries and has seen a fair bit of the world. I was married for 13 years, have two children, run an NGO on Organ Donation and Transplant (founded because my mother had a heart transplant). I have worked in healthcare for more than a decade as a birth educator, lactation counsellor, doula, fertility counsellor, pre-/post-natal massage therapist. My partner and I brought a concept called Mamma Mia to Fortis Healthcare about five years ago which looks after the information, fitness and wellness needs of women. About eight months ago, I took on a role to head and build La Femme—Fortis Healthcare's Women and Children division. So, it's safe to say that every second day for the last six years at least, I have worked out of a hospital. Add to that, a personal and professional passion to look at all aspects of women's health, to encourage all women to break their silences and have their share of voice.
And yet, with all that I am and all that I have experienced and all that is available to me—I have a confession to make. One that I've hidden away quietly as it gives insight into the duality of my personality. I have never had a mammogram.
What's MY excuse for not having a mammogram, considering I am privileged enough to have access to the best medical facilities and the best clinicians in the country?
Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month let me put this into context—breast cancer rates in India are rising rapidly, yet only a small percentage of women have had preventative mammography tests. Had more women had mammographies, fewer of them would have been subjected to mastectomies. I often wonder why it is that we as healthcare providers can't get more women to have mammographies. Is it that we don't create enough awareness around the cause? Is it that we've gotten so caught up in supporting women through their birth stories that we as an industry have negated the reality that women, like men, do have other body parts as well?
But before I judge myself as a healthcare provider, I would like to question myself as a woman. What's my excuse, considering I am privileged enough to have access to the best medical facilities and the best clinicians in the country?
1. Women are their own last priority
This is a hard but true reality. The last time I really had anything to do personally with a hospital, I was birthing my daughter, which was nine years ago! There are so many other things to be done in my day which are more important—things to do with the kids, work, the house, family, friends. It's just soooo much easier to postpone my own medical check-ups (yup, I get that nine years is more than a small delay!) but this is the reality of my life and I'm sure the same story applies to a lot of women out there.
2. "It can't happen to me"
Leading from the above fallacy, I tend to be in ostrich mode about most health-related issues. I truly believe a viral infection in the house, a dengue or typhoid epidemic, a family genetic condition can have no impact on me. From the point of view of being a believer in "all things you attract come back to you'', this mantra works great but what about the great saying "prevention is better than cure?"
3. Despite living progressive lives, breasts are still private
As a nation of women, we are just about starting to get comfortable talking about our breasts (when we are not shot down for using them as weapons to lure unwanted attention). I'm also pleased to see that we are more open about breastfeeding in public and yet... we are ok with just so much.
4. Breasts define our femininity, and we cannot afford to put that at risk
This is true for many of us. A lot of my femininity is defined by the curves I carry with me. My sexuality, my sexiness, my maternal instinct and even the home for my heart... in a way my breasts define me and what if I get a test and I end up losing them?
It's not easy to confess to all of this, but many of us women fall prey to the same apprehensions to our own detriment—just look at the abysmal statistics. It's time for a change. We must, must, must SEE ourselves. We must FEEL ourselves. We must ACKNOWLEDGE ourselves. ALL of ourselves. To carry on being jugglers of our many roles, we need to ensure our own health is rosy. And for that, prevention is a no-brainer as compared to cure. So get up. Go get a mammo. I plan to do it tomorrow. I dare you to do something for yourself. Join me?