In Durham, North Carolina, Alaina Giordano a young mother of two, with Stage 4 breast cancer, has been told to give up her children to her ex-husband. Her health and finances were cited as one reason for the judge's decision.
On the coast in Seattle, Korean Airlines turned away Mimi Kim, a metastatic breast cancer patient, who only wanted to return to her birthplace to spend her final months among family. Mrs. Kim looked too frail to survive the flight, according to Korean Air. Delta Airlines looked over her doctor's note and upgraded Mrs. Kim to first class and flew her home.
Ruth Ann Swenson, a soprano formerly with the Metropolitan Opera, was passed over for leading roles after her early-stage breast cancer diagnosis. When she recovered her stamina, Ms. Swenson toured Europe and America, showing no loss of quality in her voice.
In the windy city of Chicago, Mary Ellen Hintz went to renew her apartment lease and was told by her landlord that because she has terminal breast cancer, she may have a lease agreement for only one month at a time. Ms. Hintz's landlord said he thought her treatments caused such severe chemobrain that she might not be lucid enough to sign contracts or pay her bills.
Sometimes, when discrimination looks like it's really about money, it may be primarily about fear. Modern society doesn't have good ways of dealing with Cancerophobia. Even with cancer rates as high as they are, sometimes it seems like the average person doesn't know how to react or support a friend or coworker or even a spouse recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Some women feel shunned by their friends, as if they've suddenly become contagious, or done something immoral that resulted in cancer.
I think it comes down to the ultimate: fear of death. Despite decades of awareness-raising, patient education, improved treatments, and higher survival rates, there seems to be this persistent perception that a breast cancer diagnosis is an automatic death sentence. And that may be linked to the misconception that all breast cancers are alike (they aren't) and all treatments are severe and disabling (it varies).
We as educated patients and breast cancer survivors have to face our prognosis daily. We deal with our fears, our possible outcomes, our side effects, finances, and relationships every day. Landlords, airline agents, divorce lawyers, and opera managers seem to have other priorities. Breast cancer survivors - no matter what stage they have - should not have to fight for rights and privileges that are freely given to people who appear healthier. We should not have to lawyer up and battle back against uneducated cancerphobes.
So be sure to know your rights as a person and as an empowered cancer patient and survivor. You can't be fired for having breast cancer. If you have health insurance, you don't have to lose it; and you can apply for assistance. If you're going to travel during treatment, prepare notes from your doctor and bring those along. Mimi Kim knew what she wanted - and she knew it was within her reach. Cancer wasn't going to reduce her to less than a full person, denied the civility and respect that should be routine. Mrs. Kim went home first class, and was greeted with cheers. Now that's my idea of respect and proper treatment!
Have you ever been discriminated against because of breast cancer? Please leave a comment below.