This morning I woke to several messages pointing me to the same upsetting story. It is the story of San Francisco firefighter Janette Neves Rivera.
Janette is 44 years old, the mother of two young children, and next week she is scheduled for breast cancer surgery.
I happen to believe that firefighters are among our truest heroes. So how did Janette’s colleagues respond? Well, it seems some of them, about 700 of them actually, offered their own sick leave to give Jeanette the gift of time. Time to prepare. Time with her young children. Time to heal.
Beautiful, right? Not exactly. The city of San Francisco denied Janette’s request, and just days before her scheduled surgery Janette is back on the job… Why? According to the article, Janette’s illness is not considered “life-threatening.”
Is your blood boiling yet?
First, let me say I plan to do my next set of scans in San Francisco, where they are diagnosing the non-lethal kind of breast cancer. Anyone care to join me?
But seriously, there are so MANY things wrong here.. My thing is this: knowing nothing about Janette or her diagnosis, and assuming the article is accurate, I don’t think it’s hard to draw a line from the pink “early detection” rhetoric and what is happening with Janette. And it’s all right there in the media — front and center in the coming weeks no less. But here we go again…
- “Mammograms save lives.” WRONG. First, despite headlines to the contrary, mammograms don’t prevent cancer. EVER. Mammograms detect cancer. SOME cancer. We don’t even know if they detect MOST cancer. We do know they don’t detect ALL cancer.
- “Early detection saves lives.” MAYBE. SOMETIMES. But then again we don’t know whose lives it will save. We don’t know who will be over-diagnosed. We don’t know whose cancer would never spread. And we don’t know whose cancer has ALREADY spread. Early detection leads to earlier treatment. It may extend 5-year survival rates, but we don’t know the degree to which it saves, or even extends, life.
- “No one dies from breast cancer anymore.” This one was actually brought to me by a DOCTOR. Tell the 39,510 women expected to die of metastatic breast cancer in 2012 alone that no one dies of this disease. Tell their grieving families, their children, their friends, tell all the people who were touched by their lives that no one dies from this disease.
These myths and others are truly dangerous. And they are perpetuated by breast cancer organizations and the media constantly.
Someone in an administrative office somewhere in the bureaucracy that is the San Francisco government has decided that Janette will be just fine. Someone seems to have had an Big Gulp© of pink Kool-Aid©. Even assuming Janette’s doctor chimed in on the decision, none of us know Janette’s fate. What we know is she has breast cancer. What we know is that her surgery is scheduled soon. What we know is that she has young children who are likely to be as anxious as she is about the coming weeks. What we know is that her department, her colleagues, are prepared to step up in support of her. What we know is that the City of San Francisco is not.
Presumably the city has nothing to lose. Other firefighters will cover her shifts. There is no economic impact; no extra money outlaid for her sick leave. In fact, it’s a lot less expensive than replacing and training someone new. I’ll be following this one, and hoping that a city as progressive as San Francisco will re-think their position, and soon!
Meanwhile, my prayers are with Janette and her family for a quick and complete healing.