Friday, February 5, 2010
A Survivor who didn't Survive
Celebrities! They're just like us! The pick their noses while they pump gas! They wear slippers and a robe to grab the newspaper at the end of their driveways! They buy milk at the grocery store! Tabloid magazine devote whole spreads to photographs of celebrities doing "normal people" things, and we find it fascinating because the people we see on our televisions and in our movies must be so much more interesting, so much more evolved, so much less human than we ordinary, anonymous, everyday folks. And so it shocks us when a celebrity gets sick. And it effects us when they die. They are not immortal, though we ascribe them that quality.
I don't watch Survivor, so the name Jennifer Lyon meant nothing to me until I read her obituary: diagnosed with stage III breast cancer at 32, dead at 37. Apparently, she made it far in the competition and was well liked by fans. But despite her fame, despite her having appeared on our television screens, she still died. Celebrities... they are just like I could have been.
I'm an armchair genetic mutation spotter: I diagnose fictional characters in modern literature and I diagnose dead reality television stars. I can't find any confirmation that Jennifer had a BRCA mutation, but the evidence suggests something was amiss: she was diagnosed so young, she had an aggressive cancer, she relapsed within five years, and then the disease spread throughout her body and she died. 32-year-olds shouldn't be diagnosed with cancer and 37-year-olds should die from it. But whether or not she had a BRCA mutation, she was also failed by our health care system. When she first found a lump, she was uninsured, so she did not seek treatment. By the time she found another, she was sure it was not scar tissue from her breast augmentation (as she had originally written off the first abnormality). And she was right: it was stage III cancer. She went through chemo and started a course of Tamoxifen, but in the end, it wasn't enough.
I've written before about the new mammography guidelines, and I've written before about the need for a public insurance option. But Jennifer's story gives me an opportunity to again note the shortsightedness of the new rules and advocate for greater access to insurance for all. According to a recent study, 35% of uninsured breast cancer patients die within five years of diagnosis compared with 23% of privately-insured patients. So Jennifer was already at a disadvantage. Additionally, because she didn't seek help when her cancer may have been caught at an earlier stage, she had only a 54-67% chance of surviving stage III cancer to begin with. She had a lot of handicaps she needed to overcome; unfortunately, the disease and her circumstances didn't allow it.
RIP Jennifer. You were too young.