Task force misjudged importance of ‘the girls’

Posted Nov. 20, 2009, at 9:33 p.m.

Behold the power of breasts!

They are a source of power and comfort and sexuality, and this week, a whole lot of political wrangling.

Early Friday morning as I pondered the topic of this week’s column, my own were the source of a little discomfort as they were squeezed, shifted and flattened into a viselike device that positioned them for their annual photo shoot.

As I peered down at them while holding my breath for the technician behind the curtain, I nearly chuckled at their misshapen state.

“You don’t look all that powerful and alluring now, do you?” I actually thought, hoping that the technician behind the curtain did not have a device that could scan my obviously twisted mind.

It was just coincidence that my annual mammogram was scheduled this week amid the fury of controversy generated by the recommendation by the United States Preventive Services Task Force that women delay routine mammograms until the age of 50 and then have them only every other year.

I’m 46. I’ve been showing up as scheduled for my annual mammograms since I was 40, and I had a couple of base-line screenings before that.

I have not been diagnosed with breast cancer, and I don’t have much of a family history, so I would assume that I am among the statistics that helped convince the doctors and scientists on the task force that such routine screening is not necessary among my age group.

I listened this week to the widely publicized debates over the necessity of mammograms for those of my age, and on Friday morning I went to my appointment as usual.

A year or so ago I discovered a lump in my breast during a self-breast exam. My doctor also felt it and so did the technician who performed the subsequent mammogram and the breast specialist who eventually diagnosed it as simply an enlarged vein. But it was a lump nonetheless and I don’t for a moment regret using the resources I drew upon to follow through.

Nor should any woman.

Scientists on the task force were charged with analyzing the data and putting forth their recommendations without emotion or political bias. They should not be chastised for that.

I think the real error was the manner in which the findings were disseminated. Perhaps those in charge of that part of the process truly underestimated the power of breasts and those of us who covet them — and the lives connected to them.

Perhaps the task force needs a new marketing person.

One need look no further than the unprecedented fundraising success of breast cancer awareness groups to understand the scope and the strong emotion behind this issue.

Prevention is the key component of the Pink Ribbon Campaign that has resulted in such things as pink KitchenAid mixers and pink oil delivery trucks. Could anyone behind the release of the task force’s findings truly have been surprised at the level of backlash from its report?

Most of us learn of the immense power of breasts at an early age.

My friend Gayle and I figured it out when we were 12 and saw all of the attention that the more “developed” girls in the class were getting from the boys. Our desire for that power drove us to pitch in to buy a mechanism advertised in a catalog, which promised to “increase our bust size.”

When it arrived we anxiously ripped open the small, unmarked box to find a rubber band with two plastic handles that we were instructed to pull on.

We were ripped off. It was $9.95 wasted.

While our breasts either did or did not serve us well during our teen years, they later would be used to nourish our babies.

A woman in Texas recently pretended to have breast cancer in order to garner enough money to have breast implants she felt she needed to save her marriage. And there are apparently some researchers with the time to investigate whether breast movement among women runners could harness enough energy to charge an iPod.

That’s a lot of power.

That says nothing of the women and men who long since have put away their concerns for the aesthetics of breasts to focus on the breasts’ ability to kill them or their loved ones.

They are undoubtedly the most driven of all breast supporters — as they should be.

There may be something to the science behind the task force’s report, but those looking to make serious changes to screening and prevention routines have learned this week that they better be prepared if they plan to mess with the breast.

“The girls” wield a lot of power.

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