Cancer Coverage: The Names Behind the Numbers

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

With so many articles about cancer, it’s hard to keep track of the latest technologies, treatments, and scientific findings. When I read stories saturated with stats, I can’t help but think, “Enough about numbers. What about the people?”

I didn’t need to ask this question after seeing an interesting package The New York Times ran last week about Deborah Lindler, 33, who chose to have a double mastectomy to avoid getting breast cancer. In the story, Times reporter Amy Harmon writes about Lindler’s decision to undergo this procedure after a DNA test showed that she carried the BRCA1 gene, which increases a woman’s chance of getting cancer by 60 to 90 percent. I’ve heard of women doing this before, but this story touched me more than the others because it had a voice, as did the accompanying video, lists of resources, and multimedia presentation of Lindler’s family tree.

Cancer has broken many branches on my family tree, prompting me to be extra conscious of the disease and its role in my own life. On the one hand, I can sympathize with women who might want to get genetically tested – they want to know if they carry the BRCA1 gene so they can start living a healthier lifestyle, or so they can decide, like Lindler, to get a double mastectomy. On the other hand, knowing they carry this gene might be even more detrimental to women’s health, causing them to worry incessantly about the day they will be diagnosed with cancer, if they get diagnosed at all. I wonder if the extra worry is worth it.

Another thing I wonder about is cost. The woman in the Times piece seemed well off, but what about all the women who don’t have the money/insurance to pay for these types of tests/surgeries?