When I was 21, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I was told that it was one of the best cancers to get (which is never comforting), and truly, it is. I don’t know the horrors of breast cancer, lung cancer, or brain cancer, and I’m grateful for that.
I don’t normally share my personal health information with acquaintances, blog followers, or facebook friends (let alone the entire internet). I don’t want to be weighted with the stigma of illness, and I loathe the culture of pity surrounding some contemporary cancer survivor networks. Honestly, I don’t want to have conversations about cancer, and I don’t want people to apologize to me. But I feel moved at this moment, in the interest of truth and testimony, to share a hastily written story about my own health and Planned Parenthood.
At 19, I was stupid. I smoked, drank, avoided sleep, and refused to waste time or money going to a doctor for something as unnecessary as a check-up. Then I decided I wanted birth control. Lo and behold: when one wants birth control, one must undergo an exam. Lucky for me, Planned Parenthood was right down the street, and they sold birth control pills for $5 a pack if you bought in bulk—the only catch was a yearly exam. Thus, the nurses and gynecologists of Planned Parenthood became my only doctors, and those annual exams my only check-ups, during my college years. The same was true for many other women I saw in the waiting room, many of whom were not college students, and weren’t lucky enough to have health insurance under their step-father’s plan.
During a routine annual exam in 2005, a nurse practitioner pressed her thumb to my neck and said, “What’s that?”
“What’s what?” I said.
“That.” She rolled her thumb around on a hard little knot just beneath my Adam’s apple. “You need to get that checked out. I think it’s a thyroid nodule.”
I totally ignored her (What lump? Bodies are lumpy, so what?), and when I returned the following year for another exam to keep the cheap birth control coming, a different nurse practitioner noticed the same lump. Okay, I thought, I guess I should get it checked out.
By 2008, I’d had two surgeries to remove my thyroid gland and some lymph nodes in my neck (the cancer had metastasized), as well as radioactive iodine treatment. While I have a slow-growing and non-aggressive type of cancer that rarely spreads beyond the surrounding lymph nodes, I don’t like to think about the parts of my body it could have reached if gone unchecked—that is, if those two nurse practitioners at Planned Parenthood hadn’t been so observant, hadn’t been insistent, hadn’t been there at all.
Susan G. Komen for the Cure just announced that they’re cutting funding to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screening services. While I have always taken issue with Komen’s Pink Ribbon campaign (Barbara Ehrenreich articulates most of my own feelings about it better than I ever could in her brilliant essay ‘Cancerland’), this news really struck a nerve. It seems that the conservative movement’s initiative to politicize and take control of women’s health issues in the name of ‘morality’ politics, defunding Planned Parenthood to the detriment of women from all backgrounds—but especially of those without health insurance—has spread into spheres of power I thought safe from politics. Maybe nothing is safe from politics.
I hope that women and men will let Susan G. Komen for the Cure know exactly what they think about this decision, and how they feel about Planned Parenthood. If I ever pay off those student loans, every extra dime I get will go to Planned Parenthood. I just hope they’re still around when that happens.