Knowing The Answer To ‘Are You Dense?’ Could Save Your Life

Jan Kritzman’s story is shocking but not isolated. Last November, she had her 25th “normal” mammogram. But, due to an innovative Connecticut law, she was informed she had dense tissue, making it difficult for the standard test to “see” through her breasts. She was told, under the legislation, further testing would be covered by insurance. “I…had my ultrasound which I proceeded to flunk,” remembers this Newington grandmother, diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. Kritzman searched the Internet to find out how this law came to be and found a name: “I picked up the phone and said, ‘Hello Nancy Cappello, thank you for saving my life. I love you. What can I do to help?”

Now, Kritzman and Cappello, who jokingly refer to each other as “bosom buddies and breast friends”, sit side-by-side planning “Are You Dense? Day,” coming up at the State Capitol on Wednesday, Oct. 30. “This is awareness month — October — and I talk about ‘unawareness’,” says Cappello, a survivor herself who couldn’t believe her cancer was so advanced, after years of good tests. She learned that doctors had documented her dense tissue yet she’d never heard about it. Angry, this Ph.D. in Educational Administration from Woodbury started gathering information. She asserts that 40 percent of women have this tissue, a mammogram misses every other cancer in dense breasts yet MRI and ultrasound are effective in finding the invasive illness. “I went back to my docs and said, ‘Look at all this research. Shouldn’t you start telling women about their density?’,” she remembers, noting that the response was: “‘We can’t do that, it’s not our standard of care'” and “‘We don’t want to scare women.'” Cappello started a non-profit organization called Are You Dense? to “expose the secret” while working with politicians to create the landmark legislation.

Cappello’s eyes fill with tears: “I am compelled to do this, it’s personal.” Eleven other states, including Maryland and Nevada, have followed Connecticut’s lead with similar laws. Cappello, currently showing no sign of cancer after six surgeries, is now invited to speak all around the globe, just back from Italy. She advises women to consult their doctors to find out their tissue composition and become informed on her web site, areyoudense.org.

Kritzman is also cancer-free, looking at an excellent prognosis, due to her early diagnosis. The owner of a rare coin shop, she stops customers to share a brochure, created by her husband, teaching them about dense breast tissue. Other female family members, including her daughter, are becoming more vigilant about their breast health. She hopes the upcoming event will inspire important modifications to the legislation, such as financial support for women seeking advanced screening who have not met their insurance deductible. Kritzman is incredibly fulfilled by this work and honored to join her mentor, Cappello, in such an important mission: “What better could I do?”

>>To contribute your own adventures in motherhood, or to read more from Fox CT reporter Sarah Cody and freelancer Teresa Pelham, go to http://www.ctnow.com/mommyminute.

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