When a breast cancer diagnosis at 35 puts life on pause.
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I was sitting on the plane reading Kate Pickert's new book about breast cancer, and I looked down and noticed the napkin the Delta flight attendant had given me with my water. It was pink, intended to raise my awareness of breast cancer during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. 

I am well aware of breast cancer, in the way of 5K walks and ribbons. And I have seen breast cancer treatment up close, like many of you probably have, through people in my life who have gone through treatment, including some who have died of the disease. In fact, breast cancer was how I first learned that moms could die, when an elementary school classmate lost his mother to the disease. 

But as much as breast cancer is visible and talked about, I realized reading Kate's book on that plane how little I really knew about the history of that pink ribbon and how treatment of the disease has radically shifted. Kate was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer when she was 35 years old. She tells me in our new episode this week about her chemo, radiation, double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. Those are familiar-sounding steps, but she had very different results than women just a few years ahead of her. "If I had been diagnosed with the same disease a decade earlier, before a groundbreaking breast cancer drug became available to the market for patients like me," she writes in her book, "it's very likely I would have died within a few years." Instead, she's been in remission now for five years. 

Breast cancer still kills more than 40,000 American women every year. And the rates of mortality are higher for black women than white women, 40 percent higher, even though black women are diagnosed at slightly lower rates. While we were putting this episode together, I discovered a podcast by two black women, MJ and Dani, called Cocktails and Cancer. They hang out and talk about the aftermath of MJ's 2015 cancer diagnosis, and men, music, sparkling rosé, and the perils of driving with a hard taco from Taco Bell in your hand. Start with episode five of their first season, about what happens to a body after chemo. 

Anna and the Death, Sex & Money team
This Week on Death, Sex & Money
Kate Pickert was 35 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. A longtime healthcare reporter, she understood a lot about the field, but she wasn't prepared for what the experience of being a cancer patient could be like. She also realized that there wasn't much out there about the history of breast cancer in the U.S. So she started researching, and turned her experience and what she learned into a new book: Radical: The Science, Culture, and History of Breast Cancer in America.

In this week's episode, Kate reflects on the choices she made to maintain a sense of normalcy during her treatment. Plus, we talk about why she didn't tell her young daughter that she was sick, and how she thinks about her mortality now.
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Your Stories: How Cancer Impacts You
As we were putting together this week's episode, we came across this message from one of our listeners, Amy. She recently shared her experience with BRCA testing with us, and you can also hear her describe some of it in today's episode.
"My mother died at age 54 from ovarian cancer. I was 33 years old, and I cared for her in the last month of her life. Because of our family history of reproductive cancers (my maternal grandmother died of breast cancer at age 68, and her sister also had breast cancer), my mother's sister decided to be tested for the BRCA genesmy mother had refused to do so when alive. She didn't want to know. And I didn't want to know. But when my aunt told me the news that she was positive, I got tested, and I was positive, too.

Every six months, I get either a mammogram or a breast MRI. Every six months, I wonder
will this be the time when they find something? Will this be the time when I know for sure how I'll die? Will I be fighting with insurance companies, and getting disability? I live alone, so how will I care for myself and my dogs? 

I'm extraordinarily privileged that I've been able to get great care, but I am afraid to quit my job. I have fabulous doctors, and I go to one of the best cancer centers in the country. But if my insurance changes and no longer covers the expensive prevention that I go through, what will I do? Have a prophylactic mastectomy? (I really, really don't want to do that
it makes me tear up, thinking about it). Go into debt to pay out of pocket? Decide to roll the dice and do nothing?" 
—Amy, 45, MA

Listen to This: Audio We Love

Subprime mortgages were a major cause of the 2008 financial crisis and the following recession, but in this week's episode of WNYC's The Stakes, we learn about another type of subprime loan that's wreaking havoc on people's lives. Reporter Anjali Kamat introduces us to Celeste, an immigrant from Burkina Faso who wanted to buy a car to become an Uber driver while in nursing school. "He was saying that he was gonna make sure I get the best deal out of everything," Celeste says of the used car dealer who sold him the car. Instead, Celeste soon realized he'd signed up for a subprime car loan with an exorbitant interest rate⁠—and then decided to fight back. 

And in 1934, a black man named Claude Neal was tortured and lynched in Marianna, Florida, in front of thousands of people. In the latest episode of Code Switch, "A Strange and Bitter Crop," two men who learned about Claude Neal's story almost two decades apart talk about the ways they have memorialized his death—both separately and together—and about how sharing Neal's story has changed the way they think about race and racism in 2019. 

Speaking of Code Switch—we're collaborating with them on an upcoming project about race and friendship. Do you have a story to share about a specific moment in your life when race has been a flashpoint in a friendship? Record a voice memo and send it to

Next on Death, Sex & Money

Angela started out in debt collections as a 20-year-old, having no idea what the industry did or how it operated. Years later, after honing her "talk off" skills—how debt collectors convince people in default to pay up—and moving up in the industry, she was sued by the government and barred from the industry for life for allegedly participating in an illegal debt collection scheme. Next week, I talk with her about what she learned about debt and the people who carry it from her years in collections—and about what it's like to now be in debt herself. 
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