These Viral Twitter Stories About Finding a Lump in Your Breast Will Shock You

"I will die because I didn’t have access to healthcare."

On Monday, American author and puppeteer Mary Robinette Kowal shared the story of finding a lump in her breast. Unfortunately, the situation is not a unique one—one in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. But since she was working in Iceland at the time, her medical experience was very foreign to many people in the U.S.—including Kelly Gregory, whose story about a very different American experience with breast cancer has also gone viral.

In a viral Twitter thread that currently has more than 30,000 retweets, Kowal explained that when she asked a colleague what to do about the lump she discovered, he simply told her to go to the cancer center. She asked him how she could receive a referral, to which he responded, "What's a referral?" He seemed "baffled" when she explained the American system of needing to receive a referral from your physician in order to see a specialist about something like cancer—a process that can potentially be dangerously lengthy. 

Kowal called the cancer center and was surprised to find that she could come in that very same day. When she arrived at the center, the nurse apologized and said that because she was a foreigner, she would have to pay for the visit. It cost 300 Icelandic Krona, which is the equivalent of less than $3.

Given that she found a lump, Kowal was taken into an examining room almost immediately. They told her they would need to do a mammogram, and Kowal asked what the process was for making an appointment for that. "I'm sorry, but it's across the hall. Do you mind following me?" the nurse responded.

After the mammogram, Kowal was given an ultrasound in the room next door on the spot. Shortly thereafter, she was told that, thankfully, it was only a cyst. It only cost her 45 minutes and $3 to find that out.

Once the thread began to go viral, other people shared their experiences of breezily receiving speedy, efficient, and free life-saving treatment in other countries.

The tweet caught the attention of 49-year-old Kelly Gregory of Nashville, Tennessee, who had a very different healthcare experience. When Gregory was in her early 30s, she had a series of heart attacks and was diagnosed with a genetic clotting disorder. At the time, she had insurance through her business, but when her company went under, she lost that coverage and was denied insurance from several other companies because of her pre-existing condition.

"Basically, in my mid-30s, I became un-insurable and locked out of the healthcare system," Gregory told Best Life.

In 2011, she discovered a lump in her left breast, and spent several months trying to find a healthcare provider that would see her. Three months into the search, she found out she could get a subsidized Well-Woman exam at Planned Parenthood.

"I hadn't realized that I could get an exam from Planned Parenthood and a referral for a mammogram," Gregory told Best Life. "They got me in the day that I called and managed to get me a mammogram appointment at a clinic the following morning." By then, unfortunately, the cancer had already spread and she was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer, which is terminal.

"The way the rules are written here in Nashville, I couldn't qualify for Medicaid while I was unemployed," she explained. "It took a catastrophic diagnosis of cancer for me to finally get health insurance."

Gregory said she is dedicating the time she has left to being "the last American to die from lack of healthcare." When she read Kowal's story on Twitter, she thought to herself, "This is how every person should be treated. That's the world I want for everyone." And for a personal testimony on living with a terminal illness, read This Is What Life Is Like After a Cancer Diagnosis.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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