Clea Shearer, star of the popular home organizing show The Home Edit, revealed she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. In an Instagram post on Thursday, Shearer shared the story that led her to the diagnosis—and it's a shocking reminder of the state of the healthcare system, as well as a reminder that as women, we always have to advocate for ourselves.
"I have breast cancer," she writes in the caption of her photo at the Vanderbilt Cancer Center. "It’s a hard thing to say, but it’s easier than keeping it to myself. I’m having a double mastectomy tomorrow (prayers are welcome!), and I wanted to say a few words before I do."
Shearer says she found a lump in her breast during the last week of February. Unfortunately, the soonest her OBGYN could get her in for an appointment was early May. Shearer, who is 40, says she had to request a mammogram from her primary care physician. The mammogram led to an ultrasound, which led to a triple biopsy. She says she has two tumors measuring one centimeter each, but they're aggressive and "fast-moving," which means it's a good thing she was able to catch them on her own so early.
Related: On breast cancer and breastfeeding
"It’s a personal choice to make this public, but sharing my experience makes cancer feel purposeful," Shearer writes. "If I can convince any of you to self-examine on a regular basis, self-advocate always, and to prioritize your health over your busy schedules—then this will have meant something. It’s also important to note that I was under 40 when these tumors formed, and have no history of breast cancer in my family. Even if cancer feels improbable, it’s still very possible."
As the spouse of someone who was recently diagnosed with cancer, I can absolutely relate to the improbability aspect—it's easy to convince yourself it couldn't possibly be cancer. You're too young, you're too healthy, you have young kids, there's no family history. And while you can't spend your life waiting for something to go wrong, you do owe it to yourself to listen to your body and your intuition always when it comes to your health.
"I have to admit, for the first few days I endured the 'why me' feelings," she writes. "But quickly, I started to think 'honestly, why NOT me?!' I have all the support, resources, and a platform to help other people through this. So if anyone has to have breast cancer, I’ll gladly let it be me."
The mom of two—she and her husband, photographer John Shearer, share Stella, 11, and Sutton, 8—will undergo a double mastectomy surgery on Friday.
It's unfortunate that Shearer wasn't able to get into her OBGYN quickly and had to resort to her PCP instead. While it's a relief she did get the mammogram she needed, she still had to jump through hoops to do it. Many women in the U.S. aren't as lucky.
The reality of women's healthcare in the U.S.
In the U.S., women of reproductive age (18-49) are more likely to be without a primary care doctor, more likely to struggle to pay medical bills, avoid care because of the cost, develop chronic health conditions and ultimately die from preventable causes compared to other high-income countries.
According to data collected from the Commonwealth Fund’s 2020 International Health Policy Survey and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United States has the highest rate of avoidable deaths among women, compared with other high-income countries. Avoidable deaths are those that could have been prevented with routine care, such as cancer screenings and vaccinations.
“U.S. women are sicker, more stressed, and die younger compared to women in other countries,” Munira Gunja, a senior researcher with the Commonwealth Fund and the report’s lead author, tells The Philadelphia Inquirer. “This is largely because so many of them lack access to needed care.”
How to perform a self-breast examination
When done correctly, self-breast examinations can be an important step in screening for breast cancer and other breast abnormalities. You should perform them sparingly, and you don't need to immediately panic if you find a lump. Just call your healthcare provider and advocate for yourself to get an appointment as quickly as possible.
"If I can make my cancer purposeful, [I want to] have people understand that if you feel anything amiss, you have to say something. You might not get a response from your doctor that you like. They might push it off and say you don't need a test or we'll get you in at your next physical. But we know our body's best," Shearer tells PEOPLE. "Self-examining is the best thing you can possibly do and it costs nothing. Self-examining is what saved me. I think I would be in a very different scenario right now had I not pushed this through myself."
Wishing Clea Shearer and her family all the love and light as they embark on this difficult journey.