By Rae Sedgwick Ph.D., J.D.
Clinical and Consulting
Attorney at Law
We were sitting under a canopy of stars, talking about breast cancer—hers and mine. She is a young mother of three preschoolers; I am single, in my sixties. The high school track below us is filled with cancer survivors: Relay for Life. We are not alone.
Within a few years, a law colleague will call to say she has been hospitalized with a heart attack—stent inserted and now home recovering. Until hiking with a young friend, she had been apparently healthy.
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in women. According to the American Cancer Society, one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer.
Heat disease, cancer, strokes, COVID-19—all causes of death in women. I would add another cause, not often mentioned: loneliness. A significant number of women over 65 are widows.
A young man shares the grief of losing his pastor and within months, the pastor’s wife. We stand shoulder to shoulder, looking out a store window. He turns to me, tears running down his face: “She died of a broken heart.” Broken heart syndrome is a reality.
A retired medical colleague called me to say she is having surgery and just wanted to be in touch. “Women need women,” she says. She goes on to say that women need men, family and community, but there is something sustaining in friendships among women. “Pray with me,” she says.
My mother ran a boarding house after my father died. She died of a coronary at age 69. Had she had access to affordable healthcare, she might have lived longer. What sustained her through the years of hardship were the strong, capable, communal farm women who surrounded her.
What do women need? Affordable, available healthcare, early detection, and a circle of sustaining friends. We need not be alone. •
Dr. Rae Sedgwick is a published author, nurse, clinical psychologist and attorney in private practice. Sedgwick is a graduate of the Postdoctoral Training Program in Clinical Psychology of the Menninger Clinic.