My cousin is dying from breast cancer. The cancer has metastasized like a personal wildfire throughout her body leaving her a shell of her vibrant, youthful self. She’s not the first person to ever have their body betray them in such a horrific way, nor is she the first in my family. My great grandmother and aunts have all had the Scarlet B emblazoned on their chest as if some sort of twisted right of passage.
I remember sharing my family health history with my doctor. I was in for a routine check-up but was curious about genetic testing. After hearing about Angelina Jolie and a close friend undergoing testing, I thought it might be a practical choice for me. He scoffed and told me, “don’t worry, you’re much too young. Plus, it’s so expensive to undergo genetic testing.”
He dismissed my fears as if I had come in complaining about a paper cut. But I, a 25-year-old woman at the time, was concerned and terrified that I was next. That I was stuck in a game of Russian Roulette without ever opting in to play. Because he was a doctor, a person with much more medical knowledge than me, I accepted his words like so many of us do, and continued on about my life.
Health disparities between Black and white women in the US have existed for what feels like forever; however, they were first recognized 30 years ago. Today, even though we- Black women- are less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, we are still much more likely to die from the disease than our white counterparts. Did you know that Black women are 42% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women? That’s a significant increase compared to 1990 when we women were 17% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women.1
Why such a big difference? Overall, Black and white women develop breast cancer at similar rates, however, we tend to face much harder diagnoses. For one, we are more likely to develop breast cancer before the age of 40. Not to mention we also have higher rates of triple-negative breast cancer, one of the most aggressive types of the disease.
Beyond our biological risk factors, we may face multiple barriers in accessing prevention and early detection services plus we also have lower screening rates when compared to white women, causing doctors to detect our cancers at a later, more aggressive and life-threatening stage. It’s… a lot.
“I’m convinced that we Black women possess a special indestructible strength that allows us to not only get down, but to get up, to get through, and to get over.” – Janet Jackson
As a Black woman, I’m constantly second-guessed, dismissed, and outright ignored by society. However, where you’d hope I’d be the most heard, the most visible, the most believed would be at my doctor’s office; but that’s where my invisibility cape is most active. I wish the culprit was a personality flaw, but it’s a serious issue with a deadly domino effect. Our healthcare system fails to provide all women- especially Black women- with the adequate medical care we demand and deserve. We are notoriously left out of the national women’s health conversation and deserve more personalized content to drive behavior change and start to change these odds.
The good news is that there are resources like Bright Pink. That’s why in 2018, I chose to work for this organization- an organization I truly believe has and will continue to make a difference in helping to empower women to live their best lives. Reeling with confusion about my own future, and not being able to find resources dedicated to my specific risk factors (i.e. being Black), I began thinking about how those resources would look and feel. That was the genesis for Hey Sis– an effort to amplify and highlight the unique risk factors and barriers that we- Black women- face when dealing with our breast and ovarian cancer risk.
Bright Pink believes that knowledge is power; that risk awareness can be the catalyst for women to access more frequent screening, pursue genetic testing, and access treatments not routinely recommended to the general population. These actions can greatly improve all women’s chances of preventing cancer and detecting it in its most treatable stage. Because everyone deserves the opportunity to live a healthier life, no matter who they are.
And sis, that includes you too. So shine on sis, shine on.
Hey Sis highlights the risks Black women face specifically by featuring personal breast and ovarian health experiences from Black women, personalized health recommendations for the Black community, progress being made to address these barriers, and more. Join us, follow along, and share with the women in your life; from your mama, sisters, cousins, and even your brunch squad- spread the word about Hey Sis. We’re stronger when we all work together in pursuit of the bright future every woman deserves.