By Rhonda M. Smith
As another Breast Cancer Awareness Month comes to an end, I reflect back on all the events, activities, and media coverage that have brought attention to the cause and what October represents. This year, in particular, I have heightened sensitivity and awareness of what has been covered and promoted in the media. That is because I currently work as the consultant/ Project Director for a statewide breast cancer disparities initiative in California. Over the past 15 months, I have been engrossed in breast cancer disparities work, specifically addressing this issue among African American women.
There have been all sorts of articles published in the media during October about black women and breast cancer, along with the latest news, research, opinions, etc. about breast cancer in general. It’s enough confusion and information to make my head explode!
For example, now the new American Cancer Society breast cancer guidelines recommend that we screen later than age 40, and instead start at 45 and do so less often instead of annually. Six years ago, the federal government’s Preventive Services Task Force caused an uproar and confusion when it recommended that women in their 40s didn’t need to get routine mammograms; rather they should start at age 50. Someone get them a reality check, please!! I see on daily basis women in their 20s, 30s, and early 40s diagnosed with breast cancer – Black, White, Latina, you name it. These women might be dead by now if they’d followed that guideline.
So, while it’s great to get updated information on the protocol for breast cancer screenings and guidelines and how to manage your breast health, a woman, as well as the general public, can become fraught with the confusion that can often create the wrong perception and belief about how to manage her breast health.
The notion of breast cancer disparities is not new news among African American women. However, despite the fact this health issue has been studied for many years, the media will lead us to believe the situation is not getting any better for black women when they are diagnosed with breast cancer.
There continue to be articles published in October about the plight of African-American women diagnosed with breast cancer. In the October issue of O Magazine, there was an article entitled “Why Are So Many Black Women Dying of Breast Cancer? Another popular article with a similar title written by the infamous Dr. Harold P. Freeman, “Why Black Women Die of Cancer” appeared in the NY Times in March 2014. It is a great article that provides insight as to why this is happening. There were two additional articles, entitled “A Grim Breast Cancer Milestone for Black Women”, and “Black Women More Likely to Get Wrong Breast Cancer Care, Study Confirms”. I’m sure there may be even more articles on this topic published during October, but I’ve seen and read enough already.
After reading all of these articles, I started to get a little pissed off because it made it appear as though all black women experience this dilemma when they are diagnosis with breast cancer. Here again, another stereotype to contend with and to paint us in a not so positive light when it comes to our health and behavior. Now, I’m not saying that there are no merits to the contents of these articles, but what I am saying is that it paints a very grim picture and perception of African-American women diagnosed with breast cancer. The message breeds more fear among African American women that they have associated with knowing the outcome of mammograms. It also fuels the fatalistic attitude that exists within the community that “when you get cancer you die”. The messages in the media only make the individual mindset, myths, beliefs, and barriers that exist in the community much harder to dismantle. I deal with this every day in trying to educate, motivate and empower Black women to be more proactive about their breast health. It’s hard enough already without an extra “noise” around this issue.
While the statistics do hold true, and I believe that there are too many of our women dying unnecessarily of breast cancer, we have the power to change that and reverse this trend. To do so we have to start talking about African American women surviving breast cancer and shed the spotlight on how many of our women are “thriving” after breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. Myself being one of them.
Let’s start talking and writing about what we can do to survive this disease and be more proactive about our breast health so that we can rewrite the story of African American women and breast cancer. If we are diagnosed with breast cancer or any other chronic disease or health issue, we all need to become more proactive healthcare consumers and learn how to advocate better for ourselves and our loved ones.
Let us help ourselves and prevent the women in our lives who we love and honor from becoming a statistic. So, be vigilant and get your mammograms annually. Talk to your doctor about what’s right for you given your family history and situation. And remember, early detection saves lives!!
Rhonda M. Smith is the Founder of Breast Cancer Partner, a for-profit organization that works to empower women diagnosed with breast cancer to become their own health and wellness advocate so that they don’t just survive the disease but “thrive” during treatment, in recovery, and in their life beyond breast cancer. Breast Cancer Partner provides the tools, resources, knowledge, and information to help breast cancer survivors recover from treatment, restore their lives back to “normal”, and re-energize after treatment ends. Breast Cancer Partner also creates and delivers health and wellness education experiences to help survivors optimize their quality of life and well-being during and after treatment, improve outcomes, and enhance their long-term survivorship.
Emmy-nominated network television producer Deborah Mitchell is a veteran of ABC and CBS News, a member of the Producers Guild of America, and a board member of the James Beard Broadcast and Media Awards Committee. Through Deborah Mitchell Media Associates, she will create your online personality with a customized website, book you on the right television show, manage your social media profiles, and connect you with the best and brightest digital influencers. Deborah is a weekly contributor for Entrepreneur.com and author of So You Want To Be On TV. You can follow Deborah @SocialTVDeb and/or email SocialTVDeb@gmail.com.