Do All Lives Matter? Not According to Black Women's Breast Cancer Mortality Rates

I didn't have much of a smile in this picture taken in the summer of 2014. I was still reeling from getting the news on July 14, five days before it was snapped outside of Stir Crazy coffee shop on Melrose Avenue, that I had breast cancer.

I wanted to wear that Depeche Mode t-shirt in the picture above to work today. I wanted to give huge hugs to my friends and family who showed up for me so that I didn't lose my mind while I went through chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation.

Instead I'll settle for listening to my two sons and one of their good friends sitting in the next room laughing as they play Monopoly. Hearing them pray to land on "Free Parking" before they roll the dice puts a huge smile on my face, and makes my heart catch in my throat.

I wasn't sure I'd be here for these kinds of moments, and the reality is that too many women who are diagnosed are not around a couple years later to reminisce about the absolute horror of finding out that they have cancer. Particularly black women.

Every time I see the statistics on breast cancer survival rates for black women, I get so angry.

Although "breast cancer incidence (rate of new cases) is slightly lower among African-American women than among white women," research shows that die more often from it. Indeed, "in 2013, (the most recent data available) breast cancer mortality was 39 percent higher in African-American women than in white women," according to the Susan G. Komen website.

You know what's really a trip? "Even after accounting for differences in income, past screening rates and access to care, African-American women are diagnosed with more advanced breast cancers and have worse survival than white women," according to the website.

Black women, read up about triple negative breast cancer, which impacts us disproportionately. I never heard of it in my entire life before I got diagnosed. I never once had a doctor mention it to me, or tell me that black women are diagnosed at higher rates.

All women, but especially black women, please do me a favor and read this out loud to yourselves:
  • I promise that I will do a monthly breast self exam and check myself for any suspicious-feeling lumps or bumps. 
  • If I feel anything out of the ordinary, I will not procrastinate about making an appointment with my doctor. 
  • If I am over 40, I promise I will get talk to my doctor about getting a mammogram.
Of course, the last two are a heck of a lot easier to do if you have: good health insurance; a doctor you trust and that you know respects and listens to you; a job that has sick days and/or lets you take the time to go to the doctor without it affecting your paycheck; a car to get to the doctor or money for a bus pass, and someone who will hold your hand and tell you it is going to be alright.

Doing those things are also easier when you have no worries about your family members being killed when they're pulled over, when you have a grocery store stocked with nutritious food in your neighborhood, when you have green space and it's safe to exercise outdoors, and when you don't have to deal with the psychological, emotional, and spiritual toll that bearing the brunt of racism causes.

Black women, I don't know how many of us have all those things. Too many of us are dying, which suggests that we do not.

I have to do a lot of mental gymnastics to keep myself from freaking out every single day over the prospect of cancer coming back. But I'm still here, and now I'm going to go laugh some more over one of my sons trying to trade "all the yellows" for Boardwalk.


angela said…
Sending love fellow warrior queen

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