Breaking Down Barriers and Building Bonds: My Journey as a Woman of Color With Breast Cancer
Walking into the chemotherapy infusion zone at my treatment center, I often found myself as the only Black woman or woman of color in the room. This was a familiar experience for me, as I have grown up in predominantly White environments my whole life. However, what was new and intimidating was navigating my diagnosis of triple-negative breast cancer, a term that had never crossed my ears until it abruptly became a part of my medical records. Seeking to be the best advocate for myself, I made it a priority to educate myself about my diagnosis. One startling fact I learned was that Black women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer at later stages and have a 40% higher chance of dying from the disease compared to White women, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). While these statistics were alarming, they were unfortunately not surprising. People of color have long faced disparities in accessing quality healthcare due to systemic racism and various inequities in the healthcare system. To address these issues, it will take more than mere acknowledgement – it will require a united and concerted effort to confront and reform the systems that perpetuate them.
Motivated to learn more about the disparities affecting the Black breast cancer community and how I could contribute to dismantling them, I searched for organizations that specifically support women of color. This search led me to the Tigerlily Foundation, where I completed their ANGEL Advocacy Training program. This program equipped me with the knowledge and tools required to become a better advocate within my community. Despite only connecting through screens, it was incredibly refreshing to engage with other women of color who had experienced similar journeys. Having a safe space to express my emotions, share my fears, and celebrate my victories felt empowering. It became a virtual sisterhood that provided the empathy and understanding I longed for, in a community that acknowledged the unique challenges we face and the strength we possess.
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From my personal experiences and the meaningful connections I have formed, I would like to offer three pieces of advice to other women of color in similar situations. Firstly, educate yourself about your diagnosis, treatment options, and the existing disparities. Knowledge is truly powerful and equips you to make informed decisions about your health. Seek out organizations and groups like the Tigerlily Foundation that comprehend your specific experiences and can provide tailored support. Connecting with others who share your background can also offer a tremendous sense of comfort and strength. Secondly, do not allow anyone to diminish your voice. As the youngest and often the only woman of color in my treatment center, I refused to let my age or race hold me back from actively participating in my treatment plan. No one knows your body better than you do. Therefore, if you notice something is amiss, speak up. Do not stop until your concerns are acknowledged and addressed. Lastly, advocate not only for yourself but also for your community. This fight should not be fought alone. The more we raise our voices, share our stories, and demand equal treatment and access to quality care, the closer we come to dismantling the barriers that perpetuate the disparities we face. While breast cancer statistics may seem daunting for women of color, together, we can overcome these challenges and create a brighter future for future generations. To connect with other breast cancer survivors, I encourage you to join our Breast Cancer Facebook Support Group.