Breast Cancer in the African American Community
While African American women have lower incidents of breast cancer than the general population, they have higher death rates from breast cancer. In this one hour program, producers David Barasoain and Jayne Solinger explore these facts and look into what is being done to change this trend. The program features interviews with people who have lived, or are living through cancer, as well as local health professionals like Dr. Otis Brawley Medical Director of the Georgia Cancer Coalition Center of Excellence at Grady Hospital and Rogsbert Phillips, General Surgeon with Metro Surgical Associates and founder of Sister’s by Choice — a breast cancer support and advocacy organization for women with breast cancer.
Journey To Wellness’ look at breast cancer in the African American community focuses on how human connection is helping women to detect cancer early, survive and thrive long after the cancer diagnosis.
African American women are still dying of breast cancer in disproportionate numbers. But Rogsbert Phillips, an Atlanta surgeon and founder of Sisters By Choice says that early detection has made the disease very survivable.
The American Cancer Society recommends that every woman over 40 have a regular screening mammogram. In the African American community, only half of women that should get screened are getting screened.
Charly McCracken is 47 and has not yet had a mammogram. She’s heard horror stories about the test. But when the St. Joseph’s mobile mammogram unit visits her place of employment, she decides it’s time to “suck it up” and have the exam.
Other organizations in the community are trying to get the word out about low-cost mammograms that are available throughout the city. Walvella Bell, an outreach worker for the Center for Black Women’s Wellness goes door-to-door to reach women who would otherwise fall through the cracks. And oncology nurse Mary Gullatte offers mammograms in partnership with her church through the organization Breast CARE Partners.
While there are risk factors that may contribute to developing the disease, no one has pinpointed the cause of breast cancer. That’s why experts continue to stress early detection.
Early detection has brought breast cancer death rates down in all facets of the population. Even with the advances, treatment is still a scary proposition, and some patients are so frightened they fail to follow through with what their doctors recommend.
The patient navigator program at Grady Memorial Hospital is one way human connection is helping women survive a cancer diagnosis. Navigator Dorothy McMichael has survived breast cancer for 7 ½ years, and she usually meets with patients just after they’ve been diagnosed. “The ladies in pink,” as McMichael calls them, ease patients’ fears, offer to accompany them for treatments and appointments and demonstrate what life after cancer can be.
Christina Parks, 41, was diagnosed three years ago after she found a lump in her breast. Christina worked with her doctors to find a less-toxic course of treatment. Surviving breast cancer has brought many changes to Christina’s life, including her diet and approach to stress. She also facilitates a Sisters By Choice group, where breast cancer survivors and patients come to share experiences, information and support.
Kimberly Mitchell, 40, is fighting cancer for the second time. Her diagnosis is inflammatory breast cancer — a rare, very aggressive form.
Kimberly is following through with everything her doctors recommend — more intense radiation treatments, another surgery, and more chemotherapy. She’s also leaning heavily on her religious faith and the support of her family — including her mother, who’s also a breast cancer survivor, her husband Alvin, and her three daughters, ages 15, 9 and 5.
Getting past breast cancer is not just about surviving, it requires healing and hope. The Shades of Pink choir was formed 3 years ago and it brings together the voices of 80 breast cancer survivors. They demonstrate what an important symbol of hope survivors provide those going through breast cancer treatment. And they show that after cancer can come a new life.
Surviving breast cancer is possible without support, but human connection — especially among African American women — transforms what is a terrifying unknown into familiar life experience. Each survivor is still traveling the journey that begins with a breast cancer diagnosis.