By Patricia O. Pattillo
“Is that a lump?”
Fear consumes you! We’ve heard about the monthly self-examination, which is still the first line of discovery for the majority of women. After all, we know our breasts better than anyone else. So continue your monthly examination regardless of your age.
Years ago, Joyce White of the acclaimed O.C. White Soul Club, shared her diagnosis of breast cancer. She was probably the first woman to discuss her diagnosis as I recall. After X-rays, ductal aspirations and mastectomies, she lived a full life and became one of the first advocates to create walks against Cancer and other events within the Black community. No doubt her annual mammograms followed for many years.
Two of my paternal aunts passed away from breast cancer, in their eighties, so I continue the self-examination strategy monthly. And, a dear friend, who recently went through chemotherapy and radiation suggested I continue to request my annual mammogram given my family history. So, I do.
In our community, for years, illnesses were seldom discussed. Maybe you’d hear of arthritis, or the “Arthur,” as it was jokingly described. Or, in rare cases, an aunt may have mentioned high blood pressure or “sugar,” meaning diabetes. But cancer was not typically revealed until it was obvious in weight loss or incapacity. The “C” word was not in my vocabulary as I was growing up.
I’ve often wondered did they hold this information to keep the realities of illness away from the tender ears of children? Was the availability of services so limited that they could not receive good care? I heard one aunt talking about keeping her body totally intact “for when she got to heaven.” So, I seldom heard of surgeries, either.
Some say, the unavailability of Black doctors and the issue of trust, also affected the number of surgeries older patients were willing to undergo. Thankfully, these “ back in the day” deterrents have diminished, making way for new knowledge and access that has brought good health and survivor statistics way up! Still we cannot take these improved statistics for granted. For while we typically have fewer cases than our Caucasian sisters, we have higher death rates, as much as 42%! So don’t go to sleep at the wheel.
Breast cancer will affect 1 in 8 women this year. The sooner it is diagnosed, the higher the rate of survival. And we must talk about it earlier to and for younger women, where breast cancer cases are increasing exponentially.
Many may remember the late Mildred Gold, who spent years promoting early detection and explaining breast cancer. Several of her sisters had breast cancer as well, so she was motivated to talk about what was happening. The need for change!
They had the BRACA triple negative gene that predisposes the carriers to breast cancer much earlier in life, accompanied by a high morbidity rate, regrettably.
Gold wrote, began the local Breast Cancer Mammogram mobile, and garnered a liaison of advocates, including Joyce White and other survivors. They became the face of Breast Cancer in the Black community. Nurses like Lillie O’Bee and Dr. Patricia Mc Manus conducted weekend symposiums, neighborhood clinics and outreach activities. They are directly responsible for many, many positive outcomes, and we thank them all. Their courage made a big difference. They stood up and showed up! Their voices still ring true.
And men readers, you can also be affected. Matthew Knowles, father of singing stars Beyonce and Solange Knowles, celebrities of international acclaim, recently announced his diagnosis and reminds men to watch for early signs of breast cancer, including discharge from the nipples. Breast cancer can be precursors for other cancers. So all genders should be vigilant!
After billions of dollars in research, X-rays, ultra sounds, surgeries and annual follow-ups, early detection and increased information and education remain the strategy for survival.
A number of public figures, family members, friends and neighbors proclaim: “I AM A CANCER SURVIVOR.” They FAR OUTNUMBER the new cases. We salute them all.
The month of October, Breast Cancer month, is an appropriate time to reflect and remember those who have carried the EARLY DETECTION BANNER. It is a time to determine how each woman, regardless of age, will learn more, access more, learn when to begin their annual mammogram, and share the good news!
Cancer is NOT a death sentence. Cancer does not discriminate! Cancer must be talked about, not hidden, for “as we know better, we do better”!
We are in the PINK! CELEBRATE IN THE PINK, by joining the many men and women who know more about Breast Cancer…and pledge to BEAT IT WITH EARLY DETECTION AND EARLY CURES!