Breast Cancer and Black Women — When Will We Put Ourselves First

I remember growing up and watching my Mom intensely.

She woke up early.

She went to bed last.

She cooked, cleaned, helped everyone in our church, mentored young women, was there when I needed her (or any of my other five siblings did), spoke at events and supported the 1,001 dreams my dad had.

She was the last to get new clothes and the first to say she wasn’t hungry when there was just one last slice of pizza.

I learned about not being “first” from her.

And while there is so much good in that lesson, I also saw the burnout and fatigue that saturated her at times because of her sacrificial heart.

And, in retrospect, I took that spirit with me into many aspects of my life, even my healthcare journey, after I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017.

There were times that I acted from the lesson in ways that did not serve me. I was the sacrificial “good” patient at times, for instance. You know the one: the one that never asks loads of questions, or challenges what the doctor says or prescribes, or even the fact that they didn’t always seem to believe what I was telling them.

Other times, I have remembered my mother’s burnout and fatigue, and stepped forward.

I found my lump myself doing self breast checks in my shower. At 33, I was too young for the recommended age for mammograms.

I spoke up and asked for my biopsy, even when they told me my ultrasound was completely normal, and to check back in six months if anything changed.

I’m grateful that I put myself first this time. If I hadn’t spoken up, advocated for myself, I wouldn’t have known that I was already living with stage 3B breast cancer.

We don’t talk about mental health care and what advocacy can and should look like in the Black community enough, especially as women of color.

But I think it’s time we do.

It’s critical, as women, and especially women of color, to be adamant about scheduling our mammograms, taking the time to put our health first, and speaking up if something doesn’t feel right.

Why? We have to.

Look at these statistics from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF):

  • “While breast cancer incidence rates among Black and white women are close, Black women have a 40 percent higher death rate.”
  • “Among women under 50, the disparity is even greater, with young Black women having double the mortality rate of young white women.”

While advances in early detection and treatment have dramatically reduced breast cancer mortality overall, “It's clear that these breakthroughs have not benefited all groups equally — and this disparity has remained unchanged for more than a decade,” according to the BCRF.

It’s also critical to know that we know our bodies better than any doctor. I always say that they may have an MD behind their name, but I have an MD on my body.

It’s time for us to start speaking up and speaking out!

Preventive care in the Black community has been limited due to a number of social, structural, and healthcare system barriers.

We need to stand up for one another and demand access to preventive breast care as a community by first taking our own health seriously and learning to, at times, and perhaps contrary to our upbringing, put ourselves first.

This starts with realizing that, as Black women, we don’t have to do it all, like my mother did.

We can also rest.

We can take time to slow down and know our bodies as best as we can. We can put ourselves first and take our healthcare and mental health seriously.

I’m going to be honest with you all, and say that, sometimes, I am the worst at creating and practicing rest in my life. But I’ve begun to be more aware of when my body, soul, mind and spirit needs, and to create a safe space for it.

Here are just a few ways I started creating safe spaces for my rest.

I started by prioritizing getting a therapist, making time to go to the gym daily, putting my spirituality first, creating boundaries, speaking up for my needs, and resting when I need it.

It has been life changing.

So, Beloved, slow down today.

Take inventory of the last time you checked in with your body, your mind, your soul.

When was the last time your doctor listened to you, like truly listened?

When was the last time you advocated for yourself?

When was the last time you took a few moments to just sit and rest?

When was the last moment you put yourself first?

Please remember this:

You are worth it!

We are worth it!

Love you, mean it.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *