Saving Our Sisters: Breaking the Silence on Black Women And Health
Video Courtesy of American Association for Cancer Research
This article has been updated from a previous version published in 2017.
I’ve seen too many women die over the past few months. Women that had so much life left to live. Women that had virtually conquered the world and transformed lives. Women who were gone too soon. I took their deaths personally.
I was angry that I didn’t know about their cancers before they died. I was angered by their secrecy. I was angry at the disease that caused them to turn inward and remain invisible. Could they have been saved? I took it exceptionally hard because, just a few years ago, my own life was saved because of my sister.
February 2007, at the age of 35, my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. She decided to visit the Emergency Room for a migraine headache and requested a mammogram due to a feeling she had. Not an actual physical feeling, but a gut feeling.
She almost dismissed that gnawing in her stomach and came close to chalking it up to her being somewhat of a “hypochondriac” but she pushed past her own internal judgment to ask the doctor to give her a mammogram. It was in her self-advocacy that she learned she had breast cancer.
My sister elected to have a mastectomy and began her journey to survivorship March of that year.
Too Close to Home
My sister’s diagnosis raised my awareness to the disease. I knew about cancer, as many of my aunts died of the deadly disease. However, this time, it was a little too close to home.
I shared my sister’s diagnosis with my doctor and she advised me, at 32 years of age, to get a baseline mammogram. I’m glad I did.
Three years later, in 2010, before my 35th birthday, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Two years earlier I had a lumpectomy as a mass was discovered but it was benign. But it was due to that discovery that routine screenings began for me.
My routine mammogram in 2010 was one of the most difficult ones I had. The squeezing, pulling, and tugging of the technician to get a good picture was unpleasant. Waiting in a room for a few people to look at my results also caused great anxiety. The repeat exam caused great alarm. The letter in the mail carrying the news that I needed a biopsy was mortifying.
The fine needle aspiration and the diagnosis later sucked all the air out of my lungs. I was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer…#worldstop!
My doctor advised me to have genetic counseling and it was through a blood draw and genetic testing that I learned I had the BRCA2 gene mutation. My doctor encouraged me to use that information to make an informed decision about my treatment. I decided to have a double-mastectomy.
There is a more technical term for it but essentially one breast was removed due to cancer and the other was removed as a preventive measure.
My Sister’s Keeper
The same BRCA2 gene mutation also increased my chances of having both breast and ovarian cancer so in 2011 I also had my ovaries removed. Everything had to go!
I am sharing this story because I want to save a sister. My sister did for me what I hope to do for you, and that is to encourage you to become an advocate for yourself and take charge of your health. I was diagnosed with cancer but not given a death sentence. I am still here, 7 years later, sharing my story with you because I want you to live, too.
- Get tested. Early detection is the key.
- Share your story. Let someone else know what steps you took for survival. Let them know your journey so that they too can become vigilant in their health.
- Break the silence. It’s time to stop hiding.
Going Beyond Breast Cancer
I am pleased to announce that another sister of mine is breaking the silence related to a health issue experienced by thousands of women, infertility. The Rev. Dr. Stacey L. Edwards-Dunn is the founder and president of, Fertility for Colored Girls, NFP (FFCG).
FFCG has been around for roughly four years and has made its mission to be a resource, advocate, and fertility coach for men and women looking to create the families of their dreams.
FFCG has been bringing awareness to the issue of fertility among black and brown women across the nation. The organization has 7 chapters in 7 metropolitan areas and is looking to open 5 more chapters this year.
Dr. Edwards-Dunn just released a book, Hold on to Hope: Stories of Black Women’s Fertility, Faith, & Fight to Become Mommies earlier this month. The book is to help other women know their options for creating the family they long to have. Dr. Edwards-Dunn is working to save a sister. I am here because my sister saved me. Who will you save?
More information about Rev. Dr. Stacey L. Edwards-Dunn’s book can be found at www.drstaceyledwardsdunn.com