It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Well, I am aware that my breasts may be on the small side, but until a scary situation a while back, I never had to request – let alone, beg – anyone to pay attention to my “little friends.” After the humiliation of being turned down, darn-near staging a one-woman protest, and crying my little eyes out in public, my breasts and I finally received some attention.
If I was selfish, I’d deal with the results of my situation, and leave it there. But that would be too easy, and I want your breasts or you’re loved-ones’ breasts to get their much-needed attention as well – particularly, if you’re a young woman of color and under the age of 40. (CLICK HERE TO WATCH: Deya Directives 8: Check My Breasts!)
You see, for about a year, I had very painful lumps in my breasts. At first, I just chalked the pain up to the soreness that women get monthly around our cycles. But as the pain and lumps persisted over a period of time, I began to get alarmed. It was clear that I had to see a doctor.
Dilemma #1: I’m sorry to say that, like millions of other Americans, I didn’t have health insurance at the time. Gone are the days when only the indigent and lower class of our country are without sufficient health care coverage. Those of us who are middle-class, hard-working and ambitious often find ourselves in a rut for a variety of reasons – most of them economical and political. So, I decided to make an appointment with a recommended black female physician at one of the highly-esteemed hospitals where I lived.
I expressed my concerns to the doctor and told her that I thought I needed a mammogram.
Dilemma #2: Before even checking my breasts, she declared, “How old are you? Oh, no – you won’t need a mammogram. You’re not 40.” Then she felt my left breast, and her face changed. She told me that I needed an ultrasound, the procedure normally recommended for women 40 and younger because it gives a better view than the mammogram due to dense tissue mass. The doctor told me not to get the lab work done at her hospital because without insurance, it would cost an arm and a leg. Instead, she recommended that I look into programs that were geared toward women to assist me.
Dilemma #3: I started with the Health Department; moved onto the Black Women’s Health Project who turned me onto a few health programs for women of color that give mammograms. With each call, I received the same response, “You must be 40 or over to get a mammogram.” But I’m not 40! I’m in my 30’s, and my breast hurts!
Despite the prevailing opinion that young women don’t get breast cancer, the reality is that they can. And they do. Black women under the age of 50 are 77 percent more likely to die from the disease than white women of all ages. Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in young women ages 15 to 40. Black women get breast cancer at younger ages than white women. Black women with breast cancer have faster-growing, more aggressive tumors than white women.
Beyond that, according to the Sisters Network, Inc. an estimated 20,000 newly diagnosed cases of breast cancer are expected to occur among African-American women and 5,700 of them are expected to die with the disease. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among African-American women and the second leading cause of cancer deaths among this ethnic group. Having made the point about the statistics, young women and young women of color need more attention, research, and programs geared toward them.