As a global ambassador for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s Circle of Promise campaign, which supports and services African-American women, Gabrielle Union is dedicating her efforts to ensure women take the necessary steps to prevent the spread of breast cancer. Union is also featured in a new DVD, “Breast Cancer: The Path of  Wellness & Healing,” out this month. In her own words, she explains why the cause is so important to her and encourages you to commemorate National Breast Cancer Awareness Month by getting tested.

I got involved in the breast cancer awareness movement because one of my close girlfriends was diagnosed with metastatic at age 32. She was underinsured, so I started pulling our friends together to raise money for her to get additional treatment so she wouldn’t be in debt. We wanted to plan for her financial future because we knew she would survive. After a while I became pretty good at coming up with fundraising options and convincing folks to write big checks. My efforts caught the eye of different organizations and eventually I became obsessed with letting women of color know that this can happen to you. This is a disease that affects a lot of African-American women. When you break down the social and economical factors, Black women’s mortality rate is extremely high and almost identical to that of some third world countries. It’s just not acceptable to me.

Last year while I was in Ghana with Susan G. Komen, I met a 16-year-old girl who was living with breast cancer and she died this year. I’ve been hell-bent on getting the word out because most people believe when you have metastatic breast cancer that it’s a wrap–a death sentence–and that’s not true because there are people who live with it for years.

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With the success of each new drug, no one should think, “I better start looking for a plot and coffin.” We’ve got to get tested. At a pretty early age, I learned about breast cancer. I can remember the doctor coming to my high school with a silicone breast that was created to feel like one with breast cancer. I began my self breast examinations at an early age. But it’s important that families share their health history with one another because not doing so robs us of knowing what we might be facing or inheriting. We need to take preventive measures with regular mammograms, and unfortunately, a lot of insurance companies don’t cover the exam unless you’re 40. As Black women, we must make ourselves our own priority. It might feel selfish but the bottom line is, if you do it’s guaranteed to make you a better mom, wife, grandmother, mentor and, of course, inspiration.