Lyndsay had her dream career when it happened to her. Keisha was in the best shape of her life when she got the news. Jazmine was just 28 when she found out. What do these three women have in common? They are all women who were diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer.
Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is a subtype of breast cancer that tends to grow quickly and has a higher likelihood of spreading and recurring after treatment compared to other subtypes of breast cancer. Black women are about two times more likely than White women to have this aggressive form of cancer, which is most common in those younger than 40, are Black or who have BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations.
Lyndsay, Keisha and Jazmine are being recognized as Hometown Heroes through Merck’s Uncovering TNBC program for going above and beyond to raise awareness while advocating for at-risk women in their communities. They joined Emmy-nominated television host Nina Parker and 17-year TNBC survivor Maimah Karmo of the Tigerlily Foundation in an intimate discussion surrounding the disparities Black women face.
‘It is critical that more is done …’
While the overall breast cancer death rate in the United States has dropped by 43% in the last 30 years, that is not the reality for Black women, who have a 4% lower incidence rate of breast cancer than White women but a 40% higher breast cancer death rate. Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among Black and Hispanic women in the U.S. Of people with breast cancer, about 10-15% have TNBC.
Health care disparities contribute to these statistics. Black women are more likely to experience inadequate access to screenings, treatment and preventive and educational information. Historical barriers in the health care system, including limited access to education and clinical trial enrollment, also have a significant impact on outcomes for Black women.
As a nurse, Jazmine can look at the disparities Black women face through a dual lens. “I think when healthcare providers educate themselves on a patient’s culture, they can communicate better,” said the Chicago resident. “Taking the time to figure out where people are and meeting them there is crucial.” Since her diagnosis, Jazmine has started a podcast with other healthcare professionals to share information with those at-risk in her community.
“It is critical that more is done to improve care for Black women, especially those at risk for TNBC. The oncology community needs to come together to address disparities faced by Black women,” Maimah said. “This includes improving access to screenings, ensuring equal access to treatment, and providing comprehensive education and support.”
Knowing when to put yourself first
When Nina’s mom first told her that she had breast cancer, she felt her mom pulling away. Later, she learned that her mom, the emotional rock of the family, simply didn’t have the capacity to take care of others as she always had.
“That was probably the first time my mom ever put herself first,” Nina shared.
It isn’t uncommon for Black women to prioritize the needs and wants of others over their own, even when it comes to their health. “Because we are Black women, we have to be so strong and we’re always the support for other people, we don’t ask for what we need,” Jazmine shared. “When you’re going through treatment you have to be open and honest about your needs. Once we become more comfortable with sharing our needs, we can go so much further.”
Keisha experienced this during her cancer diagnosis at 50. With children, a husband, and career, she struggled with managing her treatment and being a caregiver. “I felt guilty,” she said, “because I knew I had to take care of myself, but at the same time, I worry about them.” The Bay Area local has found her own version of self-care by sharing her story with others through social media.
The power of storytelling
“There needs to be more advocacy for people living with TNBC along with storytelling and more sharing so that we are not just left in the dark about how we live and maintain,” Lyndsay said.
When Lyndsay was diagnosed with TNBC at 37, she was working as a TV journalist in New York City and wasn’t surrounded by family or the support system she needed during treatment, so she moved back home to Houston, Texas. Her experience inspired her to build an organization to create a community for women with cancer.
Sharing these stories is just the start. Uncovering TNBC offers resources that provide awareness, support and connection to help empower women to advocate for themselves. Visit UncoverTNBC.com to learn more.