Did you know that Black women have 40 percent higher chance of dying from breast cancer than White women? Did you know that women who started having periods before age 12 have a higher risk of breast cancer than those whose periods started after age 14? Did you know that, statistically, Black patients have better outcomes with Black doctors…but only 4 percent of physicians in the United States are Black?

The truth is, there’s so much we may or may not know about breast cancer—especially the ways in which the disease impacts Black women. No one can control whether they get breast cancer, but the Know Your Girls campaign is on a mission to spread awareness on how we can keep our breasts healthy. The initiative, jump-started by Susan G. Komen and the Ad Council, promotes personal stories from breast cancer survivors like Nikia Hammonds-Blakely, who was first diagnosed at 16 years old.

“One morning, while I was getting ready for school, I was taking a shower and felt a lump,” she tells ESSENCE exclusively. “I had no context for it, no family history of breast cancer and never talked about cancer. That was the last thing on my mind.” After receiving a biopsy, Nikia and her mom were told that not only was the lump malignant but that it was a very rare and aggressive form of breast cancer.

After undergoing a partial mastectomy and radiation treatment, Hammonds-Blakely, continued her studies and even went to prom. 18 years later, at age 34, her doctor said her mammogram results looked “suspicious” but that there was no need for concern. She pushed back and insisted on further testing. That’s when cancer was discovered in the opposite breast. “That’s why I so appreciate the messaging of this campaign, ‘Know your Girls'” Hammonds-Blakely says. “The core message is, ‘know your normal.’ If something’s off in your body, you have to know yourself enough to be able to say, ‘I don’t care what you say, something’s not right and I know it.’ “

Hammonds-Blakely is among many breast cancer survivors who have teamed up with Know Your Girls to spread the gospel of early detection and self-advocacy. By giving Black women the tools to take charge of their breast health, we can help avoid unnecessary breast cancer deaths.

Visit KnowYour Girls.org for more information on breast health and how to stay informed on educational resources regarding breast cancer awareness.

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