Words like “struggle” or “war” are frequently used to describe the journey of a breast cancer survivor through treatment. For black women in particular, it can also feel like an endless fight against the numbers.
Black woman1 are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age, and on top of that, the cancers they get tend to be more aggressive and more difficult to treat2. These trends, along with other barriers to diagnosis and treatment, make black women 40% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women.3.
The sobering statistics – and the experiences that tell the stories behind them – can take a heavy toll, both physically and emotionally, on the people who have lived through them. To shed light on their stories, we spoke with five women of color who are breast cancer survivors to share how they recovered from a devastating diagnosis and forged the connections that helped them move forward. In order to find strength, cross over and survive the journey, they have learned to find the support they need in all kinds of places, both inside and outside of themselves. .
1. “I have become overly optimistic. «
Charlotte Conner, 33, had just had a breast augmentation when she felt a lump in her breast. “When I saw my doctor, they weren’t worried, in part because of my young age,” says Conner, who was 30 at the time. She had a mammogram and ultrasound to check for signs of cancer, but no MRI. “Looking back, I wish I had ordered this MRI,” she says.
At the first check-up six months later, they told her she was fine. By the second, a year after the discovery of the original mass, the mass had tripled in size. Her doctor ordered a biopsy and a diagnosis was confirmed: stage 2A ductal carcinoma, which means the cancer was growing but was confined to the breast and surrounding lymph nodes.4
“When they told me I had cancer, I was calm,” she says. His state of mind immediately shifted from a feeling of sinking to an optimistic view of the future. “I focused on my health again,” says Conner, who began to fantasize about what she would do after the treatment.
She remembers thinking, I might be feeling sick and throwing up from the chemotherapy, but what restaurants will I go to after this is all over? It’s a prospect that didn’t necessarily come naturally to him either. « I’m not even too optimistic in life – I think I’m a realist – but in this situation I’ve become too optimistic. »
Part of that change of mind was for her daughter, who is now nine years old. “I couldn’t be pessimistic, I had to be strong for her,” she says. « And I knew the way I acted in that situation was the way she was going to mirror things and react to stressful situations as she got older. »
Conner’s other pillar of support came from a tight-knit circle of friends and family, who threw her a party to shave her head before she lost her hair to chemo. “Making things fun and light like that got me through my darkest and saddest times,” she says.
2. « Therapy has strengthened me to overcome cancer. »
One morning Patricia Fox, 33, woke up with a lump in her right breast that wasn’t there the night before – she was only 26 at the time. Fox made an appointment with his gynecologist that day. “They told me that I was a young black woman and that I had dense breasts, and that it was probably a cyst,” she says. “They were ready to fire me. «