On October 20, I celebrated four years of survivorship/thrivership. I celebrated four years of being cancer-free.
My cancer diagnosis story is not unlike many other women like me. I was a typical, multi-tasking miracle-working, taking-care-of-everyone superhero Black woman and went to the doctor for my annual checkup. It was there, in the most unexpected of surprises, that I was diagnosed with Stage 3A Triple Negative Breast Cancer, the most aggressive breast cancer sub-type. It represents about 15% of breast cancers and currently, there are no targeted therapies, making recurrence more prevalent and the mortality rate significantly higher.
And, it affects Black women at three times the rate.
The next steps were terrifying ones. I had a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and underwent radiation. In my first meeting with my oncologist, she said I would probably only live for 2 years. At the time, my youngest daughter was a sophomore at Dartmouth. I told my doctor that she, I and God would have to work something out because I not only wanted to see Hayley graduate, but I also had to work and pay for it. Somehow, I needed to make it through.
By the grace of God and my doctors, I watched my daughter graduate and her sister, Link Amanda Brown, recently married.
But my recovery wasn’t all in hospitals and healthcare facilities. My faith, the support of family and my sista friends carried me through. I had to find peace in my life.
I did that by getting rid of all the cancers in my life, not just the one in my breast. I quit my life and started a new one by divorcing my husband of 30 years, separating from my business partners of 10 years, selling my house in the suburbs and moving to the beach. I started my own business between by 3 rounds of chemo. My prayer closet is on my paddleboard on the Chesapeake Bay. And, my peace is non-negotiable.
My personal hashtags are #WalkingInBlessings and #TriplePositive. Though I am blessed and doing well, other Black women are not as fortunate, and it’s certainly not for lack of their own faith or will. Here are some very troubling statistics. According to the American Cancer Society, Breast Cancer incidence has increased 23 percent for whites and 35 percent for African Americans. Breast Cancer mortality has decreased 34 percent for whites and only 2 percent for African Americans. 33 percent of breast cancers in Black women occur UNDER the age of 50 compared to 21 percent in white women.
African American women are diagnosed at later stages. And African American women are three times more likely to have Triple Negative Breast Cancer, the more aggressive form that I had.
According to the CDC, Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among African American women. Black women under age 35 have rates of breast cancer two times higher and die three times as often as Caucasian women under age 35. Black women are on average three to seven years younger than white women when diagnosed. For women ages 45–64 years, the breast cancer death rate is 60 percent higher for Black women than white women.
This new guidance of moving the age to get our first mammogram to age 45 or 50, will cause the numbers above to increase. If we look at this latest set of guidelines in light of what we know about black women and breast cancer, we can only expect more deaths from breast cancer in our community.
So what can we do?
We can support the Black Women’s Health Imperative that continues to support beginning breast screening at age 40. And, as a collective group, we must let our voices be heard! Go to the American Cancer Society Facebook page with your concerns. Call your congressional leaders to voice your concerns.
Also, I tell everyone I know to check the breasts that you love; I know you have a pair. Begin monthly breast self-exams starting at age 20. Get a clinical breast exam by a trained medical professional every 2-3 years beginning at age 20 and annually after age 40. Get a mammogram every one to two years beginning at age 35 (earlier and more frequently if you have a family history).
And lastly, we don’t always have to be super heroes. Listen to the direction of flight attendants, put the mask on yourself first. Take a pause for yourself every day and find peace in your life.
Ricki Fairley is the president of Dove Marketing, a marketing agency with a mission to deliver iconic thinking, strategic problem solving and creative genius to clients seeking profitable business results.. You can follow her on Twitter here.
1 of 14
1. Bobbi Brown 'Breast Cancer Awareness – Peony' Blush & Brush Set
With every purchase of the Breast Cancer Awareness Peony set, Bobbi Brown will donate $12 to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
2 of 14
2. White House, Black Market Butterfly Umbrella, $35
Designed by Lana Moes, the artist behind White House, Black Market's Give Hope Collection, this beautiful umbrella will keep you dry and looking chic. For every one sold, $20 goes to the charity Living Beyond Breast Cancer.
3 of 14
3. White House, Black Market Butterfly Tee, $58
$40 of profits from each tee shirt, made of a super soft grey knit, will go to the charity Living Beyond Breast Cancer.
4 of 14
4. 'Evelyn Lauder & Elizabeth Hurley Dream Pink – Modern Muse' Solid Perfume Keychain, $44.50
100 percent of the proceeds of this limited edition keychain go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
5 of 14
5. Limited Edition BCRF Pink HTC One® M9 Smartphone, $649
While this one is a little more pricey than the others, if you're in the market for a new smartphone, why not get one from a company donating more than $25K to charity? Get yours this month at HTC.com.
6 of 14
6. Donald Robertson x Bloomingdales Crewneck Charitee Tee, $28
With each purchase of this design by famed illustrator Donald Robertson, $18 will be donated to BCRF — the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
7 of 14
7. Shoedazzle Esmeralda Bootie, $49.95
When you purchase Esmeralda in Pink, 100% of the net proceeds will go directly to Susan G. Komen® Orange County.
8 of 14
8. Longton Clutch, Shoedazzle.com, $45.95
If shoes aren't your thing, why not try the Longton in Rose Smoke, where 100% of the net proceeds will go directly to Susan G. Komen® Orange County.
9 of 14
9. Faith Hope Komen Sweatshirt, $48
For $48, this adorable sweatshirt from the Komen foundation will keep you warm with a purpose. Available at ShopKomen.com
10 of 14
10. Under Armour Hustle II Backpack, $69.99
Grab this one for yourself or one of the kids . Available at Amazon.com
11 of 14
11. Ideology Plus Size Breast Cancer Awareness Graphic Leggings, $54.99
Available at Macy's, 10 percent of the proceeds of these plus size pants will go to the Breast Cancer Research Fund.
12 of 14
12. Nike NFL Breast Cancer Awareness Legend T-Shirt, $30
Get your guy to show support in this men's t-shirt, available with NFL team logos. 100 percent of the profits of the t-shirt, sold at Macy's, will go to the American Cancer Society.
13 of 14
13. Lane Bryant "Strength Is The New Black" Tee, $39.95
Ten percent of this shirt's profits will go to the American Cancer Society.
14 of 14
14. NEST Fragrances NEST01-PS Classic Candle, Passion, $38
The PASSION Candle honors the memory and the extraordinary achievements of Evelyn H. Lauder, Founder of The Breast Cancer Research Foundation. 10 percent of proceeds go to the foundation. Buy it at Amazon.com or Saks Fifth Avenue.
Thriving Over Surviving: How Removing Cancer From Both My Body And Life Set Me Free was originally published on hellobeautiful.com