Statistically, black women are more likely to die of breast cancer than white women, even though more white women are diagnosed with it. In fact, among black women, the numbers have changed very little comparatively since the Pink Ribbon campaigning started over twenty years ago. Any statistic showing a lack of progress in fighting cancer is heartbreaking, but what struck me was that besides the difference being accredited to economic issues, and a consequence of a lack of healthcare, the other culprit cited was Fear.
Women are dying of breast cancer because they are too afraid to even get tested.
In my work for breast cancer awareness, I speak with women of all nationalities, and they've confirmed these sentiments, and even expressed that fear leads them to take less appropriate treatments. The intensity of treatments, as well as the consequences of them (e.g. worrying about losing a sense of femininity because of the physical ramifications,) are too daunting to stomach for some. This means that not only are many dying from not getting tested, they are risking their lives because they're not seeking the most appropriate treatment options. What this is saying to me is that fear is paralyzing women. Fear is killing women.
I was one of the youngest black women to be diagnosed Her2positive in the state of NY, believe me when I tell you that I am no stranger to that fear. I was away from home, hitting the comedy circuit in LA. It was a time when my main concerns were hitting my "big break" as a comedian, and being young. A bump on my breast was the last thing I should have been thinking about, but it showed up, and it wouldn't change, it didn't itch, it wouldn't go away; and the gnawing sensation I got from it wouldn't either. I called my doctor in NY and went into detail about it with him. He told me, "Give it a couple of days" and, "We can discuss -- if it's still there later." He wasn't being dismissive; he just didn't think a woman my age was at risk of breast cancer.
Looking at it, rubbing it, and worrying about it was all I could do the next day. Something told me to haul tail to NY and get this thing checked out. When I called my doctor again, he said to me, "I'm sure nothing's wrong. Are you sure you want to leave sunny California to do this?" I was sure! On the way to NY, I started to have second thoughts. Leaving LA might mean missing out on a big chance- a bad thing if nothing was wrong. Had I put my career on the line? I was always moving too fast, and never listening to anyone but myself. Was I making a mistake this time? But it was too late, I was on a plane with an appointment made, and my boyfriend waiting for me at the airport.
When I landed, we went straight to the radiologist. The fear of cancer came back, and after an eternity, the doctor's assistant called my name, "Tiffany, how are you?" "Fine," I said. A lie, I was nervous as all hell. She escorted me to a room set up for my mammogram and sonogram. Before the doctor came in, I asked her, "Should I get a biopsy?" I wanted to be sure before going back to LA. "You want to biopsy what? The bump on your breast?" "Yes," I said. She told me I would have to talk to my doctor about that. Darn. What I was really looking for from her was the momentum to ask for one. Her agreeing would make the fear relevant, and the request reasonable. She was then replaced by the doctor and as he performed the sonogram, I wondered how far to take things. I knew the fear and doubt would still be there later, I asked for the biopsy. He didn't even look up at first; he was concentrating on the sonogram. I asked him again, "Can I have a biopsy?" He thought I was being paranoid, but then he saw that I was serious. He told me, "You don't need a biopsy. You're fine, Tiffany." He was finished, but I wasn't. After we went back and forth for almost ten minutes, he said, "Fine!" He performed the biopsy, and told me to go to lunch while he processed things. About 50 minutes later, he called me and said, "You have breast cancer."
Of course, my fear didn't stop once I got that diagnosis. It was replaced with other fears, and a lot of life changes. But utilizing that initial fear, taking action, and answering each new fear that presented itself, is what ended up saving my life. Too many women are dying from letting fear debilitate them. For many, the journey of cancer begins and ends in fear, but it's times like that when you must remember that fear is something you create within yourself, and conquering that fear can save your life.
Good luck out there!
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October. To read all posts in the series, visit here.