The subject of cancer is one that always hits a super-sensitive sore spot for me. I've lost several women in my family, who were very dear to me, to breast cancer, and while I can always remember them in my heart, reminiscing on their last days and reliving the disappointment about how I'll never get the chance to share pivotal experiences with them in my adulthood still hurts.
And I'm not alone: Between 1999 and 2020, 909,488 Black people died from complications of breast cancer, the CDC reports, devastating their families psychologically and financially. Non-Hispanic Black women have the highest death rates for this type of cancer as well, and it's not just something that hits middle-aged or elderly women, either. The Breast Cancer Research Association notes that young Black women (under 50) have double the mortality rate of young white women for breast cancer.
And that's not the only type of cancer that disproportionately affects us. Overall more than 224,000 new cancer deaths are expected this year, with more than 73,000 of those occurring among Black people, according to the American Cancer Society. Black women are twice as likely to die from uterine cancer as white women, the ACS reports, and we are more likely to be diagnosed with stomach, liver, and pancreatic cancer. While the reasons for the disparity of diagnosis and deaths are complex (and, according to research, "likely rooted in systemic racism" that affects access to quality care, information, resources, and support), there are ways we can work toward prevention and higher survival rates.
All of these stats can seem daunting, but there's a flip side of cancer that entails prevention methods, survival, redemption, self-love, and healing. It's been proven that early detection is linked to high survival rates, and the path to that is routine screenings and tests.
Experts recommend getting educated on the terminology and tests associated with cancers, embracing early detection methods for cancers that disproportionately impact Black women, finding out about your risks related to lifestyle and family history, keeping up with your monthly, bi-annually, and/or yearly check-ups (including overall physicals and pap smears,) and working to actively lead an overall healthy life.
For this year's World Cancer Day, which falls on February 4, let's take a look back at the insights of cancer survivors who have shared their stories with xoNecole over the years, from diagnosis to acceptance, to self-care and more:
Lindsey Walker on Using Your Voice and Offering Yourself Grace
"As for me, I learned to listen to myself and my body. I learned to put myself first and care less about what others had to say about me, my life, and my decisions. I learned to love myself for who I am and be gracious to myself. I'd spent most of my life trying to fit into this box that I was never meant to fit in the first place. I learned to give myself permission to be whoever I needed to be for me. And I learned that I, Lindsey Walker, can defeat all of my burdens. Even if it's cancer."
"Don't be afraid to speak up for yourself, if you feel that something is wrong, despite the doctor's orders, say something. And say something yesterday. It can make all the difference in the world. It could save your life."
Natalie Wilson on Coping With Surgeries and Loving Her Body
"Having my breasts are no doubt a physical reflection of my womanhood, but it's not a reflection of my core being as a woman. I've learned a lot more this time around. I've reevaluated everything in my life, again, such as my relationships, my goals, my stressors, my spirituality, my health."
"I am still beautiful, inside and out. It's been a physical and emotional journey, and I am still recovering, and all the while I've done it with the help of God, my family, friends, inner strength, courage, and... a little bit of lipstick."
(Read her full story on being diagnosed with and surviving breast cancer here.)
Erica Fraser on Living Life to the Fullest No Matter What
"After my diagnosis, I promised myself I wouldn't stop going after the things I wanted in life. I've gotten a better job, added two great people to my friendship circle, developed some new creative outlets, had many fun nights dancing awkwardly in DC, and made many memories with dope people. Good things are happening. And every time they happen, I lean into them. Fully."
"When joy is present, I reach out and grab it. When grief is present, I try to let myself sit in it."
"I have to have faith that I can make it through the parts of life that will be beautiful and the parts of life that will be terrifying because this is what it means to live a full life."
(Read her full story of being diagnosed with and surviving thyroid cancer here.)
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