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October 2012

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In this breast cancer feature that was on The Today Show this morning, one family: two generations and seven women are affected. The Smiths. One family impacted by breast cancer this way was disheartening to see. Black women’s stories are so rarely in the forefront of breast cancer “awareness” literature, publications and media stories, that it was refreshing to have their story featured, though the actual story was painful. Some are survivors and some had preemptive mastectomies and hysterectomies since the likelihood of developing cancer is SKY HIGH for them, heredity-wise.

I…did wish that the White woman interviewing them could have come up with another word other than/in addition to ”strong” for them. She began and closed the interview with this adjective. (I’ve written about why I am leery about this adjective in a post on Michelle Obama and in a post about the binary labels applied to Black women.) Sure, of course they strong. But Black women are rarely called anything else (unless it is specifically negative). These women are strong. But they are also beautiful, courageous, informed, passionate, caring, determined, focused, connected, loving. The video before the interview clearly reveals this. Other words can describe Black women.

When I was 28 years old, I found a lump in one breast and an infection in the other. I was terrified. I was so scared. I told only a handful of people because—well, it’s interesting how some people will be around when the going is good, but care very little about you when serious things occur. Anyway, I had all of the appropriate testing. Medication cleared the infection. The lump went away and was not breast cancer. I was relieved. (I had insurance at the time, from an awful corporate job; would not have been able to afford the testing otherwise.)

I think of all of the challenges that Black people face with the healthcare system. In fact, I am currently reading a book called Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet Washington that explains WHY the chasm between Whites and Blacks exists in terms of reliable care, mortality rates, and trust/mistrust regarding the healthcare industry and clinical research. I recently read a good article about breast cancer awareness and race that I mentioned in a previous Read This Week feature, as well.

I hope that Black women continue to speak out about this.