You’ve seen the pink ribbons, the marches, the awareness campaigns, and branded attire. But have you seen many discussions regarding breast cancer in Black women specifically? If the answer is no, that’s exactly why we’re here. As we enter November, a month that highlights other forms of cancer, we’d like to spread continued awareness about breast cancer in our community. By sharing stories, we hope it incites proactive measures and encourages those who are currently battling.

According to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, breast cancer continues to be the second most common cancer diagnosed in women from the U.S. and is the second leading cause of cancer death. Research also shows that while there has been a 40 percent decline in breast cancer deaths over the last 30 years, a large mortality gap between Black and white women remains. Data compiled by the American Cancer Society also shows that while there was once a lower incident rate of breast cancer in Black women, that is no longer the case. The incident rate for Black women is close to that of white women, but with a 40 percent higher death rate. The mortality rate among Black women under 50 is double that of young white women, making this topic a discussion that needs to happen more often. Breast cancer survivor Garrina Ross agrees:

“Cancer in Black women is not talked about enough. I feel like in my community, we don’t know how to deal with cancer,” Ross said. “It’s almost like we’re afraid of it and don’t want to accept it. We immediately feel like it’s the end and like we’re supposed to give up, but we shouldn’t put death on someone just because we hear the word ‘cancer.’ If anything, we should learn more about it.”

When Ross was first diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2019, she practically fainted in the nurse’s arms. But those limp knees were the only sign of weakness she showed before beating cancer, not even three years later.

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During her fitness journey, Ross noticed a change in her breasts but attributed it to weight loss. Later, she developed a rash, but again, attributed it to working out, and thought it came from the friction against her body and sports bra. However, one day while sitting at her work desk, Ross “heard a clear voice” instruct her to visit her primary care doctor. So she did, and from there, Ross was sent to a breast surgeon who officially diagnosed her after multiple tests and biopsies. There she was, 36-years-old, diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, an aggressive form of cancer that’s typically not found in Black women.

Instead of buckling over, Ross kept her faith and an optimistic attitude. “I was willing to accept whatever the universe had for me to accept,” she said. “I stayed positive, I kept my faith and went day by day not allowing it to tear me down and take over my mindset. I took it for what it was just like I’ve done everything else in my life.”

After four chemotherapy treatments and months of diligent self-care routines, Ross beat cancer and felt stronger than ever before, feeling “very victorious” about surviving something that was trying to claim her life, she described. 

While she has not beat cancer yet, like Ross, 34-year-old Kaneesha Brown is still very much a fighter. Recently diagnosed with HER2+ Metastatic breast cancer in June of this year, Brown believes the conversation surrounding Black women and breast cancer gets neglected due to the lack of education on the topic. Additionally, she believes other reasons include the lack of health insurance and connection to medical resources, and the fear of an official diagnosis. Statistics show that parts of Brown’s hypothesis are correct. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation data people of color are more likely to be uninsured, and outcomes from breast cancer can differ depending on a person’s access to quality care.

Very Well Health’s Health Divide Series  states that we can’t determine the cause of breast cancer, but a few factors include genetic mutation, family history, radiation exposure, years of hormone replacement therapy, smoking, heavy alcohol use, and being overweight. Other factors have been linked to the ingredients found in skin lighteners, hair relaxers, and some fragrances and cosmetics.

Although Ross overcame cancer, she knows some women aren’t as lucky. Because of this, Ross is an advocate for breast cancer awareness and uses her experience as a walking testimony. Her advice to Black women regarding breast cancer and health overall? Be Proactive.

“Pay attention to your body. It’s not going to always be a tumor. It could be that your breast tissue has changed or the area around your nipple has changed. A lot of people feel for lumps but that’s not always the case and all cancer is not the same.” Ross also recommends taking vitamins, eating healthier, and even taking a genealogy test to pinpoint pre-exposed conditions. 

As for Brown, a current fighter who shares the same tenacious strength as Ross, she remains strong and hopes her story motivates others.

“To those who are currently fighting breast cancer, never give up,” she demanded. “When the fight gets hard, you fight harder. You have cancer, cancer doesn’t have you. Everyday smile and be grateful. Do something you enjoy as much as possible and surround yourself around positive vibes and people who love you. Know that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and no one fights alone. We got this!”

BLAC Atlanta’s Culture & Lifestyle Writer, Sierra Allen, considers herself a creative by nature and storyteller at heart. As a Black culture enthusiast, she writes with purpose and passion while highlighting local and national community-centered topics.

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