This is October and Breast Cancer Awareness month. I am a survivor! The doctors say I am in remission because with any cancer, doctors don’t really consider you in the clear until 5 years after diagnosis. September 22nd was my 2nd year anniversary and I go for my annual Breast Ultrasound and Breast MRI in November.
Unfortunately, Black women die more readily from breast cancer every year than our White counterparts–mainly because of poor medical care, being underinsured or having no insurance! We also don’t touch ourselves! Yup, I said it. I found my own lump in my own breast AFTER I had a mammogram! The mammogram did not detect it, because like a lot of Black and Hispanic Women, I have “dense” breasts. Dense breast tissue refers to the appearance of breast tissue on a mammogram. It’s a normal and common finding.
Breast tissue is composed of milk glands, milk ducts and supportive tissue (dense breast tissue), and fatty tissue (non-dense breast tissue). When viewed on a mammogram, women with dense breasts have more dense tissue than fatty tissue.
On a mammogram, non-dense breast tissue appears dark and transparent. Dense breast tissue appears as a solid white area on a mammogram, which makes it difficult to see through.
Having dense breasts affects you in two ways:
- Increases the chance that breast cancer may go undetected by a mammogram, since dense breast tissue can mask a potential cancer;
- Increases your risk of breast cancer, though doctors aren’t certain why.
You may be more likely to have dense breasts if you:
- Are younger. Your breast tissue tends to become less dense as you age, though some women may have dense breast tissue at any age.
- Have a lower body mass index. Women with less body fat are more likely to have denser breast tissue compared with women who are obese.
- Take hormone therapy for menopause. Women who take combination hormone therapy to relieve signs and symptoms of menopause are more likely to have dense breasts.
I am a bit of a fitness fanatic, which I naively believed made me immune to chronic diseases such as cancer. I took care of myself, ate right and lived what many would consider a “clean” lifestyle. “How could I get cancer?” I didn’t realize that, although very fit, cancer is no “respecter of persons.” I have very little fat on my body, particularly in my upper body and around my breasts–making them very dense.
So, every year after my mammogram, the mammography report just read…”no irregularities seen.” What the report should have said was that the mammography machine could not see through the breast tissue to determine if any cancer was present.
Right now, breast density notification laws vary considerably by state. But many hospitals and clinics are not required to inform women with dense breasts that mammography may not detect if cancer is present and to recommend to these women additional testing such as:
- 3-D mammogram
- Breast MRI
- Breast ultrasound
- Molecular breast imaging (MBI)
The problem is all these additional tests could cost several thousands of dollars in additional out-of-pocket expense if the insurance provider views them as non-preventative or excessive, which is the case for many Black and Hispanic women who are under-insured or have no insurance. As a result, Black and Hispanic women get diagnosed at a later stage of the disease and often have inadequate or less aggressive treatment…and so we die of what could have been prevented.
What’s even sadder is that we don’t speak up! We assume if breast cancer doesn’t run in the family, we cannot get it. Not true…. I had the BRCA genetic test done to determine if my cancer was genetic and it was NOT! My test showed a less than 1 percent chance the cancer was genetic. My lump was a Non-Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in situ or (DCIS).
DCIS is called “non-invasive” because it hasn’t spread beyond the milk duct into any normal surrounding breast tissue. Mine was produced because of Estrogen Dominance or ER+ (Estrogen Receptive). HER2- (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) is a protein that appears on the surface of some breast cancer cells. This type of breast cancer accounts for 80 percent of cancer diagnosis in the country and Black and Hispanic women are leading the pack.
- HER2-positive breast cancers have a lot of HER2 protein
- HER2-negative breast cancers have little or no HER2 protein.
Either way, the cancer has a higher probability appearing in peri or post-menopausal women. But not always….
Last year I befriended a beautiful 38-year old African American hairstylist who was diagnosed with breast cancer with no genetic history.
She died in July!
My life is forever changed because I had breast cancer and I can’t keep my mouth shut about this disease. October will never be just another month for me. With every September 22nd that goes by, I get closer to my 5th year “cancer free” marker. But, in my spirit, Abba Father has confirmed that He has healed me and that there is still much work to be done for the kingdom while I am here. Added to that list of work is to speak to women of color and to encourage them to not rely on the mammogram to tell them that something is wrong with their bodies. Insist your doctors take the extra steps, do the additional testing, especially if you’ve been told you have dense breast tissue. Don’t let the doctors dismiss your concerns or convince you that it could never happen to you. Be your own best advocate!
On another mission given by God!