Celebrating Tan Edwards, A Breast Cancer Warrior Woman!
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Week I thought I would do Feature Friday differently. Typically I feature women who have submitted their business or social activism profile who willingly participate in my nutty line of questioning. But today, I thrust Tan Edwards unknowingly into the spot light for the purposes of celebrating a woman I think deserves to hear the worlds support in her fight against Breast Cancer.
You see Tan is the younger sister to my partner Antonio Edwards, who delivered the news to me about a month ago. I remember him saying that she had not wanted to share it as we were celebrating our 3 year “unwed” anniversary. All I could think was how small and silly our anniversary was in comparison to this news and literally nothing mattered in that moment other than Tan and Antonio’s reaction to the news. Somehow I knew Tan was going to be okay with the initial news, Antonio on the hand, has the tendency to catastrophize situations jumping from one escalating thought process to another. You see, his and my lens couldn’t be any more different. His life experiences are rooted within some significant grief and loss from a young age; where my losses weren’t until later in life and less traumatic. In addition, while the women on my side of the family who have had breast cancer all survived and went on to live long healthy lives. Antonio’s life wisdom however presented a very different reality, you see because he is also black, and I am white. When you factor not only the different countries we come from as well as race inequality; especially within the healthcare systems, I’m reminded to honor his words. In fact he’s not catastrophizing at all- that was my own flippant ignorance getting in the way of seeing the whole picture. So down the Systematic Medical Racism rabbit hole I went reading and educating myself on what it is our sister, whom I refer to as family, is up against.
Before I fall too deep though lets get to know Tan and her story a bit more. Tan is 30 years old and from St. Louis Missouri, now living in Atlanta where she recently moved. Tan arrived in Atlanta with her adorable children Grae and Gabe, twins aged 3 1/2 to start a new chapter. Being a single parents to two was no excuse to keep this fierce woman from chasing her dreams and finding happiness & peace. In the time that I’ve come to know Tan, she’s accepted me into her and her children’s life so graciously, and I’m lucky to them in my life. Tan since her diagnosis has not waivered in her sense of hopefulness and confidence and if she has, I’ve not seen one sliver or crack yet. I can’t even lie, Tan was blessed with a beautifully shaped head and already rocking the short hair, now she’s rocking bald even harder in anticipation for the chemo. I can’t say that the rest of us, or namely myself, would look remotely this stunning; but look at her go, all cute and shit! The nerve. As she embarks on her 18 weeks of chemo, its brought a sense of connection among those in her family as well as strangers who have all come out to show their support for her and one another. You see we all have a mother, sister, aunt or daughter who have been impacted by breast cancer or could be one day. Us women especially, see ourselves within the fight that could be ours one day and seem to inherently respond in a way we would count on others to. It’s incredible how divisive we can be with one another but when it comes to the Big C with our little B’s or Big double DD’s, we are all in a sisterhood coming in hot with the love, hope and compassion necessary to overcome!
But because we honor Tan, we must also honor her fight with breast cancer as a resource for other women of color facing the fight. As I marched side by side with Antonio several times this last year in alliance with black lives matter, against police brutality and social inequalities I told myself I must do more. More as in, self guided learning on the history, the stories, speaking up, standing up and putting myself between those that inflict harm on others based on the color of their skin, gender, and sexuality. Sadly, I cannot put myself between Cancer and Tan, but I can open my eyes to how Breast Cancer impacts Black Women differently. I am able to speak, write and use my platform to spread knowledge to others hoping that maybe it will assist in mobilizing change in small ways.
What I learned that since the 1980’s the recent decline in breast cancer mortality has shown less disparity than the decades before. However in a medical journal authored by Mary A. Gerend and Manacy Pai, Department of Medical Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Medicine, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida and Department of Sociology, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio– their findings showed that African American women continue to die from breast cancer at higher rates than do White women. They identified that breast cancer also tends to be a more biologically aggressive disease in African American than in White women. Gerend & Pai noted that the disparity in breast cancer mortality also reflects social barriers that disproportionately affect African American women. These barriers hinder cancer prevention and control efforts and modify the biological expression of disease. Their review was guided by the social determinants of health disparities model, a model that identifies barriers associated with poverty, culture, and social injustice as major causes of health disparities.
The review provided helpful recommendations highlighted below that address those certain social
barriers (e.g., poor access to care, inadequate health insurance) will require major health care system changes. The current presidential race couldn’t matter more than ever, but with that circus aside, focusing on smaller areas of emphasis can be considered.
Breast Cancer Prevention:
Focusing on prevention on known risk factors such as postmenopausal obesity. Prevalence of postmenopausal obesity in African American women is high. Data from the 2003 to 2004 National
Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicated that for 58% and 17% of African American women aged 40 to 59 years met criteria for obesity (body mass index) or extreme obesity (body mass index, z40), respectively. Obesity prevention programs that focus z30) on healthy culturally appropriate foods, increased fruit and vegetable intake, and higher levels of physical activity should be implemented. Such programs could reduce risk for breast cancer and a host of other chronic conditions prevalent among African American women.
First, some data indicate that African American women aged 40 to 49 years are getting screened at lower rates than White women. Because the disparity in breast cancer mortality is especially prominent among women younger than 50 years, it may be particularly important to tailor future screening efforts toward African American women in their early 40’s. Second, because the gap in Black-White screening rates lingers in certain U.S. states, future screening efforts would benefit from targeting those communities in particular. Third, although great strides have been made in increasing mammography utilization in the United States, data indicate that most women, regardless of race or ethnicity, fail to engage in regular, repeated mammography screening. The success of screening programs depends upon repeat screening over time, and, therefore, future efforts should be directed at promoting repeat mammography screening. Appropriate follow-up care is essential to reducing breast cancer mortality.
Patient navigation programs:
First introduced to ensure that medically underserved patients with abnormal findings receive timely
diagnostic follow-up and cancer treatment. Patient navigators work to reduce specific barriers (e.g., scheduling problems, lack of social support, and medical mistrust) encountered by patients as they move through the health care system. Studies are beginning to show the benefits of patient navigation, and granting agencies have designated funding for future navigator programs. Patient navigator programs should be expanded beyond the inner city to poor rural communities to guarantee that patients with abnormal findings receive quality and timely care.
Patient Education Efforts:
Patient education efforts need to extend beyond mammography screening to address other misconceptions that are common in the African American community, particularly those beliefs that discourage women from seeking timely care for breast problems. One viable approach may be to facilitate communication among African American women on issues related to breast cancer through existing social networks. Influential members of the community could be used to disseminate accurate, culturally tailored messages about breast cancer prevention, screening, diagnosis, and treatment within these networks. Attempts to involve family members in patient education are also encouraged because family members often play an important role in health care decisions among low socioeconomic status patients.
Education efforts should also be directed at medical providers. Healthcare providers should be aware of cultural beliefs and practices that may affect African American women’s decisions about breast cancer so issues can be addressed early in the process. It is also important for medical providers to inform African American women with breast cancer about treatment options in a culturally sensitive manner and to assess patients’ interest in making decisions about their care. This discussion should include sharing of detailed information about all potential treatment options, including their risks and benefits, efficacy and possible complications. Additionally as well as practical considerations such as treatment schedules, cost, time commitment, and location of the treatment facility.
While these are only a very small portion of many recommendations, there is a lot of wonderful work being done in the effort to bring these disparities to light so that they can continue to be on the decline for the coming future.
Below I have included very specific resources that I encourage you all to review as they hold an enormous amount of helpful information and programs. Lets continue to fight the battle against Breast Cancer together!
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