National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week: What You Should Know

Awareness & Research

As a woman of color and a mesothelioma survivor, I am well aware of the research showing I am at higher risk of developing cancer than someone of another race.

According to the American Cancer Society, “African Americans have a higher cancer burden and face greater obstacles to cancer prevention, detection, treatment and survival.”

Black cancer patients also face higher death rates and shorter survival times when compared to other races. This is startling information!

National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week was developed to address this problem of racial health inequality. The theme this year is “Engaging the Generations.”

From June 16-22, the focus will be on increasing cancer awareness as well as encouraging community stakeholders and leaders to build knowledge surrounding cancer clinical trials, treatments and the importance of minority population donations to national genomic databases for cancer research.

Therefore, as a peritoneal mesothelioma survivor, it’s vital for me to share my cancer journey and spread more awareness of these issues.

Health Care Roadblock? Just Go Around it

I haven’t researched the numbers on this one, but what’s the likelihood of both a husband and a wife being diagnosed with two different types of cancer decades apart? I was diagnosed before my husband, so when he was diagnosed, I already knew what to ask, what information to request, and I even schooled him on a couple of things.

Research shows that people of color are more prone to certain cancers because of genetic predispositions. These types of cancers are typically breast, prostate and ovarian cancer. The two types of cancers my husband and I had were not caused by genetic factors but by actual substances from the environment. Mine was likely caused by asbestos exposure when I was a toddler.

During my journey with peritoneal mesothelioma, I did have some challenges and obstacles. Thinking back on it, I wouldn’t necessarily say that the challenges I faced were because of the melanin in my skin, or even because I am a woman. In my case, which may not be everyone’s case, it was because the cancer I had is rare.

They didn’t know 15 years ago what they know now about mesothelioma. Even though at first I was under the care of an oncologist who admittedly said he didn’t know anything about it, I finally found the right mesothelioma specialist. I was presented with a roadblock, and I decided to go around it.

Advocating for Black Family Cancer Awareness

Some may not agree with this, but in the medical field people of color are mostly placed in this “underserved community” sector. As a result, often when people think of underserved, the Black community comes to mind.

I like the saying by the late Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can, until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

As a patient, an advocate, a survivor and thriver, I want to encourage those people of color who may be going through some health challenges or roadblocks to advocate for themselves. These tips are for anyone who may feel they aren’t getting the best care they deserve.

  • Do your research. Gather information about your diagnosis and become familiar with treatment options.
  • Ask questions. There is no such thing as a dumb question.
  • You are valued! Don’t forget to make your health a priority.
  • It’s OK to get a second opinion. Find the right doctor for your diagnosis, especially one you are comfortable with.
  • You have rights. It’s your right as a patient to have access to the same health care and treatment options as anyone else, no matter your race or circumstances.

Participate in National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week by sharing your journey, spreading awareness, and being involved in your community and surrounding areas.

Engage with others this week by using the hashtag #BlackFamCan on social media, and help spread the word.