Dr. Mary S. Harris

*Many years ago (although not all that many years ago) the words, “I found a lump in my breast;” “The mammogram showed something;” “I’m scheduled for surgery;” were whispered in hushed voices, laced with fear, anxiety, and depression.

Black women had very few options for treatment – precious little psychological or emotional support (if any at all), and often felt shame and guilt for having been diagnosed with breast cancer.

No one wanted to talk about it, let alone get screened for it, because if you went looking for it, you might find it, and if you found it, you’d probably die from it. And because we didn’t look for it, we didn’t find it until it was too late to ignore, too late to treat, and we did die from it.

No wonder the myth got started that ‘if you operated on the cancer, once the air hit it, it would spread, and you would almost certainly die shortly thereafter.’ (The truth was that by the time we did operate, the cancer was so far advanced that the surgery did little good to control the spread of the disease.) Back then, breast cancer was considered a “no-win” disease. But that was yesterday.

Today, things have changed for the better. We’ve confronted and dispelled the myths. We are making progress, and we are winning the war against breast cancer. If you don’t believe it, listen to our special program on breast cancer and black women at Journey To Wellness.com.

Today, we aggressively look for breast cancer (i.e. mammography) because we know that early detection is our best weapon against dying from this disease. We encourage women to ‘get to know their breasts’ and to see their doctor immediately if they notice changes. We have identified and have begun the fight against triple negative breast cancer – a disease that kills far too many Black women. We no longer have whispered conversations about breast cancer. Instead, we have breast cancer walks to raise money for research; we gather for support groups to talk with each other openly and honestly to help us get over the trauma of diagnosis and treatment.

We openly celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We applaud those brave women who faced their diagnosis and treatment head-on and have joined the honored club of “breast cancer survivors.” We also pay homage to our sisters who fought and lost their battle with this disease. We acknowledge their fight and we continue fighting to honor their struggle and their memory. Today, with early diagnosis, chances are good that if we can’t save your breast, we can at least save your life!

Tomorrow is a wondrous promise of new treatments and even better survival rates than we have today. With continued early detection and better therapies, the club of breast cancer survivors will swell to even greater numbers. And unlike many years ago when breast cancer was talked about in hushed voices with feelings of fear, anxiety, and depression, tomorrow when someone says “I have breast cancer,” the words will be spoken out loud along with the word “victorious” rather than “victim.”

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