Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Know Your Health Options
By Dianne Anderson
Going to the doctor’s office to review cancer options is never stress-free, but it can get a little easier if you know the right questions to ask, and if you bring a friend.
Longtime health advocate Ernesta Wright said a big part of her nonprofit outreach has been raising community awareness, particularly in light of study after study that shows how unequal access to the right cancer treatment is a huge factor in underlying health disparities.
Black women face tremendous obstacles in getting what they need at the doctor’s office. In fact, it’s a matter of life and death to learn the best medical options available – even if their doctors fail to inform them of what those options are.
And it is the reason why Black women remain at the highest at risk from death of breast cancer.
“It’s been known for a number of years that people in communities of color do not have equal access to quality healthcare,” Wright said. “Our program, “Know your rights, Know your Benefits” shows how to navigate the healthcare system, and ask the right questions to get the right treatment.”
Because breast cancer disparities and health outcomes continue its alarming trend for Black women, she said The GREEN Foundation is dedicated to helping the community rise above the discrimination in health care.
She is also very concerned about complaints that she hears from the community that African American women are not being offered the best available treatment once diagnosed, particularly when their doctor is not African American. For that reason, she feels that it’s important they bring along an advocate to the doctor’s visit.
“Unless you’re a health professional, you’re not going to be sure what to ask,” she said.
Given the poor outcomes for Black women, who are less likely to get breast cancer, but more likely to die from the disease than white women, she believes that connecting Black women with the right tools to address the wide disparity gap is essential for survival.
The National Cancer Institute reports that Black women are more likely to die from breast cancer despite white women having higher incidence rates for the disease, and African American women are almost 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer compared to non-Hispanic white women.
October is breast cancer awareness month. On the positive side, Wright said she is glad to hear more people of color talking about the issues of equal access to healthcare. There has been a growing awareness, and more people seem to be getting involved in pursuing health education and treatment.
“There is a good push with the ACA [Affordable Care Act]. Now we need to make sure that people of color have equal access to quality healthcare within the healthcare system,” she said.
Thanks to a recent partnership with Mu Epsilon Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., along with the Angel Pillow Project, she’s getting the word out to more women. Those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, or recuperating from reconstruction surgery will receive a comfort pillow.
“Angel Pillows were so needed to give to breast cancer survivors, who have gone through treatment to place over their heart when they’re wearing the seat belt,” Wright said.
Coming up, the Green Foundation is hosting an open house to showcase their new office and to introduce new support programs, along with youth training to become community health advocates.
Over the years of their nonprofit’s advocacy, she said the programming has evolved from their earliest efforts to just get Black woman to regularly access their mammograms, but now the bigger fight continues for equal treatment following the diagnosis.
She said the GREEN Foundation helps women learn about the best available treatment so they don’t have to assume or allow others to be in charge of the decision making. They can begin to demand better alternatives, which, in time, can also lead to legislative change.
“Those are areas that are needed for advocacy, the changes that need to take place to move the needle,” she said.
At a panel forum last year, Harvard Sociologist Dr. David Williams spoke of the large racially based health disparities and its long history in the United States.
He compared the situation to having a fully-loaded jumbo jet with 200 passengers and crew crashing, and everyone on board dying.
“And the same thing happens every day for the rest of this week and every day next week and every day next month and every day for a year,” he said at the forum.
“That’s what we mean when we say that there are racial disparities in health in the United States. Over 200 African Americans die every day who wouldn’t die if they had the same health experience of whites.”
Williams spoke of how from the beginning of his career, many researchers attributed the health disparities to racial differences to lower income and lower education levels. But, the research shows that the racial gap continues on and widens even for those with higher education.
“So discrimination matters. It matters profoundly. We have data for the United States that shows that discrimination is an independent predictor of premature mortality. These are not just experiences that give people a bad day. They’re experiences that are pathogenic, that are literally causing premature death,” he said.
For more information on dates and regular events, see www.thegreenfoundation.net