Breast Cancer Screenings Save Black Lives
By Dianne Anderson
Putting off that mammogram and other essential doctor appointments through the pandemic was not too unusual, but it was not a good idea.
Local health advocate Ernesta Wright is not judging, but she is concerned.
Health screenings are never fun, and she said some women may also delay care for other reasons. They could fear what they might find, or some may not have time with taking care of a loved one.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all, but we want to help people find their own solutions to empower them to help their lives,” said Ernesta Wright, founder and CEO of The G.R.E.E.N Foundation.
For her own health regiment, she found it easier to set aside one stretch of time to take care of all of her healthy appointments.
“This year in August was my self-care month, I said I’m just going to do all the stuff that I’ve put off, and do it till the last of the month,” she said, which she said for the most part that approach worked out well.
Although some of her participants prefer to attend her focus groups to keep the motivation and encouragement going. Lately, one main goal of the foundation help women learn what to expect after surgery and accessing services through the process of breast reconstruction.
Many women are not aware that most insurances cover the procedure.
On October 30, The G.R.E.E.N Foundation is a co-sponsor for the Breast Reconstruction Abundant Wellness Conference where participants will speak to health, and available options for breast reconstruction. The virtual event runs from 11:30 to 1:00 p.m.
Every month, Wright also hosts customized outreach and webinars featuring the latest in breast reconstruction, and many other available free resources. Probably the most important area they cover is how to get health coverage to pay for breast reconstruction following cancer surgery.
“The things that come up in the focus group, we pretty much share the same sentiment that we have known for years, which is about the quality of care, the access of the services,” she said.
Even if the insurance doesn’t cover reconstruction, she emphasized there are other sources of funding available.
“There’s no cost, you don’t have to make a decision on your diagnosis, [about] what type of surgery, or to have just one surgery at a time. It’s up to you as a survivor to decide on reconstruction,” said Wright.
She said that some women prefer to have the procedure right after surgery, and some women wait. Others don’t want it at all.
“I just want women to know that there are options, to make their own informed decisions. We always want to educate the community about the benefits that are available,” she said.
Knowledge is power, and she believes that one of the greatest lessons about health is knowing how the fast food industry is leaving an enormous negative impact on Black health.
She said there are affordable choices.
“Everyone has to take care of health, that know they are in control of their health by their lifestyle. You can eat healthier, you can exercise, it’s up to you to empower yourself to live a healthier life,” she said.
One JAMA study looking at the coronavirus pandemic impact on Black breast cancer patients found they consistently face treatment delays, delays to surgery, and the stress involved in the time interval from the first biopsy to treatment.
Some of the reasons for delaying surgery included insurance, education, access, transportation, and finances, suboptimal doctor-patient relationships, to name a few.
“Although the current breast surgical oncology guidelines are necessary to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, they may expose deeply rooted racial and ethnic disparities in timeliness of surgical care and clinical outcomes among breast cancer patients,” the study said.
The study notes significant delays in time to surgery at baseline, the purposeful delays imposed by the coronavirus may exacerbate underlying longer surgical wait times and subsequent worse clinical outcomes among black breast cancer patients.
Rhonda Smith, Executive Director of the California Black Health Network, said that getting the community back into the routine of regular screenings has been slow. During COVID, she said waiting to get screened through the pandemic also meant that the community is facing increases in later-stage diagnoses.
“Because of all of the restrictions and guidelines to be safe and precautions to prevent the spread of infections people stayed away from, I think, accessing all sorts of health care services,” she said.
While it’s no excuse, she attributes some of the reluctance to precautions that were put in place because of COVID. She feels it has exacerbated the access gap to screening in both breast and prostate cancer.
For Black women, and the Black community in general, waiting to get checked is only making matters worse.
“We are very focused on improving health literacy for all black Californians, which means helping people better understand what they can do to be more proactive about their health and well-being and also how to more effectively manage their health,” she said.
To register for the Abundant Wellness Conference event, see http://www.thegreenfoundation.net/events/abundant-wellness-addressing-health-disparities-in-breast-reconstruction/
For more information, see https://www.cablackhealthnetwork.org/bcam/