by Dara K. Marsh, NYULYP Community Service Chair
When you hear the words breast cancer, who comes to mind? Older white women, right? And justifiably so; our white female counterparts have a higher rate of diagnosis, but it is black women that have the highest mortality rate.
Black women are usually diagnosed with advanced breast cancer and also develop more aggressive forms of it. Factor in a lack of medical and financial resources, and we have a recipe for disaster. These statistics were made very clear at the Breast Cancer in Women of Color Conference I attended this month hosted by NYU’s Langone Medical Center. This year’s conference focused on survivorship; what to demand from your doctors, what your nutritional needs might be, and taking care of your emotional state. I certainly went home with more knowledge than what I entered with.
Quick quiz: Other than feeling for a lump, what are some other symptoms? Did you know that scabbing, dimpling, and simple tenderness can be signs of the disease? Name one man who has been diagnosed with breast cancer? Did you know that actor, Richard Roundtree, is a breast cancer survivor? I just found this out myself, but I have met male survivors, women of color warriors, and ladies under 30 that won the battle over breast cancer. And I have reasons to take this topic very personally.
In 2004, my sister, Kim-Marie Walker, had a husband, two children, and a thriving law career. She had even argued a case in front of Justice Clarence Thomas. During one of my visits, I pointed out that she was losing weight. She attributed it to a busy mommy lifestyle, but then came the coughing. In the days surrounding her 35th birthday, she heard words I don’t think any of us were prepared for. Kim had Stage 4 Breast Cancer, which means it had already spread. Despite treatment, she did not survive.
The only person that we knew of to have breast cancer previously was our aunt, who was well within the 50+ cohort. So why would we ever think there was a real family history? My mom’s side had no history so we were good, right? Nope. I’ve since learned that breast cancer has been plaguing my paternal line. I am considered at high risk because of my sister and aunt’s diagnoses. I’ve been screened for years and I am now 34; the same age my sister was at her diagnosis.
October is Breast Cancer awareness month. I didn’t realize this until a subway sign promoting the Avon Walk initially caught my attention. This will be my fifth year participating in the Walk and I’ve raised over $12,000 to support this cause, but what struck me during my first walk and every year since, is how many men and women of color are impacted by breast cancer.
So I close this post in two ways: Dedicating it to Kim-Marie, Aunt Hilda, Alice, Rupali, Dorrese, Karmelle, and Eve who lost their battle; to my cousin and friend who are battling as I write this; to my colleague who is a loud and proud survivor; and to my nieces, in hopes they never hear this same diagnosis.
And I pose these questions to ask yourself or the women in your lives: Are you doing your monthly self exams? What’s your family history? Do you know the signs? And are your doctors treating you like the center of the universe you are? After all, you are the center of the universe when it comes to your health, so take charge of it! And please take a moment to cheer on anyone you see wearing a pink ribbon this month.
About the Author, Dara K. Marsh
Dara K. Marsh holds a Bachelors of Arts from SUNY Purchase, a Masters of Arts in Educational Theater from NYU and a Masters of Public Administration in Nonprofit Administration from Baruch College. Dara has worked in the development offices of several NYC nonprofits such as Hadassah, Columbia University, New York Law School and most recently the MJHS Foundation. She is an avid fundraiser for the Avon Foundation Walk for Breast Cancer, a two day marathon, which she dedicates to her late sister and aunt. In 2012, she accepted the role of Community Service Chair with the New York Urban League Young Professionals.