How does one of my breast cancer experiences and MLK Day go together? It’s simple. Let me share about my experience where I was not just viewed as a cancer patient, but as a black cancer patient.
I was on my second AC treatment when I decided to seek out a support group. Cancer is just too big to grasp and process on your own. So, I did my Google search and found the Cancer Support Community here in Atlanta. It is right across the street from where I received all my active treatment. They are a nonprofit with classes and support groups for people with any type of cancer and free of charge. I thought I had hit the jackpot.
I will never forget that October night in 2015. I had signed up for the cancer support group but had to go through an intake session first with one of the facilitators. I will refer to her as R. I was filling out the paperwork when R walked in and asked if I was triple negative. I looked up with a blank a stare and said, “No. I don’t even know what that means.” I went back to filling out my paperwork. She asked the same question again, “Are you sure you’re not triple negative?” This time I looked up sharply and said, “I already said no, so not sure why you keep asking me this question. I have invasive lobular.” Once I finished the paperwork and handed it to her, she asked for a third time, “Are you positive you’re not triple negative?”
By this point, I was fuming internally. Since I am a sweet and steel magnolia, I did not flip out even though I badly wanted to. I calmly told her, “No, I am invasive lobular. Why do you keep asking me if I am triple negative?” She then said, “Well, triple negative breast cancer is common in African American women.”
The exact description of this type of cancer can be found on www.breastcancer.org Triple-negative breast cancer most commonly affects African-American women, followed by Hispanic women.
I was beyond furious. I was insulted by her ignorance. How dare she judge the color of my skin to determine the type of breast cancer I had? So, I walked out of the cancer support community feeling like a black cancer patient instead of a cancer patient. I felt hurt, confused and frustrated.
Once I finished all four of my AC treatments, which was super tough to get through, I decided to call the executive director about my October experience. I couldn’t let that experience go without saying something. It was in January 2016 and a week before I started my 12 Taxol treatment. Of course, I got the response, “R is not a racist. She’s the nicest person in the world and likes everyone. No one has ever had a bad experience with her. She would never say anything to hurt someone.”
I said, “That may be true, but she hurt me. Take this as a teaching opportunity to embrace diversity and not just assume a patient has a certain type of cancer because of their skin color.” She then wanted to know if I wanted to meet with R to discuss this. I was infuriated by that question, too. I told her, “I’m fighting for my life right now and don’t have time to teach your employees about diversity. You handle that.” Sigh.
Since I did and still do need a cancer support system; I did go to a few of their classes, but they were terrible and not my age demographic. None of the instructors spoke to me in the classes I took or made me feel welcomed. I have been to breast cancer events held there hosted by other charities, but I will never feel comfortable participating in their daily activities again. It’s so disappointing because it’s literally two exits away from where I live. The last thing I need is to cause even more stress to my mind and body by dealing with that ignorance.
In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Strength to Love, 1963.
Until next time!