Our Sisters' Keepers

August 23, 2019

Everything about the words “breast cancer” is dark, sad and scary. When you add “metastatic” (stage 4) to those words, there comes an uncontrollable fear that encompasses the mind. To help people cope with this, four African American women started on a journey to educate women of color about the effects and importance of understanding breast cancer.

Everything about the words “breast cancer” is dark, sad and scary. When you add “metastatic” (stage 4) to those words, there comes an uncontrollable fear that encompasses the mind. To help people cope with this, four African American women started on a journey to educate women of color about the effects and importance of understanding breast cancer. The four of us are together in this picture, which, to me, shows that we are our sisters’ keepers.

Above, from left are Carla Harvey, Covington, Tennessee; Angela Baker, Charlotte, North Carolina; Sheila McGlown, Swansea, Illinois; and LaTonya Wilson, Sumter, South Carolina. The women, who have metastatic breast cancer (MBC), spoke to students at Howard University about breast cancer awareness and health disparities that affect the African American community. Here, group members comfort McGlown as she discusses her mother’s death from MBC.

Statistics give us three to five years of life expectancy with metastatic breast cancer (MBC), but we all have beat those statistics. As patients and advocates with MBC, we travel to educate people about this form of the disease and the importance of breast health, showing that you can still enjoy life, regardless of your diagnosis. But sometimes we cry, and that’s OK. We cry because there are so many people dying from this terrible disease: Over 40,000 in the U.S. will die this year from MBC, and African American women are 42% more likely than white women to die of the disease. We cry because we want to help everyone, regard- less of whether they have breast cancer. That’s why we tell people it’s important to start education about breast health early. If you are a woman, you are at risk of breast cancer.

Our group formed with the help of the Metastatic Breast Cancer Project, which takes a new approach to cancer research. The project allows scientists to partner directly with patients, who share their tumor and blood samples and clinical information in order to speed important discoveries. The effort began in 2015, with awareness spread primarily on social media and by word of mouth. Count Me In (www.joincountmein. org), a nonprofit organization, is collecting all the patient information and samples and has helped the Metastatic Breast Cancer Project become a voice and a national plat- form for patients with MBC, empowering them to contribute to breakthroughs and increase the pace of biomedical research, no matter where they live.

Unfortunately, our society emphasizes the pink version of breast cancer, which represents early-stage patients and survivors. Rarely do we see coverage of patients with stage 4 MBC, for whom there is no cure. We would love for you to write an article on the over 155,000 people who are currently living with stage 4 breast cancer. Thank you for considering it.


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