This Ain’t Your Mama’s Cancer


When comparing my experiences with those who came before me, I’m happy to realize that cancer treatments have gotten better and there are more Black leaders in the medical community.

This ain’t your mama’s cancer.

That word quintet has become my go-to catchphrase since my April 2022 diagnosis of both stage 3 cervical and stage 1A uterine serous cancers.

As I’ve processed why this rare synchronous occurrence happened to someone who has worked hard to maintain regular physical examinations and diagnostic tests while successfully managing type 2 diabetes, I have found comfort in that mantra.

Let me tell you why… Do you have a few minutes?

This 65-year-old Black woman is all too familiar with the societal stigma and rampant fears raised by the very mention of a cancer diagnosis. In the formerly segregated South, my community was never assured of quality medical care, having been denied that basic human right for generations. So, the threat of what was too often an incurable malignancy must have been tragically triggering.

Growing up, the adults around me always talked about cancer in hushed resignation.How often I heard warnings not to ever let the doctors “open you up” because the cancer would certainly kill you. My favorite great-aunt refused treatment for advanced lung cancer; she floated on morphine until my mother could rush to her side and then died the next day. The husband of my dad’s niece died a scant three painful months after his pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

To this schoolgirl, adults who had cancer were bed-ridden, emaciated, discolored from radiation, very much looking like “death warmed over.” Heck, I can imagine folks thinking it might even be catching! 

Despite my childhood nightmares of this disease, I have taken the time to read and research and reason. While there can never be any guaranties (we just can’t get out of this joint alive), I realize that medical science has advanced very far from where it was when my parents were born in 1916 and 1921, and the gains made in cancer research are part of that exponential growth.

My mother had the traditional abdominal hysterectomy in 1977 and had a long, painful recuperation. By comparison, my laparoscopic hysterectomy in May 2022 was a walk in the park! So many new techniques have emerged in treatment planning. I had never heard of brachytherapy (a wild story for another day) or low-dose chemotherapy, let alone the different techniques undergoing clinical trials. 

Another fundamental change relates to the medical community itself: the inclusion of so many doctors, scientists and medical staff who look like me has forever altered the landscape of healing and treatment. All those well-founded, historical preconceptions about racial biases among medical providers will most definitely be assailed by the many Blacks among that community. In fact, my oncology team is headed by a young Black doctor in whom I have every confidence; during our initial consult, I told him we were going to be a team, working together so I can celebrate my 100th birthday!

I’m overjoyed to see Black women scientists and doctors addressing the unconscionable numbers of Black women who do not survive uterine serous cancer. I trust they’re going to solve this tragic puzzle. They are uniquely poised to do so.

In the meantime, this Sistah awakens each new day, donning the whole armor of God (from Ephesians 6:11-17 in the King James Version of the New Testament, if you want to look it up), ready to embark on her journey. I’m strengthened by my loving, ride-or-die “cancer posse,” headed by husband Steven, daughter Dr. Leigh and son Steven Cooper. They keep me grounded along the path. And they’re leading the rest of my company: prayerful kith and kin from Texas to Massachusetts and everywhere in-between; sorority sisters; church family; and a SHARE support group of wonderfully kind, funny, candid Black women who also have lived with aggressive uterine cancer.

My posse has been with me for each pothole, every bend along this road. And I am strengthened by their presence.

I’ll check in with you when we get to the other side of this cancer. Be brave. Be honest. Be well.

This post was written and submitted by Doris Helene White. The article reflects the views of Doris Helene White and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

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