Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Race and Cancer (part 1 of 3)


I spent the summer of 2020 being reflective of my own racist behavior, thoughts, and actions. The killings this year of unarmed Black people like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others have woken my consciousness about my own views, actions, and behaviors. For me to be a better person, an anti-racist person, I have decided I need to look inside, speak out, and vow to make change.  And so, I confess for the first time to anyone my first thoughts when I realized my cancer was “Triple Negative”.  

From the jump, I knew my breast cancer was “Triple Negative” (TBNC).  It was the first time it really sunk in there were different types of breast cancer – each defined by the presence (or absence) and the combination of  three known “markers” of breast cancer: hormone receptors (estrogen and progesterone) and an expression (or not) of human epidermal growth factor receptor 2, otherwise known as HER2. “Triple” negative breast cancer is a type of cancer that has NONE of the known receptors.

Decades of research and clinical trials, much of it in the last 30 years, have shown that each “type” or combination of those three factors contribute to the treatment plan, the “survival rate”, who is likely to get it, etc.  And so, like most of us longing for more information these days, I immediately took to “Dr Google” to research what that meant for me. Was it treatable? What was the treatment? Was it going to kill me? How did I get it? Who else gets it?

For the sake of today’s blog, we will be focusing on “who else gets it?”

According to a site I trust, breastcancer.org: “Anyone can be diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. Still, researchers have found that it is more common in:

  • Younger people. Triple-negative breast cancer is more likely to be diagnosed in people younger than age 50. Other types of breast cancer are more commonly diagnosed in people age 60 or older.
  • People with a BRCA1 mutation. About 70% of breast cancers diagnosed in people with an inherited BRCA mutation, particularly BRCA1, are triple-negative.
  • Black and Hispanic women. Triple-negative breast cancer is more likely to be diagnosed in Black women and Hispanic women. Asian women and non-Hispanic white women are less likely to be diagnosed with this type of cancer.”

Ok so well, I fit NONE of those “most common” characteristics. Nonetheless, one of the characteristics did stick out to me immediately: “triple-negative breast cancer is more likely to be diagnosed in Black women and Hispanic women.”

So, two thoughts. Of all the thoughts one can have running through their mind when diagnosed with cancer – I honestly had two come immediately to mind:

1) 1) Ok, so even though I’m not Black, I have been diagnosed with a type of cancer that is more common among Black women. And…(and here it is for all to read……

2) If the disease is known as a predominantly a Black women’s cancer, how much attention and research has been done to find a cure? How has this affected the availability of effective treatments? And, of course, what does all this mean for MY survival?

Look, I was scared to be in this group. Not because I did not want to be categorized or grouped with

Black and Brown women. Not because I did not feel as if I fit in or could relate with this group of women. But knowing how this country has historically treated people of color in general and specifically the lack of attention, research, and funding paid to diseases that are more common in people of color, and even more so for WOMEN of color - there was a very good chance in my mind anyways, that little may be known about MY type of cancer. And that, frankly, fewer research dollars, focus and thus the treatments would not be available to me in my fight with cancer because of it.

Bottom line: It is terrifying to be diagnosed with cancer. No question. It is every person's worst nightmare. But to be diagnosed with a disease more commonly found in Black women brings home just how racism can also have a potential horrifyingly awful affect on everyone, regardless of skin color - even this white, 55-year-old, BRCA negative, female.

Join me for the next TWO additional blog posts as I explore the facts, factors, and feelings around “who else gets” TNBC.


  1. Rooting for you and all of our sisters!

  2. Thank you for this read! Look forward to reading more posts!
    Stay strong!

  3. well written. along with young women, those that have a brca mutation and hispanic/black women, apparently Ashkenazi Jewish women also tend to be more vulnerable (mostly to having one ofthe BRCA mutation).

  4. Thank you for this powerful story. Im
    Black, was first diagnosed at 42. I dint have the BRCA gene. I hate cancer. It sucks. When i heard there was a triple negative all i could do was thank God he didn't burden me with that 2. Because it does primarily affect women of color. And as you’ve pointed out, not enough research has been done to find out why or to develop better treatment options. I pray that more advancements are made in my lifetime for tou and others who are diagnosed with TNBC. ❤️🙏🏽❤️