February is Black History Month, so we are looking at issues affecting the African American community. One of them is an alarming statistic about breast cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, white women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, but African American women are more likely to die from it.
13WMAZ’s Mary Grace Shaw sat down with one African American woman who defied those odds and beat breast cancer.
Zandra Wilkerson says family is everything, so when she found a lump in her breast, she says she went straight to the doctor.
“The very first thing that went through my mind were my kids,” says Wilkerson.
She says the biopsy came back and the diagnosis was breast cancer, a diagnosis she says her family knows all too well.
“My husband passed in October of 2011 also from cancer, so the very first thing that came to my mind is cancer equating to death,” says Wilkerson.
But as a single parent, Wilkerson says fear was not an option.
“Cancer came knocking at the door, but cancer had no idea who was on the other side of the door opening that door,” says Wilkerson.
Wilkerson underwent a bilateral mastectomy and spent the next few months going through chemo.
Finally, on Christmas Eve of 2014, Wilkerson rang this bell signaling the start of remission.
“All of those people who are sitting in those chairs with chemo medications going through their veins can hear that bell and say, ‘Oh, there’s another one who beat cancer,’” says Wilkerson.
It is a moment Doctor Arnold Conforti says many African American breast cancer patients miss out on.
“African Americans don’t get it more common. They just have a higher mortality. They’re genetically predisposed to getting these more aggressive tumors,” says Conforti.
Conforti says African American women tend to get larger more aggressive breast cancer tumors than white women. He says other factors also play a part.
“Maybe access to healthcare, cultural differences, socioeconomic difference,” says Conforti.
But Conforti says regardless of race, early detection is the best way for every woman to become a survivor.
Wilkerson now considers herself part of three clubs: a widow, the mother of twins, and breast cancer survivor.
“All three of them have taught me something. There’s pain, there’s heartache, there’s joy, there’s blessings. It’s who I am,” says Wilkerson.
The good times and hard times now define her, and she is determined to share lessons learned with all who will listen.
Wilkerson encourages women to do their monthly breast self-exam. She found her lump while she was doing that monthly check in the shower. Below is how Conforti says you can check at home for any signs of the disease.
Here is an opportunity to help women battling breast cancer. On February 9th, United in Pink will host their annual Bunko for Breast Cancer event at the Al Sihah Shrine Park in Macon. The event raises money to help support breast cancer patients and their families.
Last year, their guest of honor was Makeeda Mann, an African American woman who thought she was in remission. Sadly, Makeeda died from the disease a few months after the event.
But it is for women like her that we ask you to do your self-exams and schedule your mammograms.