African-American women more likely to die of breast cancer in U.S. and Tri-Cities [The Progress-Index, Petersburg, Va.]
(Progress-Index (Petersburg, VA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Oct. 30--PETERSBURG -- Raymon Bessix found the telltale lump in her breast in January 2009. Tests showed that the lump was cancerous, but the diagnosis was even more grim than she imagined.
Bessix, a native of Petersburg who is now 50, was crushed by her diagnosis at first.
"I tried not to cry because my husband was in the room with me and I didn't want him to know that it knocked the wind out of me," she said.
She called her doctor after a friend raised questions about her test results. The results revealed that Bessix had triple negative breast cancer.
Triple negative breast cancer lacks estrogen and progesterone receptors as well as human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). Some medicines are used to target estrogen receptors or HER2 and either slow, stop or prevent cancer growth. Triple negative breast cancer normally has to be treated with chemotherapy, radiation, surgery or a combination of treatments because the cancer is receptor negative.
According to information from the Susan G. Komen Foundation, triple negative breast cancer is more aggressive and may grow faster than other tumors. It is more likely to spread to other parts of the body than other breast cancers and recurs more often.
After her diagnosis, Bessix scoured health literature for information about her disease.
"Everything out there was pretty negative and pretty much said I would die," she said.
Bessix went through the trials of chemotherapy, radiation and a lumpectomy, a surgery to remove the tumor and a small rim of normal tissues surrounding the tumor. Her treatments caused heart failure because of the effects involving existing cardiac issues. She is currently on medication to slow her heart failure and the cancer is in remission.
She has decided to use her circumstances to help other women.
Bessix has many lead roles in breast cancer advocacy organizations. These positions pair her desire to educate women with her background in computers. She works in information technology at Virginia State University.
In 2012, she was a calendar model for the breast cancer fellowship group, Beyond Boobs Tri-Cities. She was named co-facilitator and online administrator for the Pink Challengers support group in January. In April, she became a breast health research champion for the VCU Massey Cancer Center, a role that focuses on educating women about the condition. She is also a facilitator and online administrator for the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation.
Bessix can turn any time into a teaching moment. Information pamphlets on triple negative breast cancer and where to go for help can be found in her office in neat stacks for visitors.
Bessix said that she wants women to be their own healthcare advocates and "ask the right questions."
"Every setback I have, I use as a teaching moment for someone else," she said.
But Bessix isn't alone in those setbacks. Others like her throughout the Tri-Cities, and the country, have the same teaching moments to share.
Bessix is African-American, which studies show makes her more likely to have triple negative breast cancer.
This trend is a factor in a grim figure.
According to recent statistics from the American Cancer Society, African-American women are 41 percent more likely than white women to die of breast cancer. The American Cancer Society stated that income and reduced access to screening and care for African-American women is a cause.
The gap is evident in the Crater Health District, which covers the Tri-Cities, Dinwiddie, Prince George Sussex and Surry.
A study of the area by the VCU Massey Cancer Center pointed to the survival gap. The mortality rate for African-American women with breast cancer is 34.8 per 100,000 cases, while that of white women is 18.6.
In a 2013 fact sheet, the Susan G. Komen Foundation stated that studies have found that African-American women often have more aggressive tumors. The foundation indicated that disparities in access to healthcare and "the biology of some breast cancers" could be factors in survival rates.
The foundation also stated that "women from some racial and ethnic groups may be less likely to get breast cancer screening [and] their tumors are found at a later stage."
The chance of survival is greatly decreased the longer tumors go undetected.
The American Cancer Society also linked access to screening with increased survival. Statistics linked the trend of greater mammography use by white women, and "differences in access and response to treatments," with survival.
However, white women are shown to have a higher incidence of breast cancer.
The American Cancer Society stated that there are 125.4 incidents of breast cancer per 100,000 white women and 116.l per 100,000 African American women.
But researchers say that the higher use of mammography by white women may account for higher incidence rates.
But women of all races in the Tri-Cities have banded together to fight back.
In 2010, the National Cancer institute gave the VCU Massey Cancer Center funds to begin to study and survey residents in the city of Petersburg to better meet health needs.
From this research, the Pink Challengers support group, the Healthy Living and Learning Center and the Petersburg Wellness Consortium was formed. The groups help local residents with a multitude of health issues.
Bridget Hamlin, of Dinwiddie, came to the Healthy Living and Learning Center after she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer to find out exactly what this meant. She learned about her condition, and was put in touch with other women for support.
She credits the Healthy Living and Learning Center with giving her the information she needed.
"If it wasn't here, I wouldn't have known," she said.
The 32-year-old has six more weeks of chemotherapy before testing to see if she is in remission.
Over the course of this year, Hamlin has gone through a double mastectomy and many other procedures and surgeries.
Like Bessix, she is now an advocate, and speaks to women coping with breast cancer at gatherings, parades and other events.
She said at first she cried, but getting through cancer is about "having faith the size of a mustard seed."
- Leah Small may be reached at 722-5172 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c)2013 The Progress-Index (Petersburg, Va.)
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