Cancer picked the wrong woman to mess with.
“Cancer was really foolish to attack my body,” said Lesa Francis, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last December. “Cancer can’t kill me, I’m a cancer-killer.”
This attitude has helped Francis, who is originally from Trinidad, remain in high spirits.
She mentors black women each week at her New York City hospital, because she noticed there were no discussion groups which addressed their specific needs.
Statistics show black women are diagnosed with breast cancer at a lower rate than white women, but their mortality rate is higher.
“Their mortality is higher because [black women] are diagnosed at a later stage,” said Dr. Clare Bradley, chief medical officer of the Eastern Division of the American Cancer Society. “There are factors of lack of education, income and access to health care which contribute to this.”
Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis among black women, according to the American Cancer Society.
Although Francis is uninsured, the majority of her medical expenses are paid through a special Medicaid program. She said it “pains her,” when she hears black women make “excuses” for not visiting the doctor.
“To me the excuse of not having coverage is just not an excuse,” Francis said. “If you can spend $300 on a weave, you can spend $50 on a mammogram.”
For other black women fighting breast cancer, survival comes down to prioritizing.
“It’s hard, it really is,” said Darlene Layne, who was diagnosed more than two years ago. “I can’t see buying a pair of jeans or hair rather than going to the doctor. But it comes back to how you were raised and what priorities your own mother instilled in you.”
When Layne discovered a lump on her breast, she was initially hesitant to visit a doctor.
“My daughter was going through her own health crisis and as a mom, I put my children first,” said Layne, who is insured. “My own health was knocked down on the list of priorities and it was hard for me to seek help.”
October is almost over, which means National Breast Cancer Awareness Month will end with it. But for Lesa Francis, promoting breast cancer education to everyone, especially black women, is now her life’s work.
“Any time I’m asked to do something to help another sister, I do it,” Francis said. “I know what it feels like to have a fear of the doctor or cancer. But your health should be number one.”