Cancer in communities of color
Waiting too long, Part 3
by DAMASO REYES
Special to the AmNews
“I was devastated, I was really hurt, but you know something I really
didn’t feel sorry for myself, because I hadn’t gone to take the test in
quite some time. Laziness – it was really laziness on my part,” said
Sharon Clemente in an interview at the Breast Examination Center of
little over a year ago Sharon got the news that so many women fear: She
was diagnosed with breast cancer. The story of Sharon – a healthy,
newly married woman – is far more typical than it should be. With early
detection and aggressive treatment, breast cancer is highly curable.
But Sharon ignored and dismissed many of the warning signs of breast
cancer, which nearly took her life, and did take her breasts.
quite sure I would have caught it earlier and I would still today have
my breasts,” Sharon said, speaking about the importance of having
regular mammograms and doing self-breast examinations. There were many
reasons why Sharon should have gotten screened earlier. She had a
family history of cancer and she had an earlier bout of another form of
cancer. She finally went to have a mammogram at the Breast Examination
Center, which she found out about through a friend, after she
discovered that she had leakage from one of her nipples, a classic
warning sign of breast cancer which she interpreted as her possibly
being pregnant. When her right breast began discharging blood, she knew
that she had to get screened immediately.
After she received her
mammogram she was told that they had discovered a mass and that a
biopsy was needed. That biopsy confirmed that Sharon had breast cancer
in both of her breasts.
“I had to sit down and make a lot of
decisions all at one time,” Sharon said of the process of choosing her
treatment. “I was very nervous, very afraid. I talked about it with my
mother and husband.”
Eventually she chose the most aggressive
treatment of having a double mastectomy, which was not just a difficult
choice because it was a major surgical procedure.
“It was a really
hard decision for me to make because I was a newlywed, but I thought it
was the best medical choice for me to be able to see my family and my
husband. That was the decision that I had to make.”
treatment at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, one of the best cancer treatment
centers in the world, the doctors concluded that her breast cancer had
not spread to the rest of her body. They had detected and removed it
just in time. But her delay in being screened cost her both of her
Last year in New York City 1,218 women died of breast
cancer, and approximately [???] of those were women of color. Most of
those deaths were preventable, but many women over the age of 40 do not
get their yearly mammograms. In neighborhoods like the South Bronx and
Bedford-Stuyvesant, up to 35% of women who should be screened have not
had a mammogram in the past two years. It is recommended that women
should give themselves monthly self-examinations starting in their
twenties and also receive a clinical breast exam every three years. Any
one of these would have caught Sharon’s cancer earlier, when a less
aggressive treatment might have been sufficient.
“I cried many days.
… I was at wit’s end,” she said of the experience. For Sharon, it was
her family and her church that helped her get through her ongoing
battle with cancer.
“During the chemo process, my body broke down. I
was weak, fatigued, I went through menopause, I lost my hair, I lost a
lot of weight,” Sharon said, speaking about the post-surgical
treatment. “I have a strong family. My mother, my husband, my daughter
all helped. I have a support group at my church. Talking to my friends
Not everyone knew what to say or do. “Some people
began to shy away from me, that’s when I had to sit them down and say
to them exactly what I was going through,” she said.
“It’s taught me
a lot,” Sharon said of her experience with cancer. “It’s taught me to
be closer to God. I have a personal relationship with the higher power
now, because he’s the one who carried me through this situation and I
know it’s only by the grace of God that I’m still alive.”
everyone has to only depend on the grace of God. With regular
screenings and exams we can use the knowledge that has been given to us
to fight this disease that every year takes far more mothers, sisters
and daughters than it should.
The Breast Examination Center
of Harlem is located at 163 West 125th Street (in the State Office
Building), 4th Floor. The center offers free and low-cost clinical
breast exams and mammograms. Call (212) 531-8000 to schedule an
appointment for yourself, a friend or a loved one.