Breast Cancer in African-Americans – Advanced Breast Cancer with Robin Roberts


ROBIN ROBERTS: Here is some research that may surprise you and really hits home for me. African-American women are more likely to die from breast cancer. And what’s worse, they’re being diagnosed more frequently. So why is this happening, and what can be done about it? We take a closer look. FELICIA JOHNSON: I felt like the monster was chasing us, and now it’s close. I’m thinking to myself, I may be next. ROBIN ROBERTS: Breast cancer has waged a war on Felicia Johnson’s family. FELICIA JOHNSON: My maternal grandmother, my sister, my first cousin. ROBIN ROBERTS: 11 women, spanning three generations, have been diagnosed with the disease, including Felicia. FELICIA JOHNSON: It seems like our list just goes on and on. ROBIN ROBERTS: And when it really hit close to home, when your generation, it was one thing when you saw your mother and your aunt. But then when your first cousin passed away from breast cancer, what was that moment like for you? FELICIA JOHNSON: All the girls are in the room. And it’s a deep, deep cry. And I realize that they’re crying because we lost her. And she was so young. And now it’s got us. It’s wrapped itself around us like tentacles. What’s going to happen with us? It was paralyzing mental fear. ROBIN ROBERTS: So it wasn’t something that you discussed. It wasn’t something that, even as a family, even though it for generations had impacted your family, you all didn’t talk about it? FELICIA JOHNSON: No one ever said a word. It was like a private secret, hidden in our closets. ROBIN ROBERTS: Why didn’t they want to talk about it? FELICIA JOHNSON: I think part of it is our culture as African-American people. We’re very, very private. We keep things hidden. So there was just silence. ROBIN ROBERTS: Felicia’s connection to breast cancer is not unusual. Death rates from breast cancer are higher in the African-American community, and research shows that African-American women are now being diagnosed with breast cancer more frequently. LISA NEWMAN: There has for many decades been the assumption that these disparities were all related to socioeconomic factors because of higher poverty rates, higher likelihood of being underinsured or non-insured in the African-American community. ROBIN ROBERTS: But Dr. Lisa Newman is researching other possible causes, including genetic links between African-American ancestry and the more deadly form of breast cancer known as triple negative. LISA NEWMAN: We know that triple negative breast cancer is twice as common in African-American women compared to white American women. ROBIN ROBERTS: And African-American women get diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age, more often than white American women. But many African-American women are not getting essential preventative treatment. That’s why Dr. Newman goes into the community to spread the word. LISA NEWMAN: It’s disrupting families. It’s damaging. It’s taking lives. Every opportunity to get the message out to African-American women regarding breast cancer screening and early detection is critical. ROBIN ROBERTS: After Felicia thought she beat breast cancer the first time, it returned seven years later as triple negative. We do share the triple negative, which really affects the African-American community the most and is so deadly. And look at us. FELICIA JOHNSON: Yeah, look at us. ROBIN ROBERTS: Felicia is determined to do everything she can to break the silence in her family and help others do the same. What is it about you that you said, I’m going to be the voice for those who don’t have a voice? FELICIA JOHNSON: Without information, you suffer. You suffer with not knowing what to do. You want to give yourself the best opportunity that science has to fight your disease. ROBIN ROBERTS: Today, Felicia has no detectable cancer in her body and volunteers her time, mentoring others through their breast cancer journey. When Felicia needs a moment to herself, she goes to her neighborhood park. Tell me about this park that’s close to where you live. FELICIA JOHNSON: I’ve been swinging on the swings since I was a little girl. It’s very soothing for me. It’s the blowing in the breeze. And I’m thinking about things in life. When I swing back, I’m swinging into the history. But when I swing forward, I’m swinging into new hope, new joy, new peace, and giving a part of me to another woman to say, I know it’s painful. Take another woman’s hand. She needs you. SPEAKER: I love you. FELICIA JOHNSON: I love you, too. SPEAKER: Thank you for helping me. FELICIA JOHNSON: She needs what you went through so she can see that there’s hope. When I told someone I had stage 4, when I told someone I had triple negative, you have metastatic cancer, and they see that I’m alive. OK, there’s hope. I can make it. I can go through. Just take someone else’s hand to the swing in the park with you and let them swing on your swing so they know they can make it, too.

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