Compared to whites, African American women in the US receive sub-par medical treatment. It’s one reason the Black Women’s Health Imperative (which we’re partnering with this month) exists. Less than one hundred years ago, researchers began documenting cases of discrimination at health care facilities. One of the earliest cases was that of Juliette Derricotte, an international lecturer and university dean. After a a car accident in 1931 Derricotte was treated by an accommodating white doctor, but not allowed at the local hospital. She died in the local facility for blacks, which was a “filthy home.” Fast forward to today. We’ve learned a lot, and US medical facilities are accommodating to African Americans. There is still progress to be made regarding African Americans and breast cancer, and breast reconstruction. Regardless of how much progress is made, it never hurts to find ways to get the best medical care possible.
For the most part, the modern care that you need as a black woman with breast cancer is accessible. So is your right to breast reconstruction, thanks to the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act of 1998. This act guarantees coverage for breast reconstruction for all women who have mastectomies, with few exceptions.
However, even though care is accessible, twelve percent of African Americans report being treated differently when receiving health care. African American women receive less frequent screenings and mammograms than whites, and a 2014 study reports that they were significantly less likely to choose breast reconstruction.
Now, if you’re an African American with breast cancer, is there anything you can do to reduce potential discrepancies?
Fortunately, yes, and here they are:
African Americans and Breast Cancer, Reconstruction: How to Get Great Care
Tip #1: Get Personal Help
This applies to women in general, but especially to African American women because a lack of physical help is one of the proposed reasons for the disparity in health care. We always try to take care of everyone, but when you have cancer, you need someone to take care of at least some of your responsibilities. Find someone who can help with the things you least enjoy doing.
Which of these are most burdensome to you? Find help with some or all of them. Maybe some aren’t burdensome to you, but you have a friend or family member who loves to do them. Ask that person to help. He or she would be honored.
- Housecleaning (Cleaning for a Reason is one of several organizations that offers free housecleaning for breast cancer patients)
- Communicating (ask your doctor these questions)
Tip #2: Get Financial Help
Fear of the expense keeps many African American women from seeking out adequate care or a second (or third) opinion, and this especially applies to seeking the recommended follow up care. Fortunately, everyone has a heart for breast cancer patients, and there are some places where you can get the extra money you need to find a better solution or just take better care of yourself and your family. These include Pink Ink, the C.H.A.I.N. fund (for residents of select states), and Miles of Hope, among others. Komen lists places to find childcare, transportation, healthcare assistance, and financial advice. You can also raise funds for yourself through a crowdfunding site such as GoFundMe (here is their cancer page). When crowdfunding, don’t forget to ask more than once. Every $5 helps.
Tip #3: Insist on a Thorough Assessment and Education
On average, physicians spend less time with their African American patients. Make a list of all the questions that you need answered (here is a good list by Komen), and bring a friend with you to make sure that you get through all of them.
Tip #4: Make Sure to Check Out the BWHI
The Black Women’s Health Initiative helps eliminate disparities by ensuring that Black women have access to early detection services and screening, among other things. They exist to help you, and are informed about the most important issues and current research that could help you to understand your health and make good decisions.