INDIANAPOLIS — Giving more women a fighting chance. That's the goal of two women who are working to spread education and awareness about breast cancer, every day of the year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rates of breast cancer are about the same in Black women and white women. But the breast cancer mortality rate was about 41 percent higher for Black women, from 2009 to 2013.
One organization is making great strides to end breast cancer disparities for Black women.
"I just think we have to advocate for ourselves," said Elnora Daniel, who is in recovery after recently being diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2021.
It's an unnerving reality for many Black women in the fight against breast cancer to survive the silent killer.
"What's important is action, just don't ignore it," said Nina Coley, a four-year breast cancer survivor.
"There's nothing out there that's teaching breast health that is meaningful to women of color. Women of color have to teach women of color," said Coley.
Coley was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2017. At the time, it had been five years since her last mammogram.
"In the right breast I had HER2 positive and in the left breast, I had triple-negative. So, it was quite a blow," Coley said.
"I never thought that I was going to come back with a positive for breast cancer," Daniel said. "They did the biopsy the day before my birthday, June 7. They said, 'Your lymph nodes are benign but there is cancer in your left breast.'"
Like Coley, Daniel received her diagnosis after she went an entire decade without getting a mammogram.
"We are so busy doing things. Taking care of other people. Being focused on jobs, we want to do well we want to perform well, taking care of family, children, and grandchildren," Daniel said.
"We heard from women in the community say, because of the screening guidelines some organizations suggest start [getting mammograms] at age 40, others say start at age 45. Some say have a mammogram every year. Others say every other year, so it can be very confusing," said Lisa Hayes, Executive Director of Pink 4 Ever Inc. Ending Disparities.
Hayes and Nadia Miller are both 14-year cancer survivors who came together to form Pink 4 Ever Ending Disparities, creating a space for women like Daniel and Coley to eliminate breast cancer's disproportionate impact on black women through advocacy, education, research, and empowerment.
"The research that was showing that Black women face disparities related to breast cancer including having a higher mortality rate for breast cancer, as well as we are diagnosed at an earlier age and a later stage of the disease," said Hayes.
For Miller, this hits home. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the early age of 28.
"For me, if it was waiting until you were 40, I'd be dead. From a larger standpoint, it's necessary for there to be some, well, what our organization is doing, ensuring that there's advocacy around the younger woman, specifically African-American women, but also put a face to that," said Miller.
That advocacy includes removing financial barriers that some women face when seeking care.
For Coley, due to the severity of her diagnosis, she was placed on a medication that cost $10,000 and she had to take it for at least a year.
$10,000 over 12 months comes out to $120,000. That's almost double the median household income in the United States, according to the U.S. Census.
"My father had prostate cancer in the 90s and I had the opportunity to buy cancer insurance,” Coley said. "Not knowing that I would eventually have to use it, but that extra cancer insurance came in handy."
"No one, whether African-American or even part of the majority should have to wrestle with or even deliberate between their life or well-being and financial costs," said Dr. Antonio Williams with Indiana University's School of Public Health.
Williams said there is still a lot of work to be done to eliminate disparities in health care. He says it all boils down to access.
"Unfortunately, even though we are in 2021, the 1950s and 60s weren't that long ago. We still have a long way to go in the fight for equality. We got equality in certain areas, but healthcare seems to still be lacking," Williams said.
The City-County Council proclaimed October 30 as "Pink-4-Ever Day." There's a community day planned at the AMP, located at 1220 Waterway Blvd. in Indianapolis, from noon to 3:00 p.m.