*The headline topic particularly hits home for me. And with all of the family, close friends, and colleagues that I am sure many of you have lost over the years to cancer, I know it will hit home for you too. Upon reading an article in The Guardian that pulls back the curtain on who may be more likely to survive cancer, not because of better genes or even luck; but because of their race – which whether folks want to believe it or not has a LOT to do with access to medical treatment – I was compelled to share a personal experience.
It seems almost criminal that the odds for a person’s survival of cancer lies in the color of one’s skin. That, if you’re Black or Hispanic, you are automatically less likely to survive the disease due to late diagnosis; little to no insurance coverage, and the blockage from necessary treatment due to governmental rules and regulations.
And for the few “fortunate enough” to get the treatment they may need “for free,” it seems to automatically be assumed that these people have signed up to be “research rabbits.”
It is this last entry that identifies the reason the topic hits home for me.
I have a friend, lets call her “Brenda.” She is Black. When we met in 2013, she had been in remission for nearly a decade; having survived three different types of cancer! But not unlike most cancer victims, this did not mean she was free of going to the hospital daily to maintain her life.
As a Black woman, not only did she endure racism in a lot of these medical settings, where she was often ignored; made to wait for lengthier periods to be seen — even though she had an appointment, in lieu of the front office staff in her Armenian community attending to “their own” first.
Needless to say, her visits with the doctors were not much better.
But then, in what appeared to be a stroke of good fortune, a high profile medical facility in Los Angeles who only accepts a few patients annually for no cost, fast-tracked her application and called to say she could now be cared for by them.
“Brenda” was thrilled and couldn’t be happier at leaving the medical facility she had attended for at least a year, but had treated her so badly, behind.
The daily routine of visiting the facility to maintain her life became even more intense for “Brenda.” But she was being treated with the utmost respect and she felt she was getting the very best care.
Remember: At the time she arrived at this new facility, she was still cancer-free.
After months and months of what “Brenda” thought was fine treatment, she and her family decided to take a trip to visit other family members abroad. They planned for months, waiting for the children to get out of school on summer vacation. I was both happy and sad. Happy because this family had already been through SO much, even aside from the tremendous responsibility of remission; and now they were going to be able to have fun! And sad because I would miss them during the time they were away.
Finally, the tickets were bought and the trip was a reality.
Or so I thought…
Literally, just days before the trip was to take place, with all the bags packed and ready to go, the medical facility called. “Brenda” was out of remission.
The cancer she had survived for nearly a decade had returned.
I learned this quite by accident. Having said goodbye to the family at a visit at least a week earlier, I decided to drop by their home just to check the surrounding area to ensure doors had been locked, windows closed, etc.
You can imagine my surprise when I found them there. And my even greater surprise as to why.
“Brenda,” who needed the time to wrap her own brain around the fact that her cancer had returned, couldn’t bring herself to let the friend who had walked the path of support with her for the past two years, know. I had no idea why she was asking me to sit down.
For a moment, my breath was taken away.
It has been many, many months since “Brenda” received the news about the return of her cancer. And just like the incredible trooper she is, she has endured all the rounds of chemo, more than 18 different types of medicines per day, and all-day hospital visits.
But it is more than a personal opinion when I say she has been this facility’s greatest research rabbit.
Much less of the actual cancer is spoken about these days. Now, in its place, is the fact that parts of her body is swollen beyond recognition.
And the almost involuntary admittance to her from a medical staff member (with no one else present) that the body part was erroneously “manipulated,” and caused the swelling.
I continue to support, stand by, and pray for my friend “Brenda.” And I truly believe she will be one of the 15% who survives this dreadful disease. To look at her today, aside from the swelling, you would not even know that she is sick. Her beautiful face, smile, youthful spirit, and the care she gives to her children; along with her joyful plans for the future do NOT include being sick.
Celine Gounder’s in depth article in The Guardian states, “Cancer treatment isn’t just a matter of science. Race, economics and power all determine whether the care you get ends up saving your life.”
To this I might add…or using that life as research without the patient’s knowledge or permission.