The fight to bring awareness to the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Black women is highlighted in September, but it’s a year-long battle.
That is why women like Ann-Marie Appiah have made it their mission to promote educate and promote early detection of the disease among women. “You shouldn’t wait until something bad has happened before you’re ready to fight,” Ann-Marie says. The founder of Painted Pink, an organization dedicated to increasing breast cancer awareness among millennials, shares a few tips for our readers below:
The earlier you receive an exam, the better.
Research shows that 25% of new breast cancer cases are among patients under 40, which is why early detection is so critical. In addition to performing monthly self-exams a few days after your menstrual cycle, Ann-Marie recommends that you also request a breast exam during your annual gynecological exam. “Do not leave that table until they have also done a breast exam,” she says.
Then, of course, there is the traditional mammogram, an x-ray exam used to screen for breast cancer. In many cases, medical professionals do not recommend that women begin receiving regular mammograms, until they are at least 40 years of age. However, having a history of breast cancer in your family may warrant the need for earlier testing. “If you do know that someone in your family has had breast cancer, you can call your insurance company to make sure that they code you correctly [in order to receive a referral for a mammogram,]” Ann-Marie says.
And, don’t worry. The Painted Pink founder recognizes that mammograms can be a bit painful for some women, but the pain is so worth it. “Would you rather have five seconds of your life in pain, or would you rather have to fight for your life?” she asks.
A healthier lifestyle does make a difference.
There are several factors that can contribute to the development of breast cancer, but one factor that many medical professionals agree on is your lifestyle. Certain foods have been linked to the disease, so monitoring your intake of snacks that are loaded with sodium, caffeine, soy, and cholesterol may be your best bet.
You should also make it a priority to remain physically active. Some activities that Ann-Marie suggests is soul-cycling, hiking with girlfriends, or even yoga.
But, regardless of how you choose to maintain a healthier lifestyle, the bottom line is to start today while there’s still time. “A lot of the warriors who are fighting for their lives now talk about how they are cutting out the [unhealthy foods] now,” Ann-Marie says. “They are now saying, ‘Had I known what I know now, I would’ve done this a lot sooner.’”
Being diagnosed doesn’t mean it’s all over for you.
“Having cancer is nothing to be ashamed of, and it doesn’t indicate a death sentence,” Ann-Marie says. As if being diagnosed isn’t stressful enough, deciding on what to do next can be even more overwhelming. “The first thing you should do after being diagnosed, particularly for a woman of color, is to find a doctor that [you love],” Ann-Marie says. “It needs to be someone that you can almost consider as part of your extended family.”
The second step is to find someone to serve as your constant support throughout the entire process. It should be someone that you are able to be completely vulnerable with about what you are going through. “There are so many millennials who are sick, who aren’t letting people know, and aren’t taking the days off,” Ann-Marie says. “They are literally fighting for their lives at their desk or cubicle [for many reasons], and it’s really sad.”
Black women are often taught to be strong for others, but Ann-Marie says being diagnosed with Breast Cancer is one of the few times when you are allowed to get support from someone else for a change. “It’s all about your mindset,” she says.
There’s a seat for all of us at the table.
Perhaps you are someone who would love to participate in the fight against breast cancer but have no idea where to start. Well, Ann-Marie says sometimes it’s as simple as expressing interest and being supportive. “Solange [Knowles] has a new album that is about having ‘A Seat at the Table,’” the Painted Pink founder says. “Invite yourself to have a seat at the table.”
The bottom line is that you don’t have to be directly affected by breast cancer in order to promote awareness. It can be as simple as volunteering at a local clinic or participating in a fundraiser. “It’s all about loving yourself to the tenth degree and doing everything you can to support yourself and the people you love,” Ann Marie says.
For more information about Painted Pink, visit PaintedPink.org.