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What We’re Reading: Learning from Black Voices in the Cancer Community

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Inside the (currently virtual) walls of Family Reach, our team talks a lot about social determinants of health and the gaps they create in cancer care. This topic – particularly racial inequities – is front of mind for many of us right now as we continue to live through the COVID-19 pandemic and witness the adverse effects brought upon Black and Latinx communities.

With a mission to remove financial barriers for cancer patients, we’re always actively listening to under-represented and under-resourced patients and learning from Black and Latinx voices in healthcare. In celebration of Black History Month, this edition of “What We’re Reading” is dedicated to some of the recent stories about Black cancer patient experiences that stuck with us.

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1. New Congressional Bill Will Study Racial Inequalities in Federal Cancer Research — Honoring the Legacy of Henrietta Lacks

Addressing and overcoming gaps in cancer care requires a deep knowledge of racial inequities in healthcare, including historical figures and notable turning points in the fight for equity.

Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cervical cancer in 1951 and without her knowledge or consent, doctors removed cells from her tumor for research use. Her cells continued to replicate, a medical phenomenon that had never happened before. Long after her passing, Henrietta’s immortal cells were used for thousands of medical studies, including those that developed polio and HPV vaccines and revolutionized cancer research. The Lacks family were not informed of this until decades later and have never received any compensation.

This new bill, named the “Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act” in her honor, will aim to increase diverse representation in cancer clinical trials to increase medical trust among Black patients and ensure they can access the life-saving treatment they deserve.

Read the full article.

2. Code Switch: Finding ‘A Perfect Match’

Code Switch is an NPR podcast hosted by journalists of color who fearlessly discuss the subject of race and how it impacts every part of society. In this episode, the hosts dive into health equity by sharing the story of two close friends, one Black and the other white, who were both diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. The white patient, Ibby, is a reporter and she put together this documentary piece after wondering about the role race played in her making it to survivorship while her friend, Terika, did not.

The story is an example of why it’s important to ask tough questions like “who is more likely to die from cancer?” and develop solutions to overcome the disparities that the answers reveal.

Listen to the podcast.

3. “The Beauty in Breaking” by Dr. Michele Harper

Written by emergency room physician Dr. Michele Harper, “The Beauty in Breaking” is a memoir that highlights how we can heal from the physical, emotional, and mental breaks we all face. In it, she sheds light on the historical mistreatment of Black Americans in medicine and provides anecdotal examples of how racism plays out in hospital settings.

While Dr. Harper covers heavy and important topics, the strength of the human spirit and the power of healing shines through her writing. Voices like these are vital for a collective understanding of the systemic issues that create barriers for cancer patients across the country.

If you’d like a preview of the book, an excerpt titled “The Police Tried to Make Me Medically Examine a Man Against His Will” is available to read online for free.

Read the excerpt.

4. ASCO President Aims to Shed Light on Cancer Care Inequities

In this interview with Healio, Lori J. Pierce, MD, FASTRO, FASCO, and American Society for Clinical Oncology President, spoke about her presidential theme of equity. She addressed access and equity as huge challenges in cancer care, and admitted that “ASCO cannot do it all, so we must be strategic and develop partnerships.”

Dr. Pierce’s message falls in line with our recent Imagine Cancer Equity session when our expert panel discussed how collaboration can help us create more impactful solutions to overcome disparities in cancer care. We know these problems are too big to solve alone, and we’re committed to working together on the most impactful solutions for cancer patients.

Check out the full conversation.

5. How Black Women With Breast Cancer Navigate a Biased System

This story from Allure’s Survivor’s Guide: Breast Cancer series covers some of the unique biases that Black breast cancer patients face and provides advice on how they can self-advocate when going through treatment. Diamonique Valentine, for example, was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer at 27 and heeded advice from another Black patient to question aspects of her treatment plan, such as the necessity or effectiveness of medications and procedures.

A Black oncologist quoted in the story supports her patients advocating for themselves but also highlights the need for other changes in the cancer system so that all of the work doesn’t fall on patients shoulders.

Perspectives like these are crucial to understanding patient needs and experiences so we can reach them where they are with the most effective support and resources.

Learn more about this reality for Black patients.

Register for Imagine Cancer Equity: Elevating the Patient Voice on March 18 to hear directly from patients and caregivers about the barriers to care they experienced firsthand.

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Stevie Snow
Senior Creative and Brand Manager • Family Reach Team

Always walking the fine line between her right and left brain, Stevie brings her creative and strategic thinking to her role as Senior Creative and Brand Manager. Her work amplifies Family Reach’s voice and brings attention to the financial impacts of a cancer diagnosis.

Read more from Stevie

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