Normani: white women get cancer diagnoses earlier than women of color

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Normani is an American Cancer Society Ambassador, advocating for early detection due to her mom’s two struggles with the disease. Norman’s mother, Andrea, is now cancer-free, but had breast cancer twice. Andrea found the lumps herself both times, nearly 20 years apart. In a feature with Elle, Normani sheds light on early detection, self-exams, and the medical racism that affects Black women’s cancer diagnoses or lack thereof.

Normani’s mother, Andrea Hamilton, has been diagnosed with breast cancer twice—and both times she found the lumps herself. The first time, Normani was just five years old, but she remembers seeing her mother check herself. In 2020, after 19 years cancer-free, Normani watched her mother perform the same self-exam, only to find another lump. “My mom’s diagnosis taught me that early detection and not taking anything for granted are so important,” the singer, now 26, says.

That Normani’s mom detected her cancer before doctors did is perhaps not all that surprising: When it comes to breast cancer, Black women often have to look out for themselves. While the CDC says that breast cancer will affect one in eight American women of all ages and races in their lifetime, and research from the American Cancer Society shows that Black and white women are diagnosed at similar rates, Black women are 40 percent more likely to die from the disease. They are also more likely to be diagnosed both at younger ages and at later stages. As repeated studies have shown, this is due, in large part, to racial bias in medicine, research, media, and society at large, which often views breast cancer as a “white woman’s disease”—a misconception that has resulted in white women receiving earlier diagnoses, more frequent examinations, and better treatment plans in comparison to women of color.

Here, in her own words, Normani tells her story.

When a close relative has been diagnosed with breast cancer, you have to honor both experiences: the one who is enduring and the one who is doing their best to support. My mom is incredibly independent and self-sufficient, so seeing her break down and not be able to function was really painful. Implementing normalcy and taking her out of reality was important. She didn’t want to be coddled or feel like a burden. We did our best to make sure she felt like not much had changed. You acknowledge the circumstances, but you don’t constantly remind someone or dwell on the current reality. You also have to take care of yourself in order to be that support system for someone in such a fragile state—not only physically but spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.

I watched my mother find her own lumps both times she had breast cancer. She taught me the importance of looking out for changes in your breasts and educated me on what mammograms were at an early age. I also encourage anyone who has a family member with cancer to see that your family talks to a doctor about genetic testing. We have taken these measures as a family. Knowledge is power, so whatever you don’t know, don’t be afraid to ask.

[From Elle]

When I first saw the headline, I thought this was going to be about skin cancer and its later diagnosis for Black people, but I wasn’t surprised to learn it was about breast cancer because medical racism is truly pervasive and insidious. There’s just a general lack of care and attention shown to Black women by the medical establishment and there are the statistics to prove it (e.g. maternal mortality rate). Andrea’s story is all the more shocking because she found her own lumps not once, but twice. You’d think that especially after having and beating cancer once before, she’d be getting more frequent screenings for a potential recurrence, but apparently not. That’s exactly what the article was talking about and thank goodness she was attentive and took care of herself, though it shouldn’t have been completely on her. This is obviously an issue that’s close to Normani and good for her for using her celebrity status to advocate for equal medical care for Black women.

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