CHESAPEAKE, Va. – Lynne Young’s family health history painted an uncertain picture of her future.
“I lost my grandmother,” said Young of Chesapeake. “I never knew her because she passed when she was 35 when my mother was young. I lost my mother when I was young. My mother’s two sisters also had breast cancer.”
All those women died from breast cancer. But Young broke that cycle and has now been cancer-free for 16 years. The mom, whose daughter also battled breast cancer, is a survivor and advocate.
“It explains why I’m so passionate at being at a community and reaching out to others who are going through it because it’s personal to me,” Young said. “It’s something I don’t want to see others go through and if I could be a help, I could be that one to maybe make a difference.”
Feeling dismissed when doctors first diagnosed her, Young now helps Black women in particular who believe they’re being treated differently because of the color of their skin.
“Sometimes the doctors are not listening or not dialoguing that, 'I hear you,' and kind of give you an aspirin for all of your concerns,” Young said. “It makes people feel dismissed. I heard that a lot even from my own daughter. She’s experienced that a lot because she’s young.”
Susan G. Komen foundation is working to close the growing breast cancer inequity gap after it did a study diving into why Black women are more likely to die from the disease than white women.
“We’re dying at 40% higher rate than white women; it's a huge disparity,” said Natasha Mmeje with the Susan G. Komen foundation. “In some communities, that statistic is actually higher, upwards of 74%.”
The multi-year study found the health disparities in the Tidewater metro area are among the highest in the nation, with Suffolk and Chesapeake having the widest gap.
The report outlines multiple reasons for breast cancer inequities, including financial and transportation issues, lack of insurance and fear of going to the doctor. The data also suggests inequities could be driven by systemic racism, poor quality of care and implicit bias based on economic standing.
To break down those barriers, the foundation launched the “Stand for H.E.R.” initiative.
“Now it's time for action,” said Mmeje, the initiative’s community program manager. “That's really what Stand for H.E.R. is. Stand for H.E.R., a health equity revolution. Our aim is to reduce those disparities.”
Komen is increasing access to services and testing, providing emotional and financial support, and updating its educational materials for the Black community.
Young is hopeful it’ll save lives.
“Once we get over bridging that gap and learning how to trust the medical field because we need the medical field because too many of us are dying, I think that’ll be a big way to progress towards a better future,” she said. “It’s not an African American problem, it’s an everyone problem.”
Komen’s goal is to reduce the rate of death for Black women by 25% starting in the Tidewater area and other nine metro areas where the disparities are the greatest.