Erin Perkins was diagnosed January 28th, 2021, at age 34 with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) with invasive ductal carcinoma Stage 2B while nursing her son. While undergoing 16 chemotherapy infusions and a bilateral mastectomy, Erin knew that she wanted to learn more about breast cancer and be a voice for other patients.
Advocacy is in Erin’s heart—through and through. And it has been, even prior to her breast cancer diagnosis. Erin’s advocacy is woven deep into the fiber of her being and she leverages her power and her privilege through her voice. Erin attended multiple sessions on the first day of SABCS, one of which was Trust in Science and Healthcare: Advancing Health Equity Built on Trust. Here are some thoughts and notes that Erin shared with us from her first day at SABCS.
Tigerlily Foundation: What was the background information you received that was helpful in attending this Special Session?
Erin Perkins: I loved Dr. Deborah Stroman’s allegory about perspective. We need to ask “What is wrong with the lake? How can we fix the water?” Because people continue to be harmed and die unnecessarily.
Tigerlily Foundation: There is a lot of information included in these sessions. What new information did you receive that inspires you to research more after SABCS?
Erin Perkins: STEM programs to provide diversity in health systems. Also, in her first point on how to decrease, reduce, and eliminate the disparities, Dr. Stroman said to “pay attention to NIH’s Unite Initiative”, and I do not know what that is. I found the mention of understanding bias at a younger age to close the gap earlier coupled with the mention of STEM programs at earlier ages in diverse communities helping give access and interest for BIPOC to want to become Oncologists as a profession, as representation is needed. (Less than 3% of Oncologists are Black).
Tigerlily Foundation: What was the impact on breast cancer patients, or the importance for breast cancer patients in this series?
Erin Perkins: Cadence of mobile clinics to visit underserved communities, as well as finding a way to close the gap for access to treatment for these patients to be able to finish courses of treatment and have better overall outcomes. Aliya suggested asking for patient feedback after receiving services to help care practitioners do better in the future.
Tigerlily Foundation: Were disparities discussed or addressed? How?
Erin Perkins: YES! This session was 100% about the disparities in healthcare and ideas for how to work towards filling in these gaps. To bridge the gaps we need patient-centric care. Practitioners need to understand and acknowledge the distrust, and frame research in ways that benefit the patient.
Tigerlily Foundation: Was the presentation inclusive or represent voices/issues from patients of color? Young patients? Patients living with MBC? Additionally, how was your perspective influenced by this series?
Erin Perkins: Yes! I was excited to tell my math educator friend in Seattle about how important getting Black students involved in STEM can be, and it just made me hopeful for upcoming change. I also felt this way because the panel was there addressing so many Doctors and researchers, letting them know that these healthcare gaps stem from systemic racism, and as a result, must be intentionally noticed, listened to, and dismantled.
Thank you to Seagen, Pfizer, and Puma Biotechnology for sponsoring this content.
Speakers for this SBACS Special Series Included: Lori L. Wilson, MD, Associate Dean of Diversity and Faculty Development, Howard University College of Medicine, Deborah Stroman PhD, UNC Health Equity and Social Justice, Lisa C. Richardson, MD, Director, Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, CDC, Olufunmilayo I. Olopade, MD, FACP, Director, University of Chicago, Daniel Calac, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Indian Health Council, Inc, George Sledge, Jr., MD, Professor of Medicine (Oncology), Stanford Cancer Center, Melissa B. Davis, PhD, Associated Professor in Surgery, Weill Cornell Medicine, Darcy Burbage, DNP, RN, AOCN, Na’Diah Smith, Patient Advocate, Aliya Whipple, Patient Advocate, Lauren Candies Tarpley, AYA Breast Cancer advocate, Published Author, Erica Stringer-Reasor, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Director Breast Cancer Program, University of Alabama – Birmingham, Eric P. Winer, MD, Chief, Division of Breast Oncology Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Amelie G. Ramirez, Dr.P.H., M.P.H., Chair, Department of Population Health Sciences, UT Health San Antonio, Elena Martinez, PhD, Professor UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, Sophia George, PhD, Research Associate Professor, University of Miami Cancer Center, Thelma Brown, Patient Advocate, Ysabel Duron, Patient Advocate, and Ashley Dedmon, Patient Advocate.