Often times I’m asked, “Why did I become an advocate?” And often times I ask myself the same question “WHY did I become an advocate?” Proverbs 31:8-9 says “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.
Initially, when I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) in December of 2009, I had no clue about anything breast cancer. Even though my mom died of metastatic breast cancer in 2004, I guess I just blocked it out of my mind. Five years after my mom’s death I was diagnosed with MBC, and I was alone trying to navigate through an unknown world and I had no clue how I would make it. For nine months I knew of no support groups, any other women, or black women for that matter that was living with MBC. Those nine months got me thinking, as long as I’m alive NO woman/man should fight breast cancer alone.
I learned about racial disparities in the African American community from reading up on breast cancer and the effects it has on my community. I didn’t know racial disparities existed at first, because I had never experienced it. I’ve gotten the best quality of care and I have the most amazing medical team. But the fact is that black women are dying at a faster rate than any other race, and when I found that out, I decided then to use this as my platform. We have to work together to change this and the only way we can do this is by continuing to lift our voices not just in October but all year round.
Change is needed and we can’t enact change until we get to the root of the problem. We need more African American women to speak up when they feel they haven’t been treated as equal. Be your own advocate. If something is wrong don’t stop until someone listens. Often times African American women are dismissed by doctors and are not taken seriously about their symptoms. Make doctors listen. Make doctors hear you. We are not faking. African American women are worth fighting for too. We are worth the research and the clinical trials that go into having more efficient and effective medicines so that we can live longer. Twenty-five percent of African American patients are even offered Herceptin. Standards of care should be the same for every patient regardless of a person’s race. This was mind boggling to me because it’s like are we still living in the dark ages where everyone’s lives don’t matter.
Advocacy for me means lifting my voice and shouting from the mountain tops. Being an integral part of the Tigerlily Foundation, and the Fireside Chat being held at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in December 2019 is very important to me because we are raising our voices against racial disparities. There will be black women representing 22 cities in which there are the largest number of women of color being diagnosed with breast cancer. Talk about representation! A disparity is defined as a great difference. It’s time we continue to recognize racial disparities exist and as a community we need to work together to end this great difference. Tigerlily is doing just that – working together with organizations to bring awareness so that black women aren’t forgotten. I want breast cancer organizations to establish a dialog with MBC patients to find out the needs of an underserved community. I want African American women to know there are women who look like them out there advocating for them and lifting our voices. I want African American women to know they are not alone. We see the statistics and we hear your silent cries and we are working diligently to change those statistics. By participating in the Fireside Chat, I am able to lift my voice and I able to make them hear me. I want them to see my cries, to feel my soul and to feel my pain. We can continue to talk about it, but are we really taking a stance against racial disparities. Do we have both feet on the ground ready to run the race and see it through? My legacy is to change the thoughts and minds of the breast cancer community. I often said “Let me have a seat at the table”. After years of having seats at tables where people are listening but aren’t hearing me, I decided I’ll build my own table and I’ll invite you to my table, and I do have extra folding chairs.
Written By: Sheila McGlown, Tigerlily Foundation MBC ANGEL Advocate
Sheila McGlown is one of 11 MBC Angel Advocate attending Tigerlily Foundation’s Young Women’s Metastatic Breast Cancer Disparities Fireside Chat at the 2019 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS) on the morning of December 10. The event is designed to foster transformational dialogue engaging young women in the African-American community from 22 cities identified as locations having a high rate of breast cancer diagnosis among women of color.