Black women have a 40% higher breast cancer death rate compared to white women
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Breast cancer impacts Black women disproportionately. According to the American Cancer Society, black women have a 40% higher death rate than white women. One Valley survivor turned advocate is sharing her story this Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Michelle Miller’s journey with breast cancer began in January 2016. At just 32 years old, her diagnosis was stunning. “At first, it was earth-shattering. I cried. I cried. I cried while I was at the mammogram office. They could not console me enough,” she said.
She said she found a lump in her left breast and pleaded with her primary care physician to refer her for a mammogram appointment. Miller couldn’t believe it when the doctors told her she had stage IV triple-positive breast cancer. “It metastasized from the breast to the lymph nodes and into my spine in two spots,” said Miller.
At the time of her diagnosis, Miller had just graduated from the University of Arizona with her MBA and lived an active, social lifestyle. She remembers how hard it was to undergo chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, and radiation. “The most difficult thing about being an African American woman is there’s not a whole lot of African American doctors out there who understand how quickly this disease works through our bodies,” she said.
Black women under 50 have double the mortality rate of young white women, according to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. “I created a Facebook group that I have called Black and Brown Skin Breast Cancer Support Group because there wasn’t a lot of help and information out there when I was diagnosed,” said Miller.
Although she still takes some medications to keep her cancer at bay, Miller said her team at Mayo Clinic saved her life. She’s focused on advocating for other women and emphasizes the importance of self-exams, early screening, genetic testing, preventative care, and research. “You’re talking about saving your life, so it’s priceless,” she said.
Miller learned she has dense breast tissue, which is a known risk factor for breast cancer. It’s found in about 50% of women and can make it more difficult to detect cancers by mammograms. This year in Arizona, it became state law for insurance that covers a mastectomy to also cover preventive screening and diagnostic imaging in women who have dense breast tissue.
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