Yesterday, Mary J. Blige joined Dr. Jill Biden and members of the American Cancer Society at the White House to announce a series of national meetings on breast and cervical cancer, aimed at raising awareness for early detection and treatment of cancer in women. This is part of Dr. Biden’s relaunch of the “cancer moonshot” initiative, aimed at eliminating cancer in all its forms. It comes during breast cancer awareness month, and Ms. Blige spoke about the numerous family members she has lost to cancer:
She specifically mentions the reduction in care and outcomes for Black women in the medical field, a massive problem not just in cancer prevention and treatment, but across all areas of medicine. Medical racism is real, and in the arena of cancer, it can be especially devastating as many types of cancer leave so little room for hesitation, and early detection is often the only chance one has at increasing odds of survival.
Awareness events like this are key to urging people to get tested, to schedule a mammogram or a pap smear, to keep up annual wellness visits and stay on top of preventative screenings. There is a demonstrable effect between raising awareness and improved outcomes, such as the “Angelina Jolie Effect” that saw a worldwide spike in genetic testing for the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genes in women, which are associated with developing breast and ovarian cancer. Not just that, but Jolie speaking openly about her prophylactic double mastectomy resulted in more women choosing that option in their own treatment plans, palpably decreasing the stigma around the procedure.
As Stephanie has noted before, celebrities can often use their platform to ease public conversations around difficult, even taboo, topics. Mary J. Blige was clearly emotional talking about the toll cancer has taken on her family, but it’s important to share, to keep the conversation going and the lines of communication open. If even one person is encouraged to schedule a test or talk to a family member about their health, then it’s a net positive.
Because cancer is scary, and talking about it is hard, and even thinking about it can be difficult. I know, I’ve been avoiding the BRCA-1/2 test for several years, even though my doctor would really like to have the results since I don’t have a family medical history from which to operate. As I am turning forty, she wants to know what warning signs to be aware of, which tests to schedule more or less frequently. Genetic testing would help her out tremendously, I do know that, but I also don’t want to know if there’s a ticking time bomb in body. I’ve always been healthy, I’m the obnoxious family member who won’t get sick when everyone else is down with the flu. I don’t want to know if my body has just been lying in wait this whole time, even though my rational side knows the test is important. I saw Mary J. Blige’s speech and remembered I really need to schedule that test, I can’t put it off any longer, no matter how scary it is. Because knowing could be the literal difference between life and death.
To support equity in medicine and increase positive outcomes for Black women, visit the Black Women’s Health Imperative.
To support breast cancer research, visit the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
And for support services and information for patients, survivors, and family members affected by cancer, visit Cancer Care.
Live long and gossip,