It was after Pastor Sandra King found a lump in her right breast that she scheduled her first mammogram at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. At 44, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and did not have health insurance.
“Before my diagnosis,” the Miami resident shared, “the only knowledge of breast cancer I had was that it was epidemic. I knew it was deadly because at least 10 families in my life have been directly affected by the disease.”
But even knowing that, King said, did not help her in terms of early detection.
Now 50, King, pastor at Divine Direction Worship Center in Fort Lauderdale, shared her story at the Breast Cancer Awareness Luncheon on Oct. 25. The event, sponsored by the Fort
Lauderdale Black Police Officer’s Association, took place at the Mizell Center on Sistrunk Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale.
“It’s our October event,” said Nina Justice, the association’s president and the event’s organizer. “We sponsor an event each month, and with breast cancer being diagnosed at such high rates in our community, we thought it appropriate to have survivors come in and tell their stories.”
Justice presented Women2Women Breast Care Foundation, Inc. (W2W) with a $250 check, proceeds from the luncheon.
“They are a great foundation,” said Justice. “After researching the work they do, I wanted them to be a part of the luncheon. It was a pleasure to make the donation.”
W2W supports women by promoting regular examinations, early detection and aggressive treatment for those suffering from breast cancer. The foundation also funds and coordinates breast screenings to eligible individuals. Programs are designed to meet the needs of at-risk or diagnosed patients with breast cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, African-American women are more likely to die from breast cancer at every age. White women have a greater long-term survival rate at each stage of the disease than do African-American women.
King said she contacted Jackson Memorial to schedule her mammogram and was told she had to wait three months for an appointment.
“But I had my daughter call, and suddenly it changed to three weeks. I had my first mammogram and a needle biopsy,” she said, adding that her daughter’s furious call must have prompted hospital officials to bring her in sooner, “and received my diagnosis a few days later.”
The cancer had advanced to stage II, requiring King to have a radical mastectomy, during which she said her right breast and lymph nodes were removed.
“The cancer was aggressive and I needed to have an aggressive treatment,” she said.
Jacqueline Gray, 41, founder of W2W, said that early detection is the first step.
“That’s where it begins, with the diagnosis,” she said. “When many women find out, it’s already a stage IV disease (the most advanced stage in which it moves to other areas of the body).
We also need to know that it affects other areas of the body as well.”
Gray, a survivor, received her diagnosis in January of 2007.
“It was early detection that saved my life,” she said. “We founded Women2Women later that same year. Through information, early detection and support, no woman faces the consequences of breast cancer alone. There are many foundations, but not enough resources, especially for black women.”
King’s treatment included eight months of chemotherapy.
“I lost my hair after the first treatment,” she said. “My nails turned black; I was in pain. Chemo was something I had to go through, it wasn’t an option.”
After returning to work, King said she was no longer eligible for the program offered at Jackson Memorial, and she still did not have the proper insurance to cover her needs.
“It was difficult to impossible to get the medications I needed, but I found a way. Tamoxifen, for example, was $150 for a one-month supply.”
Tamoxifen is used in the treatment of breast cancer and is currently the world’s largest selling drug for that purpose.
Gray said that W2W will soon offer a free-of-charge prescription and co-pay program for individuals touched by breast cancer.
“There’s no need for women to not get the help they need,” she said.
The foundation has partnered with Florida Medical Center, Plantation General Hospital and other urgent medical care programs to help women who need care.
King, who throughout her trials found solace in her religion, said that women should “get past the fear of being tested. High blood pressure, HIV, breast cancer, they are all in our community and we are dying. It’s real. Where would I be if I did not find my lump?”
Photo by Khary Bruyning. Pastor Sandra King
THE MORE YOU KNOW
• This year, an estimated 19,010 newly diagnosed cases of breast cancer are expected to occur among African-American women, and 5,830 of these women are expected to die with the disease.
• Breast cancer is the most common cancer among African-American women, and the second leading cause of cancer deaths among this ethnic group, surpassed only by lung cancer.
• African-American women’s five-year survival rate of breast cancer is 77 percent, compared to white women's rate of 90 percent.
• The incidence of breast cancer among women under 40 is higher for African-American women compared to white women; however, the risk of breast cancer for all women increases with age.
• African-American women are more likely to be diagnosed with larger tumors and more advanced stages of breast cancer despite a lower incidence rate.
Source: The American Cancer Society