By LaKeshia N. Myers
I recently had a sofa shipped from an auction house in Los Angeles to Milwaukee. While this detail may seem trivial, understand that this was no ordinary sofa. This sofa belonged to the late Diahann Carroll—yes, that Diahann Carroll. The same Diahann Carroll who was noted for being the first African American woman to star in a sitcom that did not portray Black people in a subservient role. Carroll was also famous for her extensive Broadway career, which included a Tony for her performance in “No Strings”; as well as an Oscar nomination for her portrayal in the 1970s classic, “Claudine.” But Ms. Carroll became one of my favorite actresses for her iconic portrayal of style icon and business maven Dominique Deveraux in the prime-time soap opera “Dynasty.”
Having followed Carrolls’s career since my childhood, I was devastated when she passed last year due to complications from breast cancer. Originally diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997, Carroll underwent radiation therapy and spoke publicly about her battle with the disease. She became a sought-after motivational speaker for breast cancer survivors and encouraged young women to have mammograms and to take better care of their breast health. This is important advice to remember, as about 1 in 80 U.S. women (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime (American Cancer Society, 2020).
Doctors recommend women ages 40 and over have yearly mammograms, but they also encourage women of all ages to conduct monthly breast self-checks. For women in the African American community, we are at greater risk of contracting breast cancer or having cancerous cells be missed during a traditional mammogram due to breast density. Breast density refers to the amount of fibroglandular tissue in the breast when observed on a mammogram. Dense breast tissue shows up white on a mammogram, as do cancer cells, making it difficult for the radiologist to spot a tumor.
About half of all women who have screening mammography are found to have dense breast tissue. About 40% of these women have heterogeneously dense breast tissue and about 10% have extremely dense breast tissue (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 2015). Because of advancements in mammography and MRI technology, doctors have alternative measures to identify cancerous growths in women with dense breasts. The issue is ensuring health insurers do not unnecessarily markup the cost of the MRI mammography or classify the testing as non-essential, as this is preventive healthcare.
Even within the confines of COVID-19, we continue to “go pink” in October to highlight Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I encourage all women (and men, too!) to schedule your annual mammograms. Know your status, perform self-exams, conduct research or contact your physician to help combat breast cancer. In the greater Milwaukee area, you can schedule a mammogram at Milwaukee Health Services located at 8200 W. Silver Spring Dr. by calling (414) 760-3900.
As Diahann Carroll once said, “In the war against breast cancer, we have the ability to arm ourselves with knowledge and education is a powerful tool. By taking action and doing something positive, fear is replaced with hope.”