Filed Under:  Health & Wellness

Breast cancer study saving Black women

27th October 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Zenitha Prince
Contributing Writer

(Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from the Afro American Newspaper) – African-American women suffering from breast cancer in the Washington, D.C. area offered some “real talk” about their experiences in a soon-to-be published study.

The report’s authors said that while breast cancer is one of the deadliest diseases for Black women – they are more than five times as likely to die from the disease and are less likely to survive five years after their diagnosis compared to their white counterparts – research on African-American women and cancer has been lagging behind.

“There are several studies that are focused on Caucasian women and their cancer experiences, but there is still a dearth of literature on African-American women breast cancer experiences,” said Phyllis D. Morgan, a certified family nurse practitioner, researcher and coordinator of the Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) Specialty in the School of Nursing at Walden University. In her study, Morgan and her colleagues focused on one of the more debilitating side effects of breast cancer treatment – fatigue, inviting the participants to offer frank descriptions of their own experiences.

The purpose of the exercise was not so much to draw comparisons between Black and white women, but to identify the terminology that may be unique to African-American women, the researchers said. Co-author Kim Barnett, an assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral Science and Human Services at Bowie State University and a breast cancer survivor, said she could “definitely relate” to the language used by the women in their descriptions of fatigue.

“It is an experience way beyond being tired. It is as if your spirit has been assaulted,” she said. “I can recall sometimes sleeping for 22 hours and not being able to find enough rest.” Barnett said she gave in to her body’s demand for rest, but several of the women expressed guilt. “They felt guilty about sleeping so much because they had other roles and responsibilities they had to take care of,” Morgan said. “Typically, for African-American women part of the culture is you don’t whine or complain; you just do what you have to do. For them, life goes on.”

Several of the women talked about being “too tired to rest” or becoming depressed and the feeling of falling into a “big, dark hole.” But, all the participants affirmed that prayer and the support of their church and natural families played an important role in helping them deal with the depression and other effects of their treatment.

“To have to wrap your mind around a cancer diagnosis is overwhelming, but to have a belief that there is something even greater than medicine gives you a different kind of strength,” Barnett said.

Participants also discussed how exercise, alternative medicine (such as vitamins, herbal remedies and natural teas) and other approaches helped them combat their fatigue. All of the women also emphasized the importance of open communication with their health care providers as part of their coping strategies.

Barnett recalled the impact of dealing with a medical oncologist who simply dumped a barrage of literature on her without attempting to make any personal connection, and the difference of dealing with another doctor who spoke with her and inquired about her life even before beginning treatment. “Sometimes it’s just about talking with your physician,” Barnett recalled of her experience. “I wanted to know that the person who is treating me cares about my life and not just about saving my life. Just to know my oncologist hears me is healing.”

That is why identifying some of the terminology used by Black women is so important, as it can help the communication between patients, nurses and doctors, Morgan said. “We want health care providers to understand that if an African-American woman [pa­tient] says this, then that is what she means. The goal is to promote culturally appropriate care for African-American women.”

This article originally published in the October 27, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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