It wasn’t until after Tammy Coleman’s grandfather died that she knew he had prostate cancer. And then a beloved cousin died before Tammy learned of her breast cancer diagnosis. And so it went.
“It’s like a hush-hush thing,” said Coleman, who as a breast cancer survivor—and Provision patient— has become heavily involved in local cancer awareness and fundraising efforts. “You don’t even know they have cancer. They just die one day.”
It is a lethal silence.
For most cancers, African Americans have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial and ethnic group in the U.S. And cancer disproportionately affects other minority groups as well. For example, it is the leading cause of death among Hispanics compared with white people, for whom it lags behind heart disease.
Minority Cancer Awareness Week is focused on increasing awareness about this health threat and educating minority communities on their risk and how to get help.
While the cultural taboo of the disease is one factor, African Americans and other minorities also suffer from higher levels of poverty, a lack of access to healthcare and the prejudice or cultural lack of awareness among healthcare providers toward minority groups.
There is also a lack of education, said Coleman.
At a recent birthday party, a friend described a lump in her breast but said she was too scared to get it checked out. Others, upon hearing of their cancer diagnosis, have decided not to pursue treatment and simply die of the disease.
“It’s like, why? Why?” Coleman said. “I didn’t stop my fight. I kept trying to live. There’s so many effective treatments and new technology available. There is no reason to give up.”
Among friends and family, Coleman has become the resident expert—digging up information on cancer and options for treatment or services available in the local community.
“I think it’s my personality,” she said. “And, when my cousin died, I think it pushed me to be curious and start asking questions. Until 10 years ago, I was not aware about cancer. But it’s my personality to push it and talk about it.
“God put us here for a reason. I think mine is to bring awareness and encourage.”