Monday, March 8, 2010

Pink Isn't the Only Color Associated with Breast Cancer

As we slowly weaved through the 5.5 miles of twisty streets through minority Boston neighborhoods on our way to Oliver's classes in Jamaica Plain, we'd go by this billboard stressing the deadliness of BC for African Americans. The incidence of BC is much less for African Americans but the mortality rate is higher. Some of it could be due to access of health care but some of it is also due to the prevalence of TNBC among African Americans, particularly for young women. Right before going to Boston, I read the obituary of a young woman with a familiar name. Could this Tia be the same girl Shanna played basketball with in 7th grade? Yes it is, Shanna confirmed. I remember her as a particularly good guard very determined to bring the ball down. Girls' sports weren't as developed in those days compared to when Naomi played. Tia must have had brothers to help her with her considerable skills. But now she is dead at 31, probably of TNBC (the kind of BC was not specified).

In Ghana, 60% of BC is TNBC compared to 10-15% here. As Ghana is a west coast equatorial nation, it is likely that many African Americans share the same ancestry as the Ghanians. A researcher at UM, Lisa Newman is currently in Ghana looking for the gene that is possibly causing this. It isn't BRAC1, the defect that causes many cases of TNBC, but an unknown one. What could be done with this knowledge? At the very least, women could be told that they are at risk. At best, if a particular antigen was produced, a vaccine or a drug targeting it could be developed. The inheritance patterns could be established though having BC in other parts of the world is so shameful, many won't admit to it.

TNBC (triple negative)has completely different risk factors than the more prevalent and more studied estrogen positive breast cancer. It is a different disease altogether except it is found in the breasts. And there seems that not all TNBC is the same. Certainly the kind that BRAC1 ladies get and the young African Americans get seems more aggressive. I am selfishly holding on to the hope that the few older white women who get it have a more benign course. I have no statistics to back me up, just alot of anecdotal evidence. One reason that we are more likely to survive is that we are in the age group having mammograms; 30 year olds aren't looking for BC in general and mammograms do them little good.

Also in the obituaries last week, a former softball teammate of Naomi's of heart transplant complications. Naomi doesn't remember her but only the girl's father who coached their team to keep an eye on his then eight year old daughter.She was 19.

While we were in Boston, Naomi spent much of her time connected to her laptop. A former friend contacted her through Facebook. I referred to this girl's family at the time as the Trials of Job family. Both the little girl and her father shared the same heart defect and needed heart transplants. The father had one but was rejecting his heart as they desperately looked for a new one. The little girl, then 8, was doing all right for the moment with her heart but had such a list of things she couldn't do that it made me very nervous when she was over, which was often. I thought any moment this girl could go into heart failure under my watch. But I really couldn't say no to her or her family because at the time, the mom had a brain tumor and couldn't drive due to seizures. Geez!!! Ten years later, the girl and her dad are fine though I would not be able to recognize her. The mom however died 4 years ago.

It is a sunny day here in Michigan. The 2 feet of snow we had is slowly melting but I can see some of my spring flowers poking through. I went for a long run yesterday wearing shorts basking in the sunshine. As I had run in Boston before our big drive Saturday, I am tired. Back to the Y for me even though the weather is especially nice today. But it will be nice for a while..hope the winter is over.

Yesterday was Julia's (my daughter-in-law) birthday and we went out to dinner with her and Josh. I noticed she had wine with her dinner (I know what this means..sigh). But it was fun catching up with them. His friend the Olympian, came home with lots of stories. Later I tried to watch the Oscars but fell asleep.

1 comment:

Yoga Unites for Living Beyond Breast Cancer said...

Thank you for sharing this--we're committed to providing resources & support for African-American women affected by breast cancer!


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