Meet Octavia, Uncovered

Octavia (she/her) — Black/Indian Guyanese
Diagnosed at 32 years old — Stage 2, IDC High Grade ER/PR- HER2+ breast cancer
I am alluring. I am industrious. I am resilient.

There is heavy stigma in the Black community surrounding mental health, admitting to needing help, trusting healthcare professionals/authority, and opening up about personal struggles and experiences. Even though these are issues that may have developed from times of slavery, Jim Crowe era, and continued segregation and racism it is now engrained and brainwashed in the minds of previous generations and continues to this day.

Unknowingly, this has become a part of our culture, taught and passed down. Knowing that these underlying factors have been set in the minds of family around me, there was difficulty having fluid lines of communication about what I was experiencing and feeling when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

People were also giving me negative responses or their own medical expertise (even though they are not medical professionals) to treatment solutions for my cancer. This created even greater doubt in trusting I was opting for the best treatment plan for myself and made everything a lot more difficult to navigate and cope with.

“It has shown me how fragmented the healthcare system is”

That said, after going through treatment myself, I implore all women of colour who have been diagnosed with cancer to jot down and ask questions at all the appointments you go to; get all the clarification you require. They say there is no such thing as a dumb question; on this journey that stands true.

Accept all resources available to you and don’t be too prideful to ask for help or accept help. As independent as you may be, have a designated person who is briefed on all stages and information required for your treatment plan. There may be moments where you are too mentally and physically exhausted to deal with everything. Let them advocate for you.

Going through this experience, it has shown me how fragmented the healthcare system is. Supports are available, but healthcare professionals often do not mention them. Most times it is up to you to find the resources, get in touch with the doctor to issue the referral, and then follow up with the office to which you were referred. This process is very stressful, especially when you are enduring so much mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally. If the healthcare system could create a program or a system where referrals for support are automated as soon as you are diagnosed and you can decline any service(s) of which you feel is of no need, this can ease the blow of dealing with cancer.

“It’s not just white people that get cancer

There has been very minimal representation of women of colour in support groups, pamphlets, patients in the waiting room, nurses, doctors and even information that is given to you from healthcare professionals. The healthcare sector still fails to recognize that it’s not just white people that get cancer, Black people do too, and the methods, medicines, practices and treatments that have been created and adopted for hundreds of years have to evolve with the times as well.

Healthcare professionals need to be mindful that their patients are not cookie cutter. While the book they learned from is a guideline created with data from the ‘standard control’ (a white male/female) remember there is a life in your hands that is not white and does not follow that mold. I want to bring awareness to the lack of representation of Black women with breast cancer and be a voice for these women who have to face these struggles and fight for their life at the same time.

You are not alone and I can empathize with your pain. Advocate for yourself. Speak up! If it means going over someone’s head and breaking that chain of command to be recognized and seen, do not be afraid to do it so you’re respectfully heard. — Octavia

Uncovered: A Breast Recognition Project is a resource that focuses on the breast cancer experiences of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. Through powerful imagery and genuine storytelling, it shines a light on the physical and emotional scars of breast cancer, cultural barriers and health equity. Uncovered was created in collaboration with Michelle Audoin and developed in response to the significant underrepresentation of, and lack of support for, BI&POC in the breast cancer community. Through the amplification of this collection of stories and experiences, our hope is to help educate all people, including healthcare providers, on the realities and
needs of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour with breast cancer, so they are
better equipped to support all the people they care for.
Learn more about the resource and meet others in the project here.

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