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Black Women Twice as Susceptible to PTSD After Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Illustration for article titled Black Women Twice as Susceptible to PTSD After Breast Cancer Diagnosis

As more women between the ages of 25 to 39 are being diagnosed with breast cancer (gaaaah), researchers are taking additional steps to address the emotional and psychological trauma involved in the diagnosis. After analyzing the interviews of over 1,100 women recently diagnosed, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute has released a study that shows that 23% of these women—nearly a quarter—have experienced PTSD symptoms after receiving the news.

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But here's the interesting part:

"During the first two to three months after diagnosis, nearly a quarter of them met the criteria for PTSD, although the symptoms declined over the next three months," [lead researcher] Dr. Neugut, who is also a professor at Columbia University, added. "Younger women were more likely to develop symptoms of PTSD, and data suggest Asian and black women are at a more than 50 percent higher risk than white women."

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This may correlate with the recent realization that using the same at-risk screening model for women across racial lines may be underestimating breast cancer risk in non-white women. Using data from the Black Women's Health Study, the Slone Epidemiology Center (SEC) at Boston University looked at the CARE model, which currently assesses the at-risk factor of black women, which is currently the same one used for Caucasian women. They discovered that it does a substandard job of determining the risk of estrogen receptor (ER) negative breast cancer, a deadlier form of the disease that's found more often in black women.

Dr. Neugut acknowledges that understanding and dealing with the women's PTSD symptoms "might also have an indirect impact on the observed racial disparity in breast cancer survival."

'Nearly 25 Percent Of Women Diagnosed With Breast Cancer Experience PTSD' [RedOrbit]
'Popular Test Underestimates Black Women's Breast Cancer Risk' [BET]

Image via OLJ Studio/Shutterstock

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DISCUSSION

As a (white) woman diagnosed with breast cancer last year at the age of 32, I find the picture accompanying this article insulting because THIS ISN'T ABOUT BREASTS. This is about women not mounds of glandular tissue on their bodies, so fuck that picture. I can assure you that cancer is not sexy.

More importantly, I also don't understand how anyone walks away for cancer WITHOUT PTSD. Your body suddenly becomes community property, no longer resembles anything you have seen before, feels constant discomfort, and basically had already completely betrayed you. You are tormented what this means for your children: my 5 and 7 year old have to start every medical appointment for the rest of their lives with, "My mother had cancer at 32"...and start screenings that might be accurate or not a full 15 years before their peers. They will have to decide about prophylactic surgeries and when to do things in life based on their risks. You constantly think about your own mortality, whether imminent or if you might have reoccurrence at anytime. You no longer live with the simple and blissfully ignorant expectation of being there for the future events of your young children's lives. You lose everything you are proudest of be it your career, your independence, your ability to parent well, you long hair or perky boobs or strong body, and your financial security is rocked.

I don't pretend to know what this looks like for a woman of color, but I can simply tell you that I am knitting a white silk shawl right now for my daughter's wedding. She is 7. But I don't know if I will be there for it when the time comes. The statistics tell me it is unlikely. So someday in case I can't be there to see who she commits to live her life with, maybe she will know how much I wanted to be there and wrap herself in a tangible sign of that. Or she can say "fuck marriage" and have it to wear over ratty sweatpants at 35. I really don't care. I just want her to know that the very best part of my life has been watching her be the amazing person she is and I know she will be. Because I can never, ever live a life where I take it for granted that I will be here in the future.

So yes. I can't offer racial perspective. Only the human one, which is this: breast cancer isn't a pink ribbon. It isn't pretty and it isn't races or fundraisers. It is a grisly, gruesome, fight to the death. And you don't walk away from those without scars, be they emotional or mental.