Mary J. Blige and other women touched by breast cancer talk importance of screening

HAYLEY FITZPATRICK
·7 min read

Mary J. Blige is using her voice to raise awareness for breast cancer and the importance of getting screened.

The nine-time Grammy Award-winning singer said in an interview with "Good Morning America" that highlighting the illness is important to her because of the racial disparity in breast cancer death rates.

Breast cancer death rates are 40% higher for Black women than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Blige says she believes the disparity exists due to "lack of information about how important a mammogram is and how it can save your life."

Higher death rates from the disease for Black women are due to several factors, according to the American Cancer Society's biennial update on female breast cancer statistics in the U.S.

Some include "later stage at diagnosis and other unfavorable tumor characteristics, higher prevalence of obesity and comorbidities, as well as less access to timely and high‐quality prevention, early detection, and treatment services."

MORE: Sheryl Crow urges women to take breast cancer screening seriously amid COVID-19 pandemic

Blige partnered with the Black Women's Health Imperative (BWHI), RAD-AID and Hologic, Inc. for the P.O.W.E.R. of Sure campaign in hopes of giving women necessary information about breast cancer screening and why it's so important.

Women who have battled the disease or who are currently battling the disease are also sharing more about their cancer journeys in the campaign.

The importance of getting screened: 'Do it even when you're scared'

Blige said she feels "a lot of fears and barriers" affect whether or not a woman will prioritize getting screened. After losing an aunt to breast cancer, the singer says she now believes a lack of awareness toward screening played a role in her loved one's battle with cancer.

"I believe if she had this information that she would be here today -- the importance of a mammogram," the singer said. "When we were growing up, no one spoke about a mammogram, breast cancer -- anything like that."

The singer recalled having many fears going into her first mammogram after losing her aunt and wondering whether it was going to hurt or if she was going to be diagnosed.

"Once I went into the office and went to the procedure, I realized that it was nothing to it," she said. "It wasn't painful, it was just a little discomfort on each breast for a second or two, and then it was over."

She emphasized how she received early results following her Genius 3D Mammography exam and even called the screening "enlightening." She also said it made her want to know more about her health.

Kimberly Wortham-Macon, a mother of three, is fighting breast cancer and is featured in the campaign along with Blige. She is also adamant about emphasizing the importance of getting checked.

She said she had been considering putting off her mammogram because of the pandemic but quickly took action and went in for a screening after feeling a lump in her right breast. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in July at the age of 40.

PHOTO: Kimberly Wortham-Macon opened up on her battle with breast cancer for the P.O.W.E.R. of Sure campaign. (Courtesy Kim Wortham-Macon)
PHOTO: Kimberly Wortham-Macon opened up on her battle with breast cancer for the P.O.W.E.R. of Sure campaign. (Courtesy Kim Wortham-Macon)

"A lot of women may be fearful about getting the mammogram, but you have to move past the fear in order to once again, take care of yourself," she urged. "Don't let fear stop you because being stuck in fear can lead to a path that you could have avoided."

"Early detection means saving your life," she added.

Recommendations from the American Cancer Society advise women 40 to 44 to consider getting annual mammograms and state that women ages 45 to 54 should get an annual mammogram. The organization's recommendations advise women 55 and older to get a mammogram every two years.

The American College of Radiology (ACR) and Society of Breast Imaging (SBI) recommend annual screenings starting at age 40 or mammograms earlier than age 40 if a patient feels a lump.

Renee Brown, another survivor featured in the campaign, who has battled breast cancer, says there is "absolutely no reason to not go get it done."

PHOTO: Renee Brown opened up on her battle with breast cancer for the P.O.W.E.R. of Sure campaign. (Courtesy Leo Marshall)
PHOTO: Renee Brown opened up on her battle with breast cancer for the P.O.W.E.R. of Sure campaign. (Courtesy Leo Marshall)

"Do it even when you're scared," she said. "To wait to do it ... you're doing yourself a disservice."

Disparity in breast cancer death rates: 'It's startling to know the discrepancies that still exist'

Incidence rates show that 1 in 8 women in the U.S. (12.8%) will get breast cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

While incidence rates for Black and white women and breast cancer are "about the same," according to the CDC, the death rate between Black and white women from the illness is still drastically different.

There are several factors that are believed to affect this difference.

The CDC says that Black women are also more likely to be diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive form of the disease. The American Cancer Society's 2019-2020 journal said the higher death rate for Black women from the disease is partly due to "the disproportionate burden of triple negative-breast cancers in this group."

The American Cancer Society also found that Black women are "more likely to be screened at lower-resourced and nonaccredited facilities and also experience longer intervals between mammograms, and between abnormal results and follow-up."

Wortham-Macon called the disparity in death rates between Black and white women from breast cancer "shocking."

"It's startling to know the discrepancies that still exist in the health care field, when it comes to African-American women," she said.

She believes campaigns like the P.O.W.E.R. of Sure initiative will help to improve these disparities.

"You cannot change something that you don't know about, so once the awareness has been brought to the table, then hopefully that will foster action, action to improve the disparities that exist, action to make health care accessible to all no matter what color you are," she said.

"If more of us go to the doctors and go get our mammograms done, we're going to make sure that our voices are heard, our boobies are seen and we are valued," Brown said on addressing the disparity.

Learning to put your health first: 'It is up to all of us to be advocates for ourselves'

April Love is another survivor featured in the P.O.W.E.R. of Sure campaign who was diagnosed more than 10 years ago at the age of 37.

She admitted that around the time she was diagnosed, she was living her life taking care of others and not paying enough attention to her own health. She said that was due to being caught up in what she calls "superwoman syndrome."

"We're entrepreneurs, we're rock stars in the workplace, but when it comes to our self-care -- even though it's come a little bit more trendy than it was a decade ago -- it wasn't the thing to kind of take care of yourself," she said on the idea. "It's more about amassing things and being this successful woman, and that could be at the cost of your health."

PHOTO: April Love opened up on her battle with breast cancer for the P.O.W.E.R. of Sure campaign. (Courtesy Leo Marshall)
PHOTO: April Love opened up on her battle with breast cancer for the P.O.W.E.R. of Sure campaign. (Courtesy Leo Marshall)

After fighting cancer, she says she is now "completely healed" and "very conscious" of her body. She also developed a passion to help other women prioritize their health after her battle with cancer.

Wortham-Macon, who is still battling cancer, also wants to use her voice to encourage other women to put themselves first.

"It is up to all of us to be advocates for ourselves to ensure that we're putting our health first and not take anything for granted, especially during this pandemic," she said.

"With so much going on, it's so easy to put your health on the back burner, especially as a woman," she added. "You're balancing so many things -- if you're a mom, you're working. You never put yourself first. But when it comes to breast cancer, the most critical thing is early detection."

Blige has not battled breast cancer but openly admits that putting her health first hasn't always been important to her.

"I remember growing up, and just being a teenager and a young woman, just not loving myself, hating myself, hating my health, not caring if I lived or died," she shared. "It's a blessing and a miracle to have made it to this point to a place where I actually love myself and want to heal myself from the inside out, want to know what's going on with my body."

PHOTO: Mary J. Blige is participating in the P.O.W.E.R. of Sure campaign to raise awareness for breast cancer awareness screening. (Robert Ector)
PHOTO: Mary J. Blige is participating in the P.O.W.E.R. of Sure campaign to raise awareness for breast cancer awareness screening. (Robert Ector)

The singer is committed to using her massive platform to emphasize the importance of taking breast cancer seriously.

"I'm lending my voice so that some teenager or young girl somewhere who's about to be a woman can have the information that I didn't have," she said.

Mary J. Blige and other women touched by breast cancer talk importance of screening originally appeared on goodmorningamerica.com