7 Ways Black Women Can Advocate for Themselves After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis


For example, they might recommend having a mastectomy to remove your entire breast, which can be really daunting. But if you have full clarity on why that surgery is necessary—say, you have cancer in multiple parts of your breast that would be difficult to eradicate with other treatments—knowing that you’re doing the best thing to take care of your health could make the choice easier.

Remember, come to each appointment with a list of questions so you can get all the information you need. The American Cancer Society also has helpful information on how to interpret studies on new cancer treatments and regularly publishes updates on the latest cancer research, so you can stay on top of new findings and discuss them with your care team.

3. Don’t be afraid to find a new doctor if you don’t feel heard.

Research indicates that Black people often feel like medical professionals doubt their experiences or dismiss their concerns, which may be rooted in racial bias among other factors. When you’re dealing with something as serious as a breast cancer diagnosis, you understandably want a physician who is empathetic and responsive to your needs, so all of your worries are addressed and your path to treatment is clear.

Of course, finding a doctor you enjoy working with isn’t always an easy process. It can involve a lot of time, effort, money, and may even depend on where you live. But if you have the opportunity to consider multiple experts before you commit to one, you should try to do that.

“Finding a doctor who is willing to listen to you and explain to you what dense breasts are, for example, is really important,” says Stallings. (It’s more difficult for mammograms to detect tumors in people with dense breasts, according to the National Cancer Institute. While dense breasts can be perfectly normal, they’re also a risk factor for breast cancer—and Black women tend to have denser breasts than white women3.)

Stallings underwent genetic testing at age 29 and discovered she inherited the BRCA2 mutation, a harmful genetic variant that increases breast cancer risk. She decided to get a preventative double mastectomy (surgery to remove both breasts) to reduce her risk of breast cancer, but before she got the surgery, she interviewed multiple doctors until she was confident in her care team.

“Don’t be afraid to fire a doctor and be willing to interview a lot of people to get what you’re looking for, even if that’s just feeling comfortable,” says Stallings, who participated in the Breast Cancer Research Fund’s Research Is the Reason storytelling initiative to give voice to young Black women who might need to consider the same difficult decision she did. “One of the things I love about my care team is that I felt really comfortable with them. They were super responsive to my questions. I also sought out people with empathy who saw me as a partner in my care process versus just dictating to me what I needed.”

4. Get a second professional opinion if you can.

Even if you’re happy with your doctor, Dr. Oppong recommends seeking a second opinion (or even a third!) without delaying your treatment, so you can explore how other experts would approach your care. Then, you can discuss the various treatments with the doctor you plan on seeing for your care and come up with a plan that you feel is the best for you. 

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