Like so many others for whom breast cancer has been a distant national pink slogan, I was not really aware until it hit close to me. My dear friend and sister Keisha the Beautiful had her number called. It is such a quiet and vicious lottery. She neither paid, nor asked to be part of selection pool, but was selected nonetheless. Somehow breast cancer reaches down into the population and using some sinister calculus, selects women to go on a harrowing journey of fear and pain and struggle and hope. It is a journey where at the outset you know that some women will survive and others will not. Needless to say, I was unaware of the magnitude of the emotions involved until I was forced to help escort a friend that I love dearly through the valley.
The nature of the work that I do is such that I am constantly reminded that nearly all of the social ills that afflict American society hit black people with a special brutality. Breast cancer is no different. Black women’s survival rates are far less than their white counterparts. I understand this as a social artifact – disproportionately less access to high end health care and insurance plans, having to deal with pernicious stereotype threats and biases both explicit and implicit that affect the medical system like all other systems. What I do not understand is why the most virulent and deadly form of breast cancer – triple negative – disproportionately affects black women. Why with all the innumerable burdens that black women bear, this too? That is a cruel cosmic form of discrimination.
This is the kind that drew my girl’s number.
Apart from any epidemiological understanding, I have to believe that black women are uniquely able to bear the cross and triumph despite. Black women are an American treasure. They set the standard for grace and strength and beauty. They have done so and continue to do so despite a history of swallowing pain and sorrow doing the work of Sisyphus to repeatedly prop up the black family in a vicious historical American narrative. Out of that story comes a particular grace under pressure; a special kind of faith in our Creator and an ability to generate and harness love and power to do miraculous things.
My girl, Keisha the Beautiful, has that power. It is a kind of magic. Her magic has made me profoundly aware. I am aware of the power of love and how it causes us to lock arms when danger is near. It improves our eyesight so we can see more clearly what matters and what does not. Her magic and her power are inspiring. She is battling with such grace and power that she appears to be standing on the shoulders of a thousand other sisters who have walked through so many valleys and are cheering her on and pushing her through.
I am aware of breast cancer now and my girl is going to win.