After her doctor told her two months ago that she had breast cancer, Debrah Reid, a 58-year-old dance teacher, drove straight to a local funeral home. She began planning a burial with the funeral director and his wife.
Debrah Reid is comforted by fellow church members in Memphis, Tenn., after becoming ill from chemotherapy for her breast cancer. (Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)
Sensing something was amiss, the funeral director, Edmund Ford, paused. "Who is this for?" he asked.
Reid replied quietly, "It's for me."
Aghast, Ford's wife quickly put a stop to the purchase. "Get on out of here," she said, urging Reid to return to her doctor and seek treatment.
Despondent, Reid instead headed to her church to talk to her pastor. "I was just going to sit down and die," she says.
Like many black women in Memphis and around the country, Reid learned about her breast cancer after it had reached an advanced stage, making it difficult to treat and reducing her odds of survival.
Her story reflects one of the most troubling disparities in American health care. Despite 20 years of awareness campaigns and treatment advances that have improved survival rates, the majority of those gains have bypassed black women. Although breast cancer is diagnosed in more white women, black women are more likely to die of the disease.
Memphis is worst
Memphis is the deadliest major U.S. city for black women with breast cancer. They are more than twice as likely to die from it as white women here.
"The big change in the 1990s was advances in care that were widely available in early detection and treatment," said Steven Whitman, director of the Sinai Urban Health Institute in Chicago. "White women gained access to those advances, and black women didn't."
Researchers from the Sinai Institute last year analyzed breast cancer cases in the country's 25 largest cities and found that black women with breast cancer were, on average, 40 percent more likely to die of the disease than white women. In the U.S., the disparity in breast cancer survival translates to about 1,700 additional deaths each year -- or about five more every day.
When the breast cancer disparity study was published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology last year, Edward Rafalski was one of the first in Memphis to read it. He is senior vice president for strategic planning at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, which operates eight hospitals in the Memphis area.
As it happened, Rafalski knew the study's lead author, Whitman. As local headlines declared the city's troubling record, Rafalski invited Whitman to the city.
Source: Dallas Morning News | The New York Times