During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Wanda Parker reminds that getting a mammogram can prove to be a life preserving measure. Parker is an Annapolitan who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003 on her birthday in October. After getting a mammogram as a starting point, she needed a sonogram because a spot in her breast was found during a physical but could not be detected.
“That’s how they found it,” Parker said, mentioning that she had no symptoms of breast cancer.
Racial disparities in breast cancer screenings can be connected to factors such as accessibility or lack of finances to pay for a mammogram. Additionally, an anxious woman of any racial background who takes a trip to get an x-ray of her breasts may feel triggered by the fear of getting a call that something is wrong. But Parker’s dedication to get screened for cancer reminds of a sobering reality: “Each year in the United States, about 264,000 women get breast cancer and 42,000 women die from the disease,” according to the CDC.
Parker is a breast cancer survivor who stayed strong and prayed for God to have her health restored. In 2004, her journey ended before her daughter, Tonya Kendrick-Green, started her breast cancer treatment.
“I had chemo. I mean, it was so strong, I couldn’t smell, I couldn’t eat,” Parker said. “I mean, I was sick.”
Parker added that she could not work a whole year. She needed radiation, too. Treatment lasted six or seven months. Parker took tamoxifen (a prescription drug used to treat breast cancer) for four or five years. She was required to take another pill for a period thereafter. It took approximately 10 years for Parker to get the greenlight that she was cancer free.
“I said I’m going to beat this,” Parker said, mentioning that she was determined to reign victorious and win the breast cancer fight.
Parker would not have known that she had breast cancer if she had not taken steps to get a mammogram.
“Mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms,” according to the CDC.
Upon reflection, Parker ’s support system included her daughters and sister. She felt happy that she lived. Now, she has more time to spend with her family. Parker is a mother of four, grandmother of nine, and a great-grandmother of one. She shared words of wisdom for women who may want to delay getting a mammogram: “Do not put a mammogram off because you never know,” Parker said. “If you don’t have money, just go anyway. They can bill you. Just pay little by little, five dollars, six dollars, whatever. Just get your bill paid and get that done.”
The pandemic added complications to women getting their mammograms on time. Research results that were published in the March 29, 2021, issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute revealed that screening mammograms among Hispanic and Asian women continue to be lower than average, although mammography volume rebounded by July 2020 on an overall basis.
Black women were not mentioned in this study, but they are 41% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women, despite lower incidence of the disease, according to the American Cancer American Cancer Society’s publication called Cancer Facts and Figures for African American/Black People 2022-2024.
Information that was also cited revealed that the effectiveness of screening mammography that can detect breast cancer at an early stage “is influenced by both the quality of screening and the timeliness of follow-up. Black women are less likely than White women to have their imaging performed at a facility with the most current technology, such as digital breast tomosynthesis, and also have a longer time between abnormal results and follow-up.”
Today, Parker encourages other women to be proactive and get screened for breast cancer. The retiree has even revealed what she has been through to encourage others to pay attention to their breast health. As Parker reflected on what she is most grateful for after she and her daughter both beat breast cancer, she summed up her sentiments of gratitude.
“God is good,” Parker said.
Visit Maryland’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program (BCCP) to learn about no cost breast and cervical cancer screening, diagnosis, and patient navigation services to women in Maryland. Visit https://health.maryland.gov/phpa/cancer/Pages/bccp_home.aspx for more information.