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Race-based Disparities in both Cancer and COVID-19

Karen Peterson’s story of self-advocacy shared earlier this month, addressed how race-based disparities inhibit equitable medical care for African Americans.

With her recurrent breast cancer diagnosis, Peterson’s oncology team suggested she repeat chemotherapy, but Peterson wanted to explore other options.

Feeling uninformed, she left her team in pursuit of a clinical trial that would end up saving her life. When reporter Katie Couric sat down for an online interview with Kim Bardes, another black woman diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, the question of healthcare and race was once again brought into view.

Triple-negative cancer is an inflammatory cancer that grows and aggressively spreads. According to the National Cancer Institute, African American women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with this form of cancer compared to white women.

At 50 years old, Kim Bardes knew that breast cancer existed in her family and had an exam every year to remain vigilant.

However, only after her diagnosis did Bardes discover that being black increased her chances of developing inflammatory breast cancer.

Bardes wishes that she had known more about the statistics and tells Couric that she would have asked to be examined more than once a year.

During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and seven weeks before her diagnosis, Bardes was told that her husband had cancer as well; stage four lung cancer.

Through trying times for the couple, they were able to seek medical care and are currently fighting the disease together. Bardes represents a segment of the black population with access to healthcare and support, but this is not the case for every American.

The reality is, cancer during a pandemic is detrimental to undiagnosed and unemployed racialized minorities who fear leaving their home and contracting the virus.

Katie Couric interviews Dr. Karen Winkfield, Director of the Office of Cancer Health Equity at Wake Forest Baptist Health, and Dr. Julia Gerberding, Chief Patient Officer for Merck, who highlight “3 intersecting crises” that limit cancer care in the black community.

Due to COVID-19, parts of the economy have shut down. Many Americans have lost their jobs and health coverage as a result. In addition, systemic racism remains a prevalent issue in North America as the black population and minority groups make up most of the now unemployed and uninsured. Winkfield reminds us that, “some hospitals were not even open to blacks, several decades ago,” and recognizing that inequality deters the black population from trusting the healthcare system.

Despite COVID-19’s overwhelming presence, cancer is a disease that remains, and Katie Couric hopes to shine some light on the importance of building trust in the healthcare system so that knowledge of prevention, screening, and treatment are equally accessible to all Americans.

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