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One of the most famous cancer patients in modern history was a Black woman named Henrietta Lacks. She is considered the Mother of Modern Medicine because while being treated for cervical cancer at John's Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, her cells were unknowingly retrieved during a biopsy. This wife and mother died in 1951 at the young age of 31. However, it turns out that her cells, called the HeLa Cells, are still alive today and are the basis for many medical miracles that we benefit from. A book about her life called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks consistently ranks high in a search for Top Cancer Books on Amazon.
As the Mother of Modern Medicine, her HeLa cells have been used to solve some of the greatest medical challenges and generate significant medical industry profits. Based on her life, the book is a top cancer book on Amazon and has sold over 2.5 million copies. These are two incredible feats. Unfortunately, the book was not based on her own written words and her family has not received any financial benefit from her HeLa Cells. In a Washington Post article, the oldest son of Henrietta Lacks, Lawrence, said, "The book fails to capture his mother's grace." And that "More and more, she seems not like a wife and mother of five, but "just a cell." Think how compelling it would have been to hear Mrs. Lack's first-hand accounts of her cancer experience in her own printed words.
Need Stories of Black Cancer Survival
Just after my 38th birthday, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Inflammatory Breast Cancer. As a young Black woman diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer, I was desperate to find stories about Black women surviving cancer, especially breast cancer. I knew there were so many disparities that Black women faced in our healthcare system and desired an ounce of hope by reading cancer survival stories.
In 2019, nearly 34,000 Black women were diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States. More of us are diagnosed at a younger age with more aggressive or late-stage cancer. Where are the stories of survival? If you want to read books from Black women authors who have gone through such a diagnosis, those stories are few and far between. This month we are celebrating Women's History Month. As part of that history, we have to recognize the journey that has been taken by Black women who have conquered breast cancer. Black Books Matter is a term coined by Mahogany books. Representation in books by Black breast cancer survivors gives those of us fighting cancer "a voice to their fears, hopes, wants, and needs." Black women and families need to feel empowered by the stories of others who have gone through this terrible disease. The stories in such books serve as an inspiration to so many of us.
Searching for Black Women Breast Cancer Stories
After my breast cancer diagnosis in 2013, I was curious to learn about other black women who had successfully battled breast cancer. Still, I wasn't successful in finding any such books back then. I searched Google and Amazon and came up pretty empty. Instead, I mainly found books by white women who had fought breast cancer. I recently began searching to find books written by Black women concerning their breast cancer journey and found the following.
While there is a movement to elevate Black lives, Black books, and Black-Owned book stores, I hope this movement will make room for Black lives impacted by cancer.
Do you have any books to add to this list of Black authors surviving breast cancer?
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