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How VCU Massey is raising awareness to breast health disparities in Black women

Posted at 2:39 PM, Oct 06, 2020

RICHMOND, Va. -- In 2013 and at 28 years old, Julia Martin was feeling overwhelmed. She was going through a separation, raising a baby and something she never imagined.

"I had just finished breastfeeding, so I thought the lump was a blocked (milk) duct," Martin said.

Martin had that lump checked out during a annual exam.

"She did her check. Had me lifting my arms and she said "oohh what's that?" I said 'I know,'" Martin recalled.

The next day, Martin had an ultrasound, a mammogram and a biopsy. She would then hear those words -- breast cancer.

"For me at 28, I was just like yeah I shouldn't be doing this. My daughter was so young at the time. I thought I wouldn't be here to see her graduate or get married," Martin said.

Martin raised $3,500 to pay her insurance deductible to cover her treatments. She went through a tough battle. Eight rounds of chemotherapy, losing her hair and a double mastectomy.

"Chemo had shrank the tumor down where I wouldn't feel it anymore and this was really removing the cancer from my body," Martin said.

"We know Black women, African American women at a younger age are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer and that breast cancer tend to be more aggressive," Dr. Vanessa Sheppard said.

Dr. Vanessa Sheppard is a researcher at VCU Massey Cancer. Her focus is breast health disparities in African American women.

"When we say disparities, we're talking about a disproportionate burden of cancer when you compare two groups," Dr. Sheppard said.

Cancer may not affect everyone equally based on factors such as race, gender, age, socioeconomics and where a person lives. Those factors could affect access to screenings and treatment.

Massey is launching an awareness campaign called 25 for 25. Over 25 days, donate $25 or more to address health disparities. The money raised can help close the gap in some areas.

"Transportation. Gas cards are another. You can imagine, it's not just necessarily that one appointment for a person undergoing radiation therapy. They may be coming every day," Dr. Sheppard said.

The campaign ends October 25. For more information, click here.

As for Julia Martin, she takes nothing for granted. She urges women, if they feel something that doesn't feel right, get it checked out.