Truth be told, I don’t personally know how or where to start writing about my experience. So let me just start with the events and what was going through my mind.
I remember the events well. I found lumps (plural) on my left breast in early 2018. Ironically, or maybe not, it was during the time I was reading a book called “The Emperor Of All Maladies” written by Siddhartha Mukherjee. The book provides an in-depth biography of cancer, providing interesting but disturbing facts about cancer and cancer therapeutics.
This book gave me mixed feelings. While I enjoyed the science of it all, I learned that breast cancer is particularly devastating. I learned more morbid details of radical mastectomies that are now thankfully being replaced with more conservative therapies. All this while I couldn’t shake off what the lumps on my breast may mean for me. I was scared.
It Took Months Before I Got The Lumps On My Breast Checked
I found the lumps on my breast in my early-20s, had completed my degree in Biomedicine, and enrolled myself in a (super) stressful crash course to study law. During my Biomedicine degree, I completed a module called “cancer biology” and was fascinated by how cancer cells found a way to thrive in the most hostile body environments. Cancer cells are incredibly smart!
I’m particularly highlighting my educational background for context. Despite my background in Biomedicine and knowing what it means to potentially have lumps on my breast, it took me months to get them checked – I saw my GP in late November. Truth be told, the primary reason I went to the doctor was not related to my lumpy breasts. It was something else — I had started to have fainting spells! It was high time I went to see the doctor, if not for the lumpy breasts, for the fainting (which turned out to be unrelated to the lumps).
Despite my background in Biomedicine and knowing what it means to potentially have lumps on my breast, it took me months to get them checked.Tweet
Long story short – I had a breast cancer scare. A GP appointment, urgent referral, and scans later, I was told there wasn’t anything to be concerned about. I was asked to continue to check for changes in my breast. If I noticed any changes, I was to go back. I frequently get lumps on my breasts to this day because they seem to be linked to my menstrual cycle.
I’d like to highlight here that most health communication focuses on conveying facts and encouraging health literacy. I agree with this plan of action because it is necessary, however, it is not a completely reliable plan. Conveying facts is incredibly important, but communications need to be altered to reach different communities and different audiences. Diversity and representation must be considered when communicating important information about science and health. The COVID-19 pandemic reiterated this.
Conveying facts is incredibly important, but communications need to be altered to reach different communities and different audiences.Tweet
Why It Took Me So Long To Get My Breasts Checked
Honestly, I don’t have a straight answer for this.
For one, I had studied cancer and while it was fascinating as a science, being in that particular spot was scary!
Two – Would I tell my family and friends? And how would I tell them? I don’t live with my family, and the last thing I wanted to do, was share potentially heartbreaking news over the phone. My original plan was that I would not say anything to them until I saw them in person (sorry dad, I know you’re probably reading this). I fully understand the complexity of the matter, but I do not recommend this – definitely tell your family when you are ready!
There was another issue at play. Having this conversation with friends and family felt awkward! As far as I am aware, I don’t have a history of breast cancer in my family. However, brown folk such as myself, don’t necessarily talk about all health concerns within the family freely – talking about my breasts to my family is incredibly uncomfortable! Despite considering not saying anything, I had that conversation with my family. I am now working to “normalize” talking about “taboo” health subjects with family, friends, and strangers alike.
Brown folk such as myself, don’t necessarily talk about all health concerns within the family freely – talking about my breasts to my family makes me incredibly uncomfortable!Tweet
Finally, and the one that needs to change, is that we need science and health communication to represent wide audiences and different cultures. Knowing the facts of the matter is not enough to persuade someone to seek help. Cultural and social factors, together with family and upbringing are known to influence health literacy and health-related decisions. I have personally been exposed to very few science and health communications that represent who I am – my gender, my ethnicity, my socioeconomic status, and more. As a result, I almost felt… shame… perhaps there was something I could’ve done differently because maybe not many people that represent me had this problem? I realized soon enough, the problem was that I wasn’t exposed to health-related communications that represented me.
Cultural and social factors, together with family and upbringing are known to influence health literacy and health-related decisionsTweet
My Career In Science And Health Communication
My breast cancer scare was not the only incident that pulled me towards a career in health communications. Through this experience and many others, I learned that there is a serious lack of quality trustworthy communication in health sciences and medicine that cater to different individuals from different walks of life.
I have always had an interest in medicine and to this day, would love to study medicine to help underserved communities get the help that they require. I am also passionate about preventive medicine – taking vaccines, exercising frequently, applying suncream, reducing alcohol intake, smoking cessation, etc – and encouraging health literacy.
But there’s good news… we know multiple reasons as to why people (of colour) may not visit their doctors. This includes reasons relating to
– distrust of the medical system,
– poor communication especially in terms of cultural differences, and
– inadequacies of medical training.
The greater news is that, in the field of health and medical communications, we can leverage this information to make communications more effective. Communication channels and associated cultural relevance are improving and we as communicators need to continually do better to serve our wide range of audiences.
The Shared Microscope was born out of a passion to encourage health literacy and preventive medicine. Today, I go the extra mile to provide thoughtful, impactful, diverse, and inclusive content writing services within the life sciences and healthcare niche. It is important to me that people not only understand what their bodies are going through but also feel represented by the information they find about it.