She realized breast cancer in women of color was underrepresented—so she became an advocate.
Roshni Kamta often felt like an outsider during her breast cancer treatment. Diagnosed at age 22, she was significantly younger than other patients at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Furthermore, Kamta is a woman of color. During her journey, she often felt that the community often misrepresented or ignored breast cancer in women of color.
“It was hard for me because I'm an Indian woman and there are disparities in our healthcare system that some medical teams don't take into consideration,” says Kamta.
Triple-Negative Breast Cancer in Women of Color
Kamta’s diagnosis was a subtype known as triple-negative breast cancer. This type of breast cancer doesn’t have any of the three commonly known “receptors” that fuel other breast cancers: estrogen, progesterone, and the human epidermal growth factor.
Other types of breast cancer that have these receptors have specific treatments that are targeted against the receptors. Because triple-negative breast cancer doesn’t have those receptors, it’s typically treated with chemotherapy, which is less targeted but still effective. (Learn more about treatment for triple-negative breast cancer here).
The other things that make triple-negative breast cancer unique are that it tends to be more aggressive, it tends to affect women at younger ages, and it more commonly affects women of color, specifically African American women. Unfortunately, people of color are more likely to face obstacles to health care that may prevent them from getting an early diagnosis or timely treatment.
A Space for Women of Color
Although the breast cancer community can provide immeasurable support for some people, it may not be welcoming to everyone. As a woman of color, Kamta described the community as “culty.” She felt in order to participate that she had to be super positive, wear pink, and do yoga.
“I’m not that type of person,” she says. “I think the healthcare system can engage with people of color and people at a disadvantage … in a way that makes it more accessible and more welcoming.”
Advocating for Other Women of Color
Kamta, now a breast cancer advocate, experienced many things during her treatment that had her feel like an outsider. For example, she notes that images of breast cancer symptoms are often on white skin. Experiences like these were what compelled her to be an advocate for others.
“The reason why I'm so vocal about my cancer journey is because I wanted other Indian women or women of color to see someone who looks like them and who knows how they feel, and I wanted to be honest about what I'm going through,” says Kamta.
For this reason, Kamta supports the idea of having patient advocates in the medical community. She describes patient advocates as “someone who's already been through the treatment or diagnosis” who can “be in that room with that patient, so that patient feels like they have someone there on their side and not feel so alone.”
Kamta hopes to bring awareness to the cultural disparities in breast cancer treatment. Furthermore, she hopes to see changes that will help women of color feel more welcome, understood, and cared for. Patient advocates could play a significant role in making that happen.
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(Roshni) Triple-negative breast cancer mainly affects
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women under the age of 40 and mainly women
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who are African American or Latina descent.
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It was hard for me because I'm an Indian woman
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and there are disparities in our healthcare system
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that some medical teams don't take into consideration.
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(somber piano music)
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The reason why I'm so vocal about my cancer journey
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is because I wanted other Indian women
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or women of color to see someone who looks like them
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and who knows how they feel,
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and I wanted to be honest about what I'm going through
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because I didn't want cancer to be so stigmatized.
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Like yes, it does suck and it's a horrible disease,
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but just because I got diagnosed with cancer
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doesn't mean I'm a bad person
or I brought this on myself.
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In most cases, a lump of cancer can be discovered
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during a first or second month of growth,
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but don't forget, your doctor usually doesn't see you
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So the next time you visit your doctor for a general visit
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or check-up, be sure to ask him
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about breast self-examination.
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(Roshni) I've heard women of color talk about the pictures
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that they show you aren't women of color.
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They're showing you white women.
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And especially in the breast cancer community.
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Seeking support, it's mostly for white women.
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It's very kind of "culty" and positive
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and do yoga and whatever
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and I'm not that type of person,
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and I think the healthcare system can engage
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with people of color or people at a disadvantage
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with health care I guess in a way that makes it
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more accessible and more welcoming.
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For example, I think the medical community can benefit
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from patient advocates,
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someone who's already been through the treatment
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or diagnosis to be in that room with that patient
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so that patient feels like they have someone there
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on their side, and not feel so alone.
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I guess I would give my example, so on my first day
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of chemo, I met my social worker,
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and she was very kind
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and she's the one who told me
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about the Road to Bald program for my hair,
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and it was just, she saw me.
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She saw me as a patient.
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She saw me as a human being,
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and if I ever said something,
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she would be like, "Okay, let me go talk to your doctors
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about it," or "tell the nurse practitioner
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that you're feeling this way," or whatever.
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And it just felt nice to have someone else
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vocalize that to my team.
- Cancer disparities. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. (Accessed on November 5, 2020)
- Triple-negative breast cancer. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society. (Accessed on November 5, 2020)
- Triple-negative breast cancer. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on November 5, 2020)