Black women in the District of Columbia have been fighting a silent battle when it comes to their health. For over a decade, D.C. has sat above the national average when it comes to breast cancer mortality. 26. 3% of women who contract breast cancer compared to the national average of 21.5% die each year, according to Breast Care D.C.
Already, Black women are more likely to die from breast cancer in the United States even though white women have more occurrences of breast cancer. It is especially concerning as black women contract breast cancer at a younger age compared to white women.
In Wards 7 and 8 of D.C., there are only three places for people to receive breast cancer screenings; Barry Lou Ourisman, GW Comprehensive Breast Care and Breast Care for Washington D.C. In the other wards, there are 11 different sites in total for people to receive services. The amount of services available is disproportional for lower-income areas of the District.
As a community, black women have internal barriers that prevent them from seeking out preventative care. Breast Cancer for Washington D.C, located in Ward 8, was founded five years ago to give preventative care for breast cancer to women in the District and combat fear women are facing.
VP of Development and Communications Liz Davey says “Unfortunately, we realized pretty quickly that we had to not only provide the services but educate give a lot of education about the importance of the services we provide.”
“What we found really quickly is there’s a whole lot of misinformation out there, and we probably would find that one of the top factors in preventing women from getting the care getting preventative screening is just the fear,” Davey continued.
Breast Cancer for Washington D.C. provides preventative care for women. This includes screenings, 3D mammograms, ultrasounds, and biopsies. After being founded in 2014, its budget of roughly $1 million a year has allowed them to provide preventative care for 1,674 women in the last year alone. Sixteen of those women had breast cancer.
However, its ability to provide care for people is contingent on the funds it can raise in grants, earn back in reimbursement or are given in donations. In the District only 3.9% of the population is uninsured. Since the addition of the Affordable Care Act, the rate of uninsured individuals is at the lowest its been. It has helped get women with breast cancer necessary treatments easier.
Donita Caldwell is the Outreach Coordinator for Breast Care for Washington D.C. She said, “I was 38 when they found lumps in my breast.” “When I received my letter in the mail I let that letter sit there for two months because I was just afraid. I was afraid it was going to tear me down. That it was going to kill me.”
“We’re located within a federally qualified health center called Community of Hope, so federally qualified health centers where people receive their primary care. So, by having us located here in the bottom of this building where people are getting their primary care two flights up it’s really been effective in creating a good link between primary care and prevention” said Davey. The organization also acquired a mobile unit that will let them bring mammography to more health centers and women in Wards 7 and 8.
No matter how much it wants to, the organization can’t do it all. It is only built to treat 200 women per month and is beginning to get closer and closer to that number each year. It takes as many steps to help a woman as possible such as follow up, offering translation services and finding them a primary provider for treatment but past that, its hands are tied. The organization says it’s up to the [federal] government to continue to provide affordable care that DC women can access.
With the current administration moving to defund preventative health centers such as Planned Parenthood, the need for comprehensive care has intensified in the nation. Organizations like Breast Care for Washington D.C are filling the void and aiding the needs of women.