36 year old Jacqueline Smith has been spreading the word in the black community about the serious affects of skin cancer. Although this is not a form of cancer that is often seen in our community, when it does rear its head, the outcome is disparaging. Many of us, myself included believed that our melanin was all the protection we needed from the sun. However, 14 years ago, Jacqueline Smith learned first hand the truth of this myth.
She was 22 when she noticed a lump in her bikini area. That inner voice pushed her to see about it and eventually, four years later, she was diagnosed with stage-3 melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer). That’s one of the biggest problems in the black community. Because we believe that our melanin makes us “exempt” from getting skin cancer, it’s easy for us to not seek treatment when symptoms present themselves. Thus, avoiding catching cancer much earlier than our white counterparts.
“It’s important to share my story with other African-Americans so that they can understand that skin cancer is our problem too. I’ve worked with other cancer organizations and have even been to Capitol Hill to spread the word!”
According to Cancer.org, the five-year survival rate for African-Americans is 69 percent compared with 93 percent for whites. Experts believe this mortality gap is largely due to the fact that by the time African-Americans are diagnosed, their cancer is at an advanced stage (52 percent compared to 16 percent among whites), which makes it harder to treat. Also add in the lack of access to health care and a dermatologist, and it’s no wonder why this racial health disparity continues to persist.
Jacqueline’s cancer was aggressive and required surgery and serious treatment. She had multiple lymph nodes removed, started an experimental interferon treatment through a clinical trial and underwent radiation treatment. Ten years later, Jacqueline is cancer-free. She tells Hello Beautiful in an exclusive interview, “It’s important to share my story with other African-Americans so that they can understand that skin cancer is our problem too. I’ve worked with other cancer organizations and have even been to Capitol Hill to spread the word!” Jacqueline offers these tips to women of color in regards to staying aware and vigilant in protecting our melanin from skin cancer:
- Don’t Slack On Getting Screened- Be sure to get your fingernails and toenails and your palms and soles checked as part of the process, and always alert your doctor if you notice anything at all wrong with your skin for more than a few days or weeks,” and don’t forget the sunscreen and limited exposure to the sun.
- Advocate For Yourself- You know when something is not right.
- Don’t Fear Clinical Trials- The black community has a substantiated and real fear of being the government’s guinea pigs. However, it is an avenue to be considered when it comes to increasing your chance of living.
Learn more about skin cancer at skincancer.org