Krystal Toliver, 22, and Bridgette Bryant, 24, never thought much about the strong impact Breast Cancer had on society until it affected them personally.

Toliver, lost her mother and grandmother within four years of one another after breast cancer diagnosis. Her mother, Dorcas Toliver, died in July 2007 and her grandmother, Glenda Callegari, died in February 2011.

Toliver’s mother died three weeks after being diagnosed, and her grandmother died two months after being diagnosed. Both were diagnosed at the most advanced point in the course of the disease, stage four, and their bodies would not respond to any of the treatments.

With her mom dying at age 46 and her grandmother at 66, Toliver has grown to realize there is no age limit when it comes to diagnosing breast cancer. “A lot of women do not like to talk about breast cancer until it affects someone close to them, then they began to see it is a major issue. We must be aware of our bodies as women and make changes so that we can decrease incidence rates among White women and decrease mortality rates among African American women,” says Toliver.

Since the passing of her mother and grandmother, Toliver said she has become traumatized at the idea of loosing both her mother and grandmother so close to each other. “I am really afraid to go to the doctor about anything, because I’m afraid that I will receive bad news. I don’t go as regular as I should,” says Toliver.

As a public health major, she is informed about how important it is to practice and maintain good health; she promotes it to others but is afraid to do it for herself.

With her mother and her grandmother serving as the backbone of her family, Toliver’s perspective on life has drastically changed. She had to grow up faster than expected, because she has to be there for her younger brother. She also feels the pressure of not showing any signs of weakness, but feels compelled to be strong for the rest of her family. “I would definitely say that it has made me a stronger woman, I feel like I can take on any challenge, because nothing is worse than losing a mother and a grandmother. I have prayed a lot and humbled myself,” says Toliver.

Bryant’s, grandmother, Josephine Bryant, passed away on August 28, 2010, and Bryant said she had not understood the reality of breast cancer and the impacts it has on women’s lives, particularly African American women, until she experienced the death of her grandmother.

Bryant’s grandmother was diagnosed a year and six months before she passed away, and the tumors associated with breast cancer made it difficult for her to respond to the treatment.

“I really thought nothing about it until my grandmother was diagnosed and I saw what she went through. It became real to me that so many women are dying of this particular cancer,” says Bryant.

Understanding the reality of breast cancer after the death of her grandmother, made Bryant believe it is important for her to check and be aware of the symptoms for of the disease, but she explains she still hasn’t changed her health habits. “Cysts run in my family, so I do a self examination once in a while but not as often as I should,” says Bryant.

African American women are especially vulnerable to breast cancer compared to other ethnicities. When looking at the difference between African American women and Caucasian women, statistics show that not as many African American are diagnosed with breast cancer compared to Caucasian women, but African American women tend to die from it sooner for different reasons. These include not having access to healthcare, and lacking knowledge of things to practice to prevent and stop it before it becomes more aggressive and difficult to treat.

The American Cancer Society says that 90 percent of White women who are diagnosed with breast cancer will live at least five years, but only 76 percent of Black women with breast cancer will live that long. Five years is considered a pivotal mark for a long-term cancer survivor.

The average age suggested by physicians for mammograms may be 50, but according to the American Cancer Society, most doctors believe that early detection tests for breast cancer can save many thousands of lives each year. The American Cancer Society also provides guidelines for the early detection of breast cancer, such as using mammograms, self-examinations, and clinical breast exams, which has improved the chances that breast cancer can be diagnosed at an early stage and treated successfully.

Common risk factors that women should consider are the age of first menstruation and menopause, and a family history of the disease. These are compounded by irregularly doing check ups or not getting a clinical breast exam (CBE), which is a complement to mammograms and an opportunity for women and their doctor or nurse to discuss changes in their breasts.

A clinical breast examination (CBE), which is a physical examination of the breast done by a health professional without the use of a machine, is highly recommended for women starting in their 20s and going into their 50s, to prevent an initial diagnosis after the cells have become abnormal forming lumps and tumors which are difficult to treat.

Waiting to be checked after you have felt lumps in your breast may be too late; it is better to be checked regularly to catch any potentially cancerous lumps early. Women, who may not have access to healthcare, can always practice a self-breast examination at home.

The myths about breast cancer

  • * I’m too young to worry about breast cancer (women of all ages are at risk for developing breast cancer.)
  • * If I’m diagnosed with breast cancer, it means I’m going to die.
  • * If I have a breast lump, it’s cancer.
  • * My mammogram was normal, so I don’t have to worry about breast
  • * Only women with a family history of breast cancer are at risk. (The majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer don’t have a family history of this devastating disease.)
  • * I have to wait until I’m 50 to get tested for breast cancer. (The National Cancer Institute recommends that women age 40 or older should have screening mammograms every 1 to 2 years.)
  • * Men cannot be diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • * Breast cancer is contagious and can be passed on quickly.
  • * I’ve survived over five years with breast cancer, so the cancer must be gone.
  • * Vitamins and dietary supplements can help treat breast cancer.
  • * I had a mammogram, and I need further examination. I must have cancer.
  • * Breast implants causes breast cancer.