When you hear the word cancer, what image does it conjure up? What might the person experiencing it look like in your mind? Are they white?
This is the false narrative perpetuated by the media, whether through newspapers, magazines or even cancer ads themselves, that cancer is not a ‘black disease’.
Consequently, people in the BAME community feel desperately underrepresented and struggle to find support if they fall ill.
The incredible Black Women Rising, a cancer support project to boost the visibility of black and ethnic minority cancer patients in the UK, are now hungry to rewrite the narrative.
Founded by the inspiring and entrepreneurial Leanne Pero, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at just 30-years-old, she is now on a quest to help others on similar journeys.
When she struggled through the aftermath of her own battle, Leanne realised that the NHS lacked cancer support packages for BAME cancer patients.
The knock-on effect is significant, leading to a lack of awareness and education within BAME households around cancer, its signs and symptoms.
Tragically, this ultimately results in devastating outcomes of late-stage diagnoses and higher mortality rates in some cancers than white patients.
This is exactly where Leanne is using her voice, not only as a megaphone to address inequalities but also by offering support groups and the frank podcast, The Untold Cancer Stories.
In addition to this, the Black Women Rising project also created the UK’s first all-black cancer portrait exhibition that is set to exhibit at the Tate Gallery later this year.
Speaking about her journey, Leanne explained that while undergoing round after round of gruelling chemotherapy and back-to-back operations (including a double mastectomy), her mental health took a battering, yet she couldn’t access the support she needed.
Leanne said: “I began blogging about my cancer experiences online in order to reach and connect with other members of the cancer community.
“I was left overwhelmed by the huge outpouring of admiration from fellow BAME female cancer patients, like myself, echoing my experiences with the inadequate emotional support and referral services offered by the hospitals they were being treated at.”
In an interview with TOTM, an ethical and sustainable period care brand, Leanne also spoke about how traumatised many women were not just during treatment but years after.
Some of the people who reached out told stories of how they had been banished from their families and communities because of their cancer diagnosis, with loved ones disappearing from their lives because they were too scared that they may catch it.
Many women had also been led to believe that their cancer was a curse or karma for bad things they had done in the past.
Leanne added: “Many women who had lost their hair through treatment didn’t receive their free wig they were entitled to because their hospital had run out of wigs in the ‘Ethnic Section’.
“Even more shockingly, some women were advised against vital lifesaving cancer drugs because they were ‘ungodly’. The judgement and stress put on these women had led to severe depression, permanent hair loss and even suicidal thoughts to name a few.”
Black Women Rising now invites these women into a safe space where they can connect with others free of judgement.
For more info, click here: Black Women Rising.