Breast Cancer Awareness Has to Include Us Too

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My first encounter with cancer was when I was 4 or 5 years old.  My great grandma, Lois, was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I remember, clearly, the conversations that were had at our family dinners, the prayer offerings for her healing at our church and the constant talk of her last holidays and last time at our family’s annual blues festival gathering.  The cancer spread rapidly through her body. She left us on a windy morning in February.  The loss was tough on everyone.  My story isn’t particularly unique because there have been thousands of families who have been impacted by this disease.  Besides my family, I have known a few others.  Breast cancer awareness, funding, advocacy and the ability to diagnose has improved greatly since the late 80’s but we still have a long way to go.  Many women have lost their lives but we can be a part of the change and conversations that will allow many to see more birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and blues festivals.

Breast cancer is a crisis situation in our community.  For the first time the rates of incidence are now equal to those of white women.  Historically, breast cancer was deadlier in Black women than in white women but our incidence rates were lower.  Currently, data is showing that breast cancer will continue to take a detrimental toll on us.  If the incidence rates are increasing and our death rates were already higher, we will see more lives lost from this disease.  The picture is dark.  Breast cancer diagnosis and treatment have evolved over time but those advancements have leapt over us.  Money from the breast cancer fundraising efforts every October do not make it in the hands of  researchers who are working, tirelessly towards eliminating the burden for women of color. Statistics show that Black women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are much younger than white women and die younger too.  We have the disadvantage but it doesn’t need to remain that way.

What can we do?  We can learn to share everything happening with us, medically,with our doctors.  If something doesn’t feel right, say so!  You are not going to shock your doctor.  Believe me, they have heard everything.  Their job is to take care of you.  If you feel if they are not doing an adequate job of doing that, get rid of them.  Plain and simple.  If there has been a change to your breast or you are noticing discharge and you are not breastfeeding, those are things to talk to your doctor about.  Let them feel and touch your breasts and answer all of your questions. Make a list if that will help.  Conducting a self breast exam is a useful way to find irregularities and detect breast cancer early.  Over 40 percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, proving that feeling yourself up is crucial.  Breasts can be screened in the shower, in the mirror or laying on your bed.  They are your breasts, touch them.  The National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. recommends self breast screenings should be done once a month.  You can even have your partner help you out :).

Knowing your risk is important.  Certain women have a higher risk, regardless of race.  Many women experience symptoms before being diagnosed with early breast cancer.  Talk to your doctor if you have these risk factors:

  • Your parents or siblings were diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer before they were 45.
  • You have been told you have dense breasts on a mammogram.
  • You have had previous radiation therapy to the chest before age 30.

If the lack of insurance or money is the issue,  there are programs that can help.  The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) has provided low-income, uninsured, and underserved women access to timely breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services.  Find out if you can qualify here!

Breast cancer took the life of the woman who had a larger than life personality, with a no-nonsense attitude, an eye for fashion, a music fanatic who had, hands down, one of the most beautiful smiles I had ever seen.  Breast cancer robbed me and the other women in my family the opportunity to know someone who would have smothered us with wisdom, love and an incredible intelligence for investing and business.  I was robbed of knowing my great grandmother.  I was robbed of knowing my beautiful mother in law too.   Let’s have open dialogues with our doctors, survivors and spread awareness to protect ourselves and our future.

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Health and Wellness is Ours!

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I was sitting at my desk one day, last spring, thinking of my grandma.  I thought about how she loved life.  She loved to fellowship with her circle of friends, gossip, share laughs and love each other.  If a friend called her in need, she would lend a hand and her heart.  Her spirit has always resonated with me and it empowers me to want to do positive things for others.  As I thought of her, I thought about how many women are not getting what they need, in the health setting, in order to thrive.  I thought about all of the women who have a disconnect with their doctors and practitioners.  I thought about how many opportunities are missed because, more than often, we lack the empowerment to lift up one another.  I called my friend, Jessica Brown and told her of an idea to have a Black women’s health and wellness conference.  We started meeting regularly to plan, Scarlet Kruse joined the committee and the Sacramento Black Women’s Health and Wellness Conference was born.

I am so excited that this dream is finally becoming a reality.  The Encouraging Life Organization and The Juliette Health Organization are coming together as partners to host the 1st Annual Sacramento Black Women’s Health and Wellness Conference that will be held on Saturday, August 6, 2016 at UC Davis Education Building.  This year’s motto is “A Healthier You! A Healthier Me.! A Healthier We!”  We are focusing on reducing health disparities that affect Black women by raising awareness about mental and physical health.  This year’s conference will educate attendees about the importance of being healthy.  We are incredibly honored to have Alondra Thompson, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker as our keynote speaker.  She will be discussing mental health and how it impacts our overall health as Black women.  Along with a passionate keynote address, we will provide the attendees with breakfast, lunch, impactful workshops and a yoga demonstration.

We are still looking for sponsorships and health vendors.  If you would love to partner with us, please visit our website for information on doing so.  Ticket information is there too!

http://www.sbwhwc.org

The beautiful part of planning this conference is that I am planning it with dear friends of mine who I enjoy fellowshipping with, sharing laughs with and who I absolutely adore. They believe that a difference can be made and we can achieve it, together. Thank you to my sisters, Jessica and Scarlet for believing in me and making my dream come true.

Invest in health,

Chioko 🙂

 

2015 in review

Thank you everyone for a wonderful 2015!  The people who have followed my blog have provoked thought and gave encouragement.  I look forward to all of the topics we will cover in 2016!  Stay tuned for more information about the 1st Annual Sacramento Black Women’s Health and Wellness Conference!  You can get more information at http://www.sbwhwc.org

Invest in health,

Chioko

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 910 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 15 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Dirty Douche

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We have all seen the Summer’s Eve ads that show the women who lack confidence and power because she feels like she doesn’t smell fresh “down there.”  The announcer in the ad makes sure to emphasize “down there” as it is Area 51.  The unknown.  All of a sudden, the timid, unsure woman douches and boom! She can now take over the world, run a marathon, without stopping, through a field of lilies, get that desired promotion and never smell un-fresh …down there.  Back in time, women who are now the age of my mother and grandmother, were told, by their mothers and grandmothers that irrigating their vaginas with flowery scented water would prevent and treat infections, clean them up after sex and refresh them after their menstrual cycles.  Quite the contrary, shooting that scented power water in your lady region can cause more harm than good. Douching is not medically required because a healthy vagina has a self cleansing system.  Ahhh…the power of the V.  Douching has been linked to a greater risk of STIs and infertility.  Is that promotion and the ability to run a marathon through wild grass worth it?

Historically, douching has been a part of the Black and Latina woman rites of passage for a long time.  We have been told to douche because you don’t want to “smell funky.”  The experience has been passed down generationally and unfortunately some of us don’t know any different.  It doesn’t help that this is what we have been taught and we trust that our elders would never intentionally hurt us.  It doesn’t help that the ads are directed towards us to conform to societal beauty norms.  Several studies have shown that Black and Latina women have the tendency to use douches and other feminine deodorants more often than women of any other race.  Black and Latina women have also experienced bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections at greater rates than any other ethnic group.  Recently, I read this powerful article entitled, An Odor of Racism:  Vaginal Deodorants in African American Beauty Culture and Advertising by Michelle Ferranti.  Ferranti discusses how marketing douches tapped into our insecurities regarding personal odors post slavery.  She states, “For many recently emancipated African Americans, a clean and odor free body signified personal progress and enterprise and the hope for racial assimilation.  Powerful.

What makes douching so harmful for our bodies?  Environmental Health reported that women who douched regularly had an incredibly high amount of Phthalates (pronounced thal-lates) in their urine. For this particular study, twenty percent of Black women reported douching at least twice a month, compared to seven percent of the white and Latina participants. Phthalates are industrial chemicals that can change how our hormones react in our bodies.  Phthalates are especially disruptive to reproductive and thyroid hormones.  This chemical is harsh for women in the reproductive age group because of the harm to the womb.

Proctor & Gamble own approximately 40 percent of the feminine hygiene market.  They, my friends, are the real douchebags.  Even after these studies have proven that douching can have some harmful side effects, these products are still on the market, using the same chemical ingredients. We refuse to talk candidly about douching.  After all this time, we as a society, are uncomfortable discussing the idea of objects going into or around the vagina.  We need to demand that these products have health disclosures on their packaging.    Advocacy groups everywhere are concerned about the chemicals in our foods and in the air.  We have to get concerned about the toxins that are put into our feminine hygiene products.  If we wont, no one will.  There are natural feminine washes available for purchase on the market.  Healthy Hoohoo and Organyc Certified Intimate Wash can be purchased on Amazon.  Throw those Summer’s Eve bottles out and make more conscious and informed choices about what you use in your lady region.  Let Proctor & Gamble know that you care about your health and well being!

For more information on natural remedies for vaginal odor, check out:  Eliminate BV Odor Naturally With…

Invest in our health.

Netflix and Chill

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My special guest blogger is Ms. Jessica Brown,  She is a public health official who is the founder of the Encouraging Life Organization( ELO).  The ELO is a community-based organization that was established in 2010. The sole purpose of the ELO is to create community health initiatives that assist in the elimination of sexual and reproductive health disparities among under-served communities. The ELO accomplishes this through developing community outreach efforts, while providing resources and education on health. As the founder of the ELO, it is her focus to coordinate community outreach initiatives and build community partnerships to combat with sexual and reproductive health disparities. Ms. Brown is a native of Sacramento, CA and graduated from San Jose State University where she received her master degree in Public Health. For more information on ELO, please visit http://encouraginglifeorganization.org  Enjoy! 

Summer is over and you know what that means……”Netflix and Chill” season is among us. As we approach longer and colder nights with the Fall/Winter months, the need for human contact is apparent. This could be a time to look for a temporary Fall/Winter BAE (I hate that word). For some, it is time to get closer to your permanent loved one and for many, it may be a time for random hook ups. Whatever your relationship/dating status, will there be a lot of “Netflix and Chill” late nights?

What are “Netflix and Chill” nights, you ask? Well for me, it means watching a good movie on Netflix (preferably a good documentary or bad black movie), drinking a glass of wine, and going to bed by 11:30pm.  According to Urban Dictionary, (my favorite reference site) “Netflix and Chill” is “code for two people going to each other’s houses and having sex or doing other sexual related acts while Netflix is showing in the background.” And here I was thinking it meant that you actually watch a movie and relax. Dully noted…

With the change in the seasons and the upcoming cold winter nights, it makes sense to “Netflix and Chill” but rather you decide to “Netflix and Chill” with a partner, temporary “BAE,” or a random hook-up, protect yourself by using barrier methods such as male or female condoms. Studies have proven that consistent and correct use of condoms can reduce the risk of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) transmission. There are two types of condoms that are effective in reducing STI/HIV transmission; male and female condoms. Male condoms are made up of latex material and cover the shaft of the penis during sex. Male condoms can be used for oral, vaginal or anal sex. Flavored male condoms can be used for oral sex activities such as mouth to penis. Male condoms can be made up of other materials such as polyisoprene, polyurethane, and lambskin, however, latex condoms are the most effective at preventing STI/HIV infection and unplanned pregnancies. Although male condoms remain to be the barrier method of choice, female condoms are just as effective. The female condom is made of polyurethane and if used properly and correctly, female condoms can be more pleasurable to use than male condoms. The female condom is a pouch with flexible rings at each end. The smaller inner ring is inserted into the vagina, while the larger outer ring is placed on the outside of the vulva; around the labia (lips of the vagina). Female condoms can be used for anal sex as well. They are simple, convenient, and allow women to share responsibility for preventing STIs/HIV and unplanned pregnancies. They also provide a safe alternative to people who are allergic to latex. Dental Dam is another barrier method that can be used for oral sex activities such as mouth to vagina or mouth to anus. The Dental Dam is a thin square of latex that can be used to prevent the spread of STI/HIV during oral sex.  They can be bought in some stores, or you can make your own using a condom, a latex glove or non-microwavable saran wrap.

Each one of these barrier methods can be an exciting and fun experience for both men and women. They can be used as part of sex play which can improve consistent condom use, thus reducing the risk of STI/HIV transmission or unplanned pregnancies. It is not advised to use all three barrier methods at the same time. When engaging in vaginal or anal sex, use a male or female condom. When engaging in oral sex activities, such as mouth to penis, use a flavored male condom. For mouth to vagina or mouth to anus oral sex activities, use a dental dam. There are other barrier methods that can protect against unplanned pregnancies, however, the three mentioned can protect against unplanned pregnancies and STI/HIV, when used properly and consistently.

As you enjoy the winter months and your “Netflix and Chill” nights with that special someone, remember to protect your penis or vagina by using protection. If you decide not to have sex, there are other activities you can participate in such as sensual massages, slow kissing, masturbation, and mutual masturbation with a partner that can be equally stimulating and intimate. These activities will also protect you from STIs/HIV and unplanned pregnancies. Remember you only have one Penis Kingdom and Vagina Queendom, so protect it….. FYI…..Netflix has AMAZING movies and series coming up this winter too.

For more information on Female and Male Condoms, click on the hyperlink or visit

http://bedsider.org/methods/male_condom#details_tab

http://www.hiv.va.gov/patient/daily/sex/condom-tips.asp

For more information on Dental Dams, click on the hyperlink or visit

http://www.nakedtruth.idaho.gov/dental-dams.aspx

If you would like more information on the Encouraging Life Organization and would like to request our services, please visit

http://encouraginglifeorganization.org/

Using Cultural Humility to Combat Disparities

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Dr. Doom and Gloom annoyed my grandpa. Hell, she annoyed me. When I think about it now, I think that she caused my grandpa a lot of anxiety. He put on a brave face because that was how he was groomed. He was a man. Men don’t show fear. He was fearful.  Dr. Doom and Gloom was what he “affectionately” called his doctor because she was always, as he put it, “so negative.” My Grandpa was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. His doctor was concerned with his smoking habit and like any good doctor, she let him know it. It wasn’t that she was letting him know, it was the way she said it.

He had smoked everyday since he was 12 years old. Obviously, my grandfather was addicted to nicotine. Every visit, she would immediately ask him if he gave up the cigarettes. He would reply, “Not yet Doc.” She would proceed to tell him that he was going to die and it was only a matter of time if he didn’t give up the cigarettes. His prognosis was poor but her approach didn’t ease his mind. She didn’t know my grandpa as a human being. She just knew what it said in his chart. This isn’t uncommon.  She met with several patients a day. Like a lot of doctors, she was over worked, tired, and stressed and she just didn’t have the time to get to know him, his fears, his hopes or his concerns. She failed to understand that this man was hesitant to go to a doctor because of a clear mistrust of the system. He lived through a time of the Tuskegee experiments, which heightened the suspicion. She didn’t understand that he had been smoking everyday since he was 12 years old and he couldn’t just quit. He probably needed resources in order to do so. He needed understanding and comfort. He needed a doctor who would remain optimistic even though he was facing uncertainty. He needed a doctor who practiced cultural humility.

Cultural humility is a beautiful thing. I get excited speaking to others about it. The concept will blow your mind.  It normalizes the idea of “not knowing.” Cultural humility is not a difficult concept, we all could engage in it. Cultural humility is an approach that was developed initially for doctors. The approach acknowledges that no one can know completely another’s experience. It is impossible to try to know everything about another’s culture. It would be a waste of time. If one tries to master another’s culture it could lead to stereotyping, which isn’t productive.  Cultural humility is about knowing yourself, knowing your own biases, weaknesses and stereotypes. If you are able to understand those things, you can understand others. Easy, right?  Just blows your mind, huh? As a doctor or a public health practitioner or a social worker, you are not the expert. You shouldn’t act like the expert therefore you look silly even trying. Your job is to learn. You are the learner. Reflecting upon yourself is what is going to get you to be able to serve your patient or client better.   The patient or the client could teach you about their worldview, if they face oppression daily, their hopes, their fears or any discrimination that they have faced or continue to face.

Cultural humility, in health, will help you grow as health professional, practitioner and a human being. Health inequities remain but there are people who disagree. There are people in this country that believe that a lot of racial progress has taken place for people of color. To some extent, they are right.  Yes, our schools have been desegregated, we can sit at counters to eat our lunches, our President is a Black man but we still have a distance to go in order to assess full and equal civil liberties.  There are people who still have a difficult time accessing quality health care in this country. Cultural humility is a tool for self-reflection. If people would realize the power imbalance, acknowledge their own privilege and focus on each patient or client as an expert of their own discrimination, that can lay the foundation of trust and respect. Practicing cultural humility enhances the quality of interaction and care.

Cultural humility is the foundation for reducing through culturally sensitive and unbiased quality care.  Combating health disparities and achieving health equity needs to be an important goal for health professionals all over this country.   Cultural humility has the potential to enlighten health care workers and to decrease biased personal and institutional practices to improve health outcomes for an increasingly diverse, marginalized and underserved patient population.  Let’s use cultural humility to fight health disparities, prevent and treat diseases and save lives.  My grandparents, James and Juliette deserved it.  Many others do too.

Invest in health.

We Need Cultural Competency in Health Care

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I fired my doctor. I couldn’t take her condescending attitude anymore. Fortunately, I am rarely sick and when I go to the doctor it means I am feeling pretty bad. This one particular day, I went to the doctor with a cold that wouldn’t go away. I tried everything, medicine, rest and fluids. Nothing worked. I decided to make an appointment with the hopes of getting rid of the cold once and for all. My doctor came into the examination room, sat at the computer, looked at the screen and said, “Have you ever thought about weight loss surgery?” She didn’t say, “Good afternoon Mrs. Grevious, what brings you to see me today?” or “My goodness, what a cough you have there!” No, she looked at my chart and asked me if I considered weight loss surgery. Shocked, I asked, “Why would you ask me about weight loss surgery if I am not here for that reason?” She says, “Well…your BMI is high and it is something to consider.” Still puzzled, I asked. “Is my cholesterol high? Am I pre-diabetic? Do I have high blood pressure?” She answered no. I continued, “Then why would you ask me to consider weight loss surgery? I am not here for that reason. I have a cold. I exercise, I have eliminated sugary drinks and I eat well. “ She continued to hand me pamphlets and talk to me about the different surgeries that are offered. I gathered my belongings and left. That day I didn’t discuss my cold with the doctor. I fired my doctor instead. I found another doctor, who was welcoming and warm, one who greeted me immediately, asked how I was doing, wanted to know what brought me in for a visit, asked me what I wanted to do and what my suggestions were for my own care. We had a conversation. She didn’t judge me. She didn’t make assumptions. Unfortunately, a lot of us are not as lucky to find the second doctor, we get stuck with the first one.

My doctor wasn’t culturally appropriate and probably didn’t care to be. She didn’t understand anything about me and didn’t take the time to truly understand me as her patient. She didn’t consider my body type or my strengths. She used a “one size fits all” approach to my health care and it was incredibly offensive. It is important for health care to be available and provided by people who understand different cultures.

Cultural competency in health care is defined as the ability of health care providers to understand and integrate individual values, beliefs, and behaviors about health, race, ethnicity, language, nationality, gender, socioeconomic status, physical and mental ability, sexual orientation and occupation into the delivery and structure of the health care system. Reducing health disparities remains a goal in the health system. Socioeconomic status, lifestyle behaviors, social conditions, and the lack of access to preventive health care services can contribute to racial and ethnic disparities. Elimination of health disparities requires culturally appropriate health care initiatives. Elimination of disparities for people of color is a gigantic task but it is possible.

Women of color face great challenges in accessing basic, preventive health care services. Eliminating health disparities is politically sensitive and challenging because the causes of health disparities are intertwined with a contentious history of the race relations in this country. Although there have been considerable advances in civil rights, a person’s race remains a factor in determining whether that person will receive quality health care and a positive health outcome. Lack of cultural competency is a concern. One in three residents of the United States identify as African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, Latino or multiracial. By 2050 that number will be one in two.

Cultural competency is essential in the health care environment. Here are some recommendations for building a professional rapport with patients of color:

  1. Do not assume: Recognize the diversity of the United States population. Race and culture are two different concepts. Just because the patient is Black doesn’t mean that the patient is like the last Black patient that was seen. For example, the Black population is comprised of people of mixed ethnic and culture heritage. It is the responsibility of the health care provider to ask questions, listen closely and carefully to determine the patient’s expectations.
  2. Ask for causes and solutions: When taking the initial history, ask the patient about their symptoms and their concerns. Develop cultural skills for performing assessments.
  3. Listen without judgment: It is essential that the practitioner listen with empathy and respect. Do not express any body language or words that could be viewed as judgmental, condescending or ridiculing. Recognize the cultural influences on nonverbal expressions/cues. Strive to have face-to-face interactions with Black patients in order to establish trust and rapport.
  4. Understanding: Greet your patients. Some prefer to be greeted formally (Reverend, Bishop, Mr. Mrs., Ms., Miss).
  5. Understand the relationship with the church and religion: Respect the importance of church, prayer and religious practices during the times of sickness. Prayer, the belief in God and the Holy Spirit is pivotal in the well being of Black patients.
  6. Training: Cultural competency trainings increase cultural awareness in staff and leads to change in behavior and interactions. It is possible that people can be culturally appropriate when serving groups who are similar to themselves but not culturally sensitive to others. These trainings can be a one-time training or a series of training activities.

Public health professionals and health care providers should strive for cultural sensitivity in health care, increase awareness of culturally sensitive actions and advocate for appropriate health programs that are effective regardless of socioeconomic status, disease or cultural beliefs.   The communication between patients and providers need to be strengthened to increase interpretation services, expand the racial/ethnic diversity of health professionals and develop training programs to address cross-cultural education. With the proper cultural competency trainings and education, health care providers and public health professionals will improve our community for better health outcomes. We can do this. Invest in our health.