Knowledge is power—the power to seek better treatment, get earlier diagnoses and stop breast cancer in its tracks. Here’s what you can learn from a survivor.

By Kamesha Miles
Courtesy of Miles

When I was 28, I noticed something strange: One of my nipples had become inverted—instead of poking out, it was pulled in. At the time, I didn’t worry too much. After all, I didn’t feel a lump. I attributed it to the fact that I’d recently lost 60 pounds, so there were a lot of changes going on with my body. I also didn’t have health insurance, so going to the doctor wasn’t the easiest (or most affordable) thing in the world for me to do. 

But one day, about a year later, I felt a sharp pain in the area while running. I showed my mom and asked if it looked weird to her, and she immediately said, “We need to get that checked out.” 

My mom spent decades working in the health care field and is a cancer survivor herself; she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 30. She knew what was up. When she took me to the doctor, I could hear her crying in the other room while they did the biopsy. She wasn’t wrong to be upset: I was diagnosed with stage 3 invasive breast cancer.

Over the next two years, I went through five surgeries, radiation and very aggressive chemotherapy. The chemicals were so strong, I lost all my hair after the very first treatment. On my 30th birthday, I was having my first chemo. I wanted to give up. I said, “I’m not doing this.” But my mom was my rock and she truly pushed me through it.

I’m now 35 and in full remission. But while I’m healthy, I haven’t put the experience behind me. Instead, I’m on a mission—literally—to get the word out to other African American women about breast health. As Mission Programs coordinator for the Susan G. Komen foundation, I’m working to address the disparity in care and lack of access to screenings in the African American community. 

Breast cancer feels like an epidemic in the African American community right now. While slightly fewer African American women are diagnosed with breast cancer when compared to white women, the mortality rate among African American women diagnosed with breast cancer is about 40% higher. On average, we’re diagnosed later and are up against so many factors: lack of  health insurance, disparities in education, less access to follow-up care. Would I have gone to the doctor earlier if  I’d had health insurance? If  I’d known that an inverted nipple is a sign of breast cancer, would I have had it checked out right away? The answer to both of those questions is: Yes, absolutely. Hopefully I can prevent someone else from going through what I did.