Tia Bullett is the face and the force behind Chocolate for a Cure, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based celebration of women’s victories in the fight against breast cancer. Diagnosed with stage zero breast cancer 12 years ago, Bullett is indeed a victor and not a victim in the fight. She started her North Carolina nonprofit organization 10 years ago as a means to bring the community together, raise funds to support breast cancer research and have a good time, all in one place.
What started as a gala in 2010 has evolved into a Sunday brunch and much to its founder’s delight, will go out with a bang in this, its final year, by reverting to its original form: a showy, celebratory shindig complete with corporate vendors, food, libations and celebrity guests. Once Chocolate for a Cure concludes, Bullet plans to shift her focus in a different direction.
Back in 2010, Bullett, a Martinsburg, West Virginia, native involuntarily took on the breast cancer cause when she received the news that she had the disease, despite having no family history or outstanding risk factors. It was a challenging time for Bullett, who was also going through a divorce. “I knew I had to fight,” she said of when she was unexpectedly diagnosed at age 40.
Roughly 40,000 women die from breast cancer each year, according to the American Cancer Society, and Bullet is doing what she can to decrease that number with each and every event she hosts.
“We select three women each year to receive a free mammogram,” she said, which provides a tangible tool to help women in the battle against the invasive disease.
Bullett counts herself as fortunate in her battle. While she did have a mastectomy on her right breast, she was able to avoid chemotherapy and the prescription drug Tamoxifen has allowed her to avoid a recurrence, a protocol that has worked for her for more than a decade. When it comes to clinical trials although she was not offered the opportunity to participate, she believes in them wholeheartedly. “More black women should be [willing to be part of clinical research] and need to participate in them,” she said. “I would have if I’d had the opportunity.”
The reason Bullett wasn’t given the chance is likely shrouded in passive discrimination. Black people are less likely to participate in clinical trials because of a general distrust of health-care professionals and the cultural legacy of the decades long Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, among other reasons.
Despite the historically low numbers of black people participating in clinical trials in general, however, there’s good news on the horizon. Researchers at Indiana School of Medicine have launched a study led by Dr. Bryan P. Schneider, which studies the connection between chemotherapy and a type of nerve damage called neuropathy, which disproportionately affects black women. This is a step in the right direction. According to Schneider, the goal of this trial is “to figure out which chemotherapy would be the best for African American women who are undergoing treatment for their breast cancer.”
Schneider acknowledged that black women are historically underrepresented in research, and he appears committed to addressing the disparity. The commitment of medical professionals like Schneider, along with the grassroots efforts of those directly affected by such a pervasive disease, just may be the one-two punch needed to make breast cancer a thing of the past.
—Tamar Leak Suber