Sheila McGlown is a 25-year United States Air Force veteran, mother and advocate who has been living with metastatic breast cancer, also known as stage 4 breast cancer, since 2009. Until her own mother’s breast cancer diagnosis in 2001, Sheila did not even realize Black women could get breast cancer.
Among all the pink ribbons, the walks, the professional sports donning pink for a game in October (Breast Cancer Awareness Month), Sheila hadn’t seen anything specific for anyone that looked like her. But despite this lack of representation in breast cancer awareness and education campaigns, Black women on average are 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than white women with the disease—a fact that has taken Sheila down a path of learning, advocating and educating.
Since being diagnosed, she has worked with Living Beyond Breast Cancer, Young Survival Coalition, Story Half Told, National Breast Cancer Coalition and Susan G. Komen. Most recently, Sheila has been involved with Find Your MBC Voice, an initiative from Pfizer Inc., helping to empower women and men living with mBC to take an active role in making a shared decision with their doctor about their treatment plan.
Ten years after her diagnosis, Sheila still appreciates the small miracles, like her daughter graduating from college and finding love with her now-husband. She says those miracles have been possible in large part because of her relationship with her oncologist, who worked hand in hand with her to ensure she was aware of all possible treatment options, including a clinical trial, which enabled Sheila to receive a new treatment that worked for her type of mBC.
However, participation in clinical trials is not the norm for many Black women with breast cancer; in a recent analysis of cancer clinical trials, only 6.2 percent of participants were Black. Black women and men are underrepresented in cancer clinical trials, leading to both a lack of significant data in this population of patients and thus deriving less benefit from advancements in the field. These findings highlight that it is critical for people with the disease to speak up and ask their health care providers about ongoing clinical trials.
Speaking up can start with educating friends and family on the importance of seeking annual breast cancer screenings and mammograms. Encourage them to be screened regularly, too. This year more than ever, it’s critical to continue annual check-ups. No matter the outcome of those screenings, its important Black women and men find their voice and speak up about their treatment wants and needs with their doctors. A good resource is Find Your MBC Voice, which provides people living with mBC with information on how to speak up with their doctor about their treatment options and provides tools such as the Treatment Discussion Guide.
Sheila was recently featured in the September 2020 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, and hopes her story will inspire others to have discussions with their doctors about all possible treatment options, including clinical trials. In the article she shared, “My life is not about me anymore—it’s all about who I can help. I want to encourage mBC patients to simply wake up and live each day, and to see that you can live a joyous life with cancer. Know that I am out there fighting for you, and you are not alone.”
Raising awareness hasn’t been easy, but the fact that Sheila’s story is shared at the national level is a great example of changes that are happening to ensure equal representation for Black patients impacted by breast cancer.
For additional information and resources on living with metastatic breast cancer or how to support someone who is, visit FindYourMBCVoice.com.
Sponsorship provided by Pfizer