Racial disparities are embedded in every facet of American culture, including the health care system.

But the mission for health equity continues, and initiatives like More Than Just Words are committed to change. “Conscious and unconscious bias in health care could be contributing to the mortality disparities between white and Black women. Equal treatment is their right," said Jamil Rivers, metastatic breast cancer patient, CEO of Chrysalis Initiative, and More Than Just Words Advisor. "The standard of care is achievable for everyone when we work with providers and guide patients to self-advocacy. Let’s intervene to tamp implicit disparities and systemic racial biases out of the system."

Last year, Novartis launched More Than Just Words, a comprehensive initiative created to provide resources, systems, and community for Black women to increase health equity in breast cancer care. “The More Than Just Words initiative is a response to an urgent need to correct disparities. Black women are nearly twice as likely than white women to receive a breast cancer diagnosis in an advanced stage of the disease and are 40% more likely to die than white women,” said Reshema Kemps-Polanco, Executive Vice President, Head, U.S. Oncology at Novartis. “We want to shed light on the grim statistics, encourage Black women to get screened, and champion equitable cancer care. This includes finding innovative treatments that improve and extend lives and make our health care system accessible to all.”

Feeling connected to and supported by your physician is a key component to the initiative. Most people go to see their doctors and don’t know where to begin or what to ask. For women, checking in about their breast health should be a routine part of their visits. “I have a list of five musts during screenings, including reviewing family history, completing a thorough breast exam, reviewing imaging, answering patient questions, and discussing a follow-up plan,” said Monique Gary, DO, MSc, FACS, Medical Director of the Grand View Health Cancer Program and More Than Just Words Advisor.

Gary champions breast cancer screening education, such as knowing family history, your breast density to determine ideal screening tools, and the latest tech innovations, to have informed discussions with doctors. The medical director is also a proponent of including more Black participants in clinical research, which many identify as a key factor to increased positive health outcomes in the Black community. She adds: “Black women must show up and be counted in clinical trial research to help develop therapies that are effective and promote our survival.”

As a breast cancer survivor, Ricki Fairley can attest to the necessity of access, education, and participation along the health care journey. “I think it’s important to empower Black women to trust our instincts and become advocates for ourselves and our breast health,” said Fairley, Co-Founder and CEO of TOUCH, The Black Breast Cancer Alliance and More Than Just Words Advisor. “Demand the ‘golden rule’ standard of care from your providers. Be sure to ask for more time or clarity if your needs aren’t being addressed.” Black women should also feel empowered to change providers, consult with more than one doctor to get additional insight, and seek engaging communities, like TOUCH, The Black Breast Cancer Alliance, The Chrysalis Initiative, and information hubs, like More Than Just Words, for support and guidance.

“To learn more about the work we’re doing go to www.MoreThanJustWords.US. There you can find a guide to help prepare you for the breast cancer talk with your doctor,” said Kemps-Polanco. “Looking ahead, we will continue to share the experiences of Black women living with breast cancer and encourage others to get screened and understand their risk. We are also launching new resources to help health care providers facilitate more empathetic dialogue with Black cancer patients.”

Find out more about how to close the health equity gap and learn about resources by visiting www.MoreThanJustWords.US.

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