TeMaya Eatmon is still surprised by her role as an advocate for, or supporter of, those diagnosed with breast cancer, and by her willingness to talk with others about her breast cancer experience.
An operations manager from Atlanta, TeMaya could not have imagined 1 year ago, when diagnosed, how central advocacy work would be in her life today. At the time she thought, “I want everything to be over and my life to go back to the way it used to be,” she says.
Her view now is much different. “I want it to be over with, but until breast cancer is eradicated, it won’t be over with.”
At age 36, TeMaya had been married for about a month when she noticed discharge from her breast. She contacted her OB/GYN who in turn sent her for tests. They didn’t reveal the problem, but she discovered TeMaya was pregnant. The discharge continued, but TeMaya was told it was associated with pregnancy.
A few weeks later, TeMaya miscarried. When she mentioned the continuing discharge to her doctor, she was sent to a breast center. A mammogram and ultrasound showed she had a papilloma, a benign (non-cancerous) breast growth. Surgery that had been scheduled to remove a uterine fibroid believed to have caused the miscarriage would now also involve removing the papilloma.
During the procedure, the surgeon discovered the papilloma was covering widespread ductal carcinoma in situ, cancer confined to the breast ducts. TeMaya then had two lumpectomies because the surgeons could not get clear margins, areas of healthy tissue around the DCIS. Still, after the second lumpectomy, the margins were not clear.
Finding Connections at C4YW
Knowing she had decisions to make, TeMaya accessed lbbc.org, our website, to look for information. There she learned about C4YW: Conference for Young Women, hosted by LBBC and Young Survival Coalition. She attended the annual event only 2 months after her diagnosis. It was the first time she had been around women affected by breast cancer like herself.
“For me to go and see other women who were young and hear the stories, that was amazing,” she says. “Even going to the breast center was overwhelming because I never saw other young women and, specifically, African-Americans.”
Conference presentations helped her understand how important a role she had in her own care.
“When I went to C4YW, I realized I didn’t have to just listen to my [first] doctor. I could get a second opinion,” says TeMaya. “If I hadn’t been to the conference, I wouldn’t be as comfortable with where I am now.”
Part of an inaugural group of 15 women at C4YW participating in LBBC’s Young Advocate program, TeMaya received information and training on ways to speak up for breast cancer issues and concerns—both personally and publicly.
“We were charged with what we could do when we got home. And I said the first thing I would do was advocate for myself,” TeMaya says.
True to her word, she returned home and sought a second opinion about what treatment steps to take next. She assembled an entirely new medical team, except for her medical oncologist, and decided to have both breasts removed.
Through advocating for herself, TeMaya realized inequities in care exist. Although she has health insurance, she began thinking about the women who are uninsured or underinsured and those who don’t have the disability coverage she does. “How would they fight to beat the disease?” she asks.
TeMaya also was acutely aware of the reluctance to discuss breast cancer among African-Americans, having experienced that unwillingness in her own family.
“My mother was shocked with the diagnosis and reluctant to share her daughter had breast cancer with other family members,” she says
Her advocacy efforts have now expanded from speaking up for herself to advocating for others. She is helping revive an Atlanta affiliate chapter of the Sisters Network, a national organization of African-American women affected by breast cancer. The group’s credo, “Stop the Silence,” reflects TeMaya’s own commitment to increasing breast cancer awareness and acceptance among African-Americans. She also participates in the local Young Survival Coalition’s Face 2 Face network.
TeMaya received science-based advocacy training in 2013 from Project LEAD, a program of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, learning more about breast cancer and research developments. As a LEAD-certified advocate, she wants to participate in more research-focused activities.
“It’s a whole different world when you start getting into the research. You learn so much more information you can share with people,” she says. “If they’re not pleased with their medical care, you can give them hope to see where there’s a possibility.”
She is using that training to help her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, work on breast cancer awareness. Her goal: “to get young African-American women talking about the disease, planning for prevention and getting out of the denial stage.”
TeMaya has other plans as well. “I hope to start a family in 2014,” she says.