Posted Oct. 1, 2008 – When a close girlfriend was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer at age 32, Gabrielle Union got into the ring, so to speak, with the disease.
“When you think of breast cancer, you think of it being a disease of your moms or your grandparents, not really a disease that can strike young women in their prime or who are otherwise incredibly healthy,” says the former model and actress of Bad Boys fame. “That was probably the most surprising thing.”
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And with that diagnosis, Union, 36, set to work to raise money for her friend for whom some of the treatment was not covered by insurance, and for other women. Eventually, Union became a spokesperson for the Susan G. Komen Circle of Promise, a campaign to create breast cancer awareness among Black Americans.
“I want to try to help African American women and women in the Diaspora overcome the shame and misinformation about breast cancer [and] get out the facts and the word about early detection,” Union says.
“Last year, there were 19,000 African Americans women newly diagnosed with breast cancer, and 6,000 deaths. Those are Third World country numbers. That’s unacceptable. We are not surviving it as well as other groups and that has to change.”
Union can be seen at rallies and walks pumping up the cause of breast cancer awareness. She says she makes a point whenever she speaks to remind women to get tested after age 40 or sooner if they have a family history of breast cancer.
“Any time I show up and there’s a mic in face, I spread the word about breast cancer. Sometimes it’s not exactly a breast cancer forum,” Union said, explaining that a “prime opportunity” presented itself recently during a Think Pink charity concert in Boca Raton, Fla., hosted by Akon and Queen Latifah. “I showed up and spread the word. I don’t waste any opportunity.”
But while she is encouraged by being able to lift up women, like her friend, who have survive the disease, one thing that troubles Union is that Black women still have a hard time talking about breast cancer, or acknowledging that it is a problem. The disease still carries a stigma, and Union says, that’s got to stop.
“What It comes down to is how we call our genitalia our private parts. And things that tend to happen in our private parts have that blanket of shame that’s thrown over it,” she says. “Boobs, everyone’s got them. There’s no shame in giving a self exam or going to the doctor. We touch our boobs for a lot of reasons. Let’s make saving our lives one of those reasons.”
Women need to get over the shame, she says, and check themself out if it’s going to save their lives.
“If there is a history of it in your family, don’t wait until you have insurance to get checked out. Get a mammogram ASAP,” Union says.” Talk to your friends. Talk to your mother. If we can take five minutes to vote for American Idol, we can take time to do a breast self exam and to talk about it and spread the word. It’s not rocket science, and it can literally save your life.”