Dr. AnnMarie Ledley DO, FACOG(on left, her mom, Ms. Ledley on right) "He himself bore our sins" in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; "by his wounds you have been healed" (1Peter 2:24 NIV). Do you sometimes feel “unheard”, like God is silent when you’re screaming your loudest about emotional and or physical pain? Ever feel like you’re suffering in silence when you deal with hard things in life? If so, you’re in good company. Many of us do this. But the Bible tells us that Jesus bore all of our sins, pain and disappointments so we didn’t have to carry the burden alone. So, whenever you feel like giving up, don’t. Ever. Suffer in silence.
As a physician and a woman of color, I have sometimes felt “unheard” when my health concerns were not taken seriously, or they were discredited. But as a practicing OB/GYN for over twenty-five years, I know we can only change the tide of racial bias in medicine by doing the following: 1.) Promotion of self-education 2.) Changing legislature to ensure the provision of healthcare equity 3.) Using our voices and votes to speak up. The bottom line is this; we must never—suffer in silence. My firsthand experience with the American healthcare system transpired shortly after I immigrated to the US from Trinidad. I initially went to the doctor because of crippling abdominal pain. The physician dismissed my symptoms as nominal and a way for me to avoid school. However, my mother and I later learned my condition was called dysmenorrhea, a real medical issue that is easily fixable. During my first year as a medical student I learned about Preventive Care Examinations. This is when you see your healthcare provider for a screening examination. I equated this in my mind as an annual “tune-up.” I quickly started to tell my immediate family about getting “tuned-up.” I stressed the importance of getting their blood pressure checked, cholesterol evaluated, and specifically for the women, pap smears and mammograms. At the age of 48, my mother agreed to get her annual “tune-up,” with the addition of a mammogram. The results came back suspicious for breast cancer. A biopsy later confirmed that diagnosis. My mother chose not to undergo a mastectomy, and instead opted for a lumpectomy. She expressed that she never had a part in her own healthcare decision making because the doctor did not provide her with opportunities for input, neither did he provide additional options. My mother took her health into her own hands and did her research to find an expert who could provide data on effective, holistic treatments. She found an African-American surgeon who gave her viable options and heard her concerns. She had radiation treatment but later stopped chemotherapy due to its side effects. Additionally, my mother found supported faith and healing through the power of newfound Christian beliefs and community. She even transformed her diet, environment, and mindset, as a path to holistic healing. As a result, my mother has been cancer free for almost 30 years. When my mother was diagnosed, the statistics demonstrated that 1 out of 12 women got breast cancer. But today’s statistics reflect that 1 out of 8 women will get breast cancer during their lifetime. The reality is female minorities are more likely to die from breast cancer and their diagnosis occurs usually below the age of 45. There are different guidelines between ACOG (American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology), ACS (American Cancer Society), and USPSTF (US Preventive Task Force). The guidelines that physicians follow depends on their area of specialty.
The CDC reports that African-American women are 40% more likely to die from breast cancer than Caucasian women and female minorities are also more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage or at a younger age. Despite the improvement in death rates for women with breast cancer, there are huge disparities between women of color and their White counterparts.
The fact of the matter is, the examples shared in both my personal experiences as a minority female OB/GYN, and in the data regarding one form of disease, are merely microcosms of how a significant issue divisively inhibits the inclusion of quality healthcare, equitably. It is therefore, our responsibility to educate and equip ourselves in regards to our health and the healthcare system as an entity. Together we will decrease late-term diagnosis for terminal diseases and increase our survival rates. As a Christian doctor, I believe medicine and the belief that God hears and heals us is the perfect union. Armed with God’s word, prayer, knowledge and the ability to implement actionable steps, we will stop suffering in silence!