After Personally Witnessing Health Care Disparities, miR’s VP of People and Culture Marlene Heath Decided to Take Action Towards Equality for African American Men
By: Marlene Heath, Vice President, People and Culture, miR Scientific
The numbers tell the story.
In the United States, 1 in 9 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime.
For men of African descent, 1 in 7 will develop the disease.
African American men are also 76% more likely to develop prostate cancer than Caucasian men and are more than twice as likely to die from the disease.
As we celebrate Black History month, I cannot help but reflect on the critical need to continue to educate and promote health and wellness as they relate to cancer: the need for innovative and transformational solutions.
Too many times, access to quality healthcare coverage is limited in this community, my community. Starting treatment and completing treatment are often unmet milestones.
It is now 2022, and the words of Martin Luther King Jr. still resonate: “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.”
Through the years, there have been improvements in access to healthcare, but the disparities between African Americans and Caucasians are glaring.
In January of last year, my dear father “Big George” was experiencing increasing pain which became very hard to endure. He did not immediately see a doctor, he wanted to wait. Cultural barriers and limited access to healthcare alternatives, led him to try old Caribbean remedies, hoping it would ease the pain and he would recover.
When the pain became unbearable, he finally went to a primary care doctor and completed a full physical which included numerous blood tests and screenings. The wait came with a price and the late diagnosis had devastating consequences. Our fears were confirmed when he was officially diagnosed with cancer. My family and I went through a series of emotions: shock, anger, fear, denial and worry.
My primary concern was for my father; his mental health, well-being and how this new revelation was going to impact him. I was taken aback by his significant weight loss and glossy skin. I attended a few of his doctor’s appointments and chemotherapy sessions and witnessed the disparities firsthand. I also observed other patients interact with the staff and providers trying to navigate through healthcare barriers and challenges.
I distinctly recall one patient telling another: “you may as well go home and die if you have a certain insurance. Your income,” he said, “determines your outcome.” That was a very telling statement and it stuck with me. Inequality, when we all face equally life-threatening challenges, is not only a bad memory from our past, it is a reality so many are influenced by every day. A reality that literally affects lives.
“Not Everything That is Faced Can Be Changed, But Nothing Can Be Changed Until it is Faced”
After the chemotherapy was completed, the doctor informed us in a very matter of fact manner that there was nothing more medically that could be done. My father’s face was flushed, he dropped his shoulders and looked down. Big George, my once confident, brave, burly 6-foot 4 260-pound dad had the look of defeat in his eyes. I was struck by how insensitive it was and how limited treatment options were. I did the only thing I knew I had to do; I brought my dad home with me to care for him for his remaining days.
This was a very traumatic experience for my family and left me with a heavy heart. After my dad’s passing, I remembered a famous quote by James Baldwin, who said: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” I knew I had a mission. I was determined to be a part of something that would pay homage to not only my dad, but to our community.
Even in 2022, there are many factors to consider when it comes to healthcare inequality. Income disparities, lack of insurance, education, language barriers and access to resources.
At miR Scientific, I found hope. It became evident that the company’s goal and vision are parallel to my goals and new life mission. During Black History Month, as I remember the past, I'm proud to be part of the solution.
If detected early, prostate cancer survival rates are almost 100%. Late detection drops that to only 30% and yet, men are still reluctant to get tested. The current standard of care for prostate cancer screening involves invasive and dangerous processes and is a barrier for too many men in my community. In addition to cultural barriers and machismo, fear and suspicion, and with the low accuracy of the currently available screening, too many are simply avoiding it.
When so many African American men lose their lives to prostate cancer, miR Scientific shatters the cultural barriers with the miR Sentinel Prostate Cancer Test, which has no contact, and zero side effects. It allows all men to get a pain-free urine test that will provide quick and highly accurate results to help their doctor determine a tailored clinical pathway and help avoid the consequences of late diagnosis. It has the potential to finally close the inequality gap in prostate cancer care.
Remember the past. Change the future.