As a family medicine physician and a Black woman, I have borne witness to countless stories that vividly illustrate the remarkable strength and resilience of Black women as they confront and conquer health challenges. Their stories unfold to reveal that courage, determination, and the embrace of a supportive community can surmount even the most formidable trials.
Through the complexities of their journeys, Black women have navigated a landscape that stretches the very limits of human endurance, all while emanating grace and resilience. As we collectively peer into the lives of some extraordinary heroines, I stand as both advocate and ally, highlighting their narratives and amplifying their voices. Voices that echo those of my patients.
Her Health Odyssey
These compelling stories offer a window into the tenacious spirit of Black women as they triumph over their health conditions, serving as a wellspring of inspiration to us all.
Robin Roberts: From her anchor seat on Good Morning America, Roberts emerges as an inspiring icon, fearlessly confronting breast cancer and myelodysplastic syndrome—an abnormal blood cell production—in the public eye. Her candid conversations about her health battles, delivered when she spoke at the Cure’s Extraordinary Healer event and discussed in an Eyewitness News interview with anchor Shirleen Allicot, harmoniously blend with her influential media presence. She transformed her platform into a megaphone, not only for sharing her own narrative, but also for emphasizing the importance of early detection, bone marrow donation, and advocating for holistic health and well-being.
Taraji P. Henson: This celebrated actress has fearlessly laid bare her mental health journey. In a compelling feature published by USA Today, she delved into the depths of anxiety, depression, and even grappled with thoughts of self-harm during the pandemic. In 2018, she took the remarkable step of establishing the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation as a tribute to her father, who faced post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder. This foundation now stands as a vital source of mental health support for the Black community, extending a lifeline to address critical needs and fostering healing.
Viola Davis: “I was shocked,” Davis recalls. “I didn’t know what to do.” The acclaimed actress channeled her astonishment into a powerful vehicle for change. Through her narration of A Touch of Sugar, a documentary about diabetes, she leveraged her influence to champion diabetes awareness and healthier lifestyles. Her efforts resonate beyond her own illness, addressing the stigma linked with the disease and emphasizing the gravity of diabetes.
Serena Williams: No one believed the tennis legend. A mere twenty-four hours after becoming a mother, she was gripped by shortness of breath. Drawing from her past encounters with blood clots, she recognized the ominous signs of a life-threatening pulmonary embolism. Necessitating urgent surgery followed by six weeks of rigorous bed rest, her determination to advocate for herself became her life support. She has bravely spoken out about her experience in an interview with Vogue. On another deeply personal note, in an Instagram post, Williams revealed her struggles with post-partum emotions, emboldening Black women to assert their own health and shedding light on significant health issues affecting women.
Sheryl Underwood: This renown comedian and co-host of The Talk tells her journey of uterine fibroids and its unexpected twists. Her decision to have reconstructive surgery for conception, and eventually a partial hysterectomy, brought unforeseen bladder complications and leakage. Undeterred, she transformed her adversity into opportunity to normalize and advocate for solutions to the challenge, embracing her role as a spokesperson for Depends’ “Underawareness” campaign.
Tamron Hall: At age 48, this notable television host kept her pregnancy a secret. Why the secrecy? Her journey to motherhood was far from straightforward. In an episode of People’s podcast, Me Becoming Mom, she boldly revealed her experience with infertility and the heart-wrenching fear of potential pregnancy loss. Her transparent conversations around this often unspoken topic create a sense of solidarity and empower other Black women to proactively seek help for their reproductive health, rekindling renewed hope about motherhood.
Dr. Bernadette Anderson (me): The adage, “Physician, heal thyself,” hits home for me. I wasn’t feeling well at all. I had tests and exams, and the results turned up nothing. But I knew in my gut that something was off. I took a step back and reevaluated my own symptoms, which lead to ordering a prolactin hormone level test. The results proved my intuition right – positive. Further exploration, through an MRI of the brain, showed the presence of a prolactinoma–a benign pituitary gland tumor–shedding light on the underlying cause of my missed menstrual cycles, headaches, and eventually milky breast discharge. This made me look closer at the complexities within women’s health, and the importance of following up on symptoms that don’t have a clear explanation.
A Call-to-Action: Elevating Black Women’s Health Together
These stories transcend personal victories, each serving as a resounding call-to-action, an impetus for change, and an impassioned rallying cry to unite in uplifting Black women’s health.
You can play a meaningful role in advancing this vital movement while authentically honoring the fortitude and determination of remarkable Black women by engaging in the following actions:
Amplify Their Voices: Use your platform, whether big or small, to amplify the voices of Black women advocating for better health. Share their stories, engage in conversations, and help raise awareness about the unique challenges they face.
Support Relevant Organizations: There are numerous organizations dedicated to improving Black women’s health and addressing health disparities. Consider supporting initiatives like Black Women’s Health Imperative, dedicated to elevating the health of Black women. Or, Black Girls Smilewhich drives change through campaigns, events, and advocacy that de-stigmatize mental health issues. Similarly, you can also contribute to groups dedicated to diabetes awareness, cardiovascular health, and related causes.
Educate Yourself: Take the time to educate yourself about the specific health issues that affect Black women, including disparities in access to healthcare. Understanding the root causes of these challenges is crucial for informed advocacy.
Advocate for Policy Change: Support policy initiatives aimed at addressing health disparities, improving healthcare access, and promoting equitable treatment for Black women. Use your voice to advocate for change at local, regional, and national levels.
Prioritize Your Health: Remember that advocacy starts with self-care. Prioritize your own health and well-being, and inspire others around you to do the same. Your journey can serve as a testament to the transformative power of resilience.
Celebrate Diversity: Recognize and celebrate the diversity within the Black community. Health challenges and experiences vary, and acknowledging this diversity is crucial for developing effective strategies for improvement.
Chronicles of Black Women’s Wellness and Strength
The threads of resilience intricately woven through these courageous health journeys remind us that adversity is no match for the unwavering spirit of Black women. As their stories echo in our hearts, let’s stand united, inspired by their strength, and committed to fostering a world where the well-being of every Black woman is cherished and celebrated. In honoring their bravery, we illuminate a path forward—one paved with empathy, advocacy, and the unbreakable bond of shared humanity that bind us as a global community.
Dr. Bernadette Anderson is a wellness curator, author, and founder of Life in Harmony LLC, an innovative, intentional, action-oriented approach to well-being based on the principles of lifestyle medicine. She is the recipient of the Most Innovative Mental Wellness Programming Provider 2023—Midwest USA by Global Health and Phrama. In the category of Well-Being, her book, “Fulfilled. 52 Prescriptions for Healing, Health, and Happiness,” has received the 2023 New York City Big Book Award.
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