Speaking with Emmy-nominated actress Yvonne Orji over the phone, we kick off the conversation with our shared “Y” names that are so unique it becomes challenging to find personalized items in places like gift shops.
“They always leave Yvonne out, but Yolanda is there; sometimes you can find a Yolanda,” she comedically observes.
However, while manufacturers of custom items may forget Yvonne, the comedic actress is on a mission to ensure that the healthcare industry does not forget Black women. She is raising awareness of triple-negative breast cancer by partnering with Merck and the breast cancer advocacy community.
TNBC results in 10-15% of all breast cancers and is an aggressive type of cancer that is difficult to treat, according to Merck’s press release. Compared to white women, Black women have a high probability of dying from the disease. Non-Hispanic Black women are estimated as twice as likely to contract TNBC than non-Hispanic white women, according to the data in Merck’s press release.
Orji holds a master’s degree in public health from George Washington University. She uses her expertise by narrating a three-part web docuseries, Uncovering TNBC, that features three inspiring women diagnosed with the malady – Tiah, Damesha, and Sharon. The docuseries shares the stories of these three brave women to raise awareness of the specific challenges Black women face with the disease. The program is accompanied with educational materials that provides the necessary tools to empower Black women to advocate for themselves when dealing with their healthcare providers.
“I know firsthand how important it is for Black women to take charge of their health and advocate for themselves. Data shows women in our community have a higher chance of developing TNBC, but we can take steps to help protect ourselves and our families,” said the actress. “I hope these stories uplift women with TNBC and inspire them to get the care they need.”
Oriji’s knowledge of how to educate, communicate, and promote health and watching her mother work as a nurse at Howard University for twenty-seven years growing up inspired her to close the health care equity gap.
“Merck sought me out, and I have a master’s in public health. So before Insecure, before the comedy specials, I was in Liberia post-conflict, working with youth populations. I did international health, I studied maternal and child health, also in school. So I’ve always been tied to the medical community or the public health community in some way, shape, or form. And whatever I align myself with something, it has to make sense, working with Black women telling their stories and making them aware that is just in alignment,” she says.
She continues: “It was just important to spread the word as much as possible [or] at least get people to ask their doctor, ‘Hey, am I at risk for this?’ Even having the ability to take ownership and be empowered to have those conversations when they get checkups, that’s why I was doing it because if you don’t know, you don’t know, but if you do know, you have an arsenal.”
Orji encourages Black women to educate themselves about the risks of developing TNBC, especially since they face healthcare disparities in the areas of inadequate breast cancer screening, insufficient access to treatment, preventive care, and educational information.
Black women must recognize risk factors such as their age, race, family history, benign mammary biopsies, genetic predisposition, weight, pregnancy after 30, and personal health history and discuss these topics regularly with their primary care provider, according to the Abramson Cancer Center.
Women can take specific measures to mitigate potential health risks by limiting their alcohol intake, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy body weight, keeping up with their yearly mammograms and additional screenings like MRIs, and following early detection guidelines.
Uncovering TNBC also provides additional strategies to help Black women overcome the obstacles they may face on their health journey. The documentary integrates culturally relevant, educational, and solution-oriented content intending to encourage patients from the moment of diagnosis to survival.
“Merck did an amazing documentary with three Black women who found out about it, got diagnosed with it, overcame it in their own way, and are being vocal about it in their communities. [There] are online resources, as well on the website, there’s a questionnaire for them. Even [if] you know the words to say, ‘Hey, print this out and take this to your doctor and just ask them these questions,’ so [women] can make sure [they] know what they are asking,” explains the Yearly Departed host.
For more information and resources, visit UncoverTNBC.com.