Closing the Gap in Care for African-American Cancer Patients
Prevention & Treatment This mother of two is working to help others understand a disease that disproportionately impacts her community.
When Pat Conley was diagnosed with cancer in 2004, she remembers thinking: "Multiple myeloma? I've never heard of it before.” The Georgia resident had been seeing a chiropractor for more than a year to manage chronic pain, but when an MRI revealed a mass on her hip, Conley found out she had a type of cancer that is not only the second most common blood cancer in the world, but also twice as likely to affect African Americans than white Americans.
“I knew nothing about multiple myeloma,” she shares. “I had no information on my own about what to do. I knew that I needed to just follow the instructions, take the medicine, and try to stay faithful and positive."
Thankfully, as one of 10 children, Conley was able to call on her siblings to help provide the 24/7 care the doctors informed her the cancer would require. A connection to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) also proved vital, as they not only helped fund her treatment but connected her to a support group that, over years in both treatment and remission, has offered Conley tremendous comfort. “Support groups are almost as important as the medicine in terms of help through this disease,” she says.
Within a year of her diagnosis, Conley received successful tandem stem cell transplants but, despite no longer needing treatment, she felt a calling to help spread information about multiple myeloma to her community. “African Americans are affected by this disease more than any other group,” she shares. “Yet when I was going to clinics and into the doctor's office, I didn't see African Americans in the office. I didn't see them in treatment.” Now, she serves as a volunteer for Myeloma Link, LLS’s community outreach program to African Americans that launched in March 2017. The goal of the program is to close this gap in knowledge and care, connecting African Americans to support groups and clinical trials, providing financial aid and mobilizing a team of experts to offer information and guidance.
Now, after more than a decade, Conley’s cancer is back. But the mother of two is remaining positive, staying stress-free and viewing the recurrence — which doctors warned her from the start was a likelihood — as a chance to have a larger impact. With the help of LLS, she’s now enrolled in a clinical trial. “It is very important for me that I be a part of the clinical trials,” Conley insists, “because I don't want my children or my grandchildren to have to go through what I'm going through here. If I can help somebody, that old cliché, as I travel on, then my living will not be in vain. And so I think it's really important that we try to be a part of the cure.”