Emmy-nominated actress Yvonne Orji is leveraging on her celebrity platform and background in public health to spread the word about triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC).
Teaming up with the “Uncovering TNBC,” campaign which aims to raise awareness of triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), sharing survivors stories she also opened up on having to do a surgery earlier upon noticing a lump in her breast.
“Triple-negative breast cancer is cancer that tests negative for estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and excess HER2 protein. These results mean the growth of the cancer is not fueled by the hormones estrogen and progesterone, or by the HER2 protein.” According to breastcancer.org.
Triple-negative breast cancer has a higher prevalence rate amongst black women as they face three-fold increased risk and are more likely to die from the disease compared to white women with the same disease. Lack of access to quality healthcare: early diagnosis, treatment options-, surgery and chemotherapy and adequate information are limiting factors affecting women of color.
Opening up on her ordeal, the 37 year old actress said her first experience with breast cancer was when she was 17 years old when she found a lump in her breast and had it surgically removed, she learned that it was benign.
“It’s scary because you’re a senior in high school and you’re like, ‘I could have had breast cancer.’ Thankfully, it was benign, but it’s still kind of this thing of every once in a while, I’m like, still feeling there,” the comedian said. Although she has plenty of movies and TV shows dotting her resume, Orji is better known for her role as Molly Carter on the HBO series “Insecure.”
Orji hadn’t started out as an actress/ comedian, her first delve was medical school, which eventually settled in public health. Drawing from this background, this led to the recent partnership with Merck’s new program called “Uncovering TNBC,” bringing spotlight on the experiences that Black women face when diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC).
When it came to sharing their experiences with Orji she says she was startled by the irony that they were a bit starstruck.
“It’s so funny. When I went to talk to them, they were looking at me like I’m the star, and I’m listening to their stories, and I’m like, ‘No, you all are the real MVP, this is your life,’” Orji told Healthline.
“I play characters on television, I do make-believe and you all really set into this very hard season of your life, you overcame, and then you had the audacity to make sure other people who come after you who could possibly be experiencing the same thing, had access to things you didn’t even have? Brava, brava, like ‘the award goes to you guys,’” she said.
Orji sat down with Damesha, Sharon, and Tiah, three women opening up about their experiences with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), for three short documentary films, each detailing their health journeys with this aggressive form of breast cancer.
The films are part of “Uncovering TNBC,” an awareness campaign from Merck in partnership with breast cancer advocacy organizations like the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation, Tigerlily Foundation, Living Beyond Breast Cancer, and Susan G. Komen.
As the ambassador of the campaign, Orji said it is important to use her platform to spotlight a form of breast cancer. She hopes the aim of drawing lens on these stark realities which exist as well as empowering Black women, particularly with the affirmation that their stories matter and it’s crucial to stay on top of routine cancer screenings is achieved.
“Again, if you’re like me and didn’t even know this was a thing, the campaign lets you know ‘this is a thing’… this is your moment to know this disease exists,” Orji stressed.
She pointed out that the campaign is hoping to make more people aware that TNBC exists as a more aggressive form of breast cancer. The initiative also aims to empower people to get screenings and schedule regular check-ups with their doctor to gain better understanding .
“So, it’s not kind of like, ‘Ah man, if I only had gone to the doctor 6 months ago.’ No! We’re not here for that,” she said.
“It’s so empowering to hear their stories, but on the other hand, I’m so over it because it’s like, these shouldn’t even be stories,” she said, adding that access to good quality healthcare should be a right. “You shouldn’t have to wonder if your healthcare professional is going to give you all the information that should happen if you get a diagnosis like this.”
Orji said the women she spoke with for this docuseries affirm a paradigm of “‘Yay Black women! You are strong, you can overcome, all is well,’ but it’s like, why do we have to keep overcoming?
“Why do we have to keep being so brave, being so bold? It’s just like, are we even allowed to be sick and trust that the systems in place will take care of us and bring us back to health?’ No, we can’t. We can’t have no days off. It’s very exhausting, actually,” she added.