Uncovered: How a new campaign is helping Black women come to terms with breast cancer surgery

Michelle Audoin sat in the doctor’s office in 2017 going over her surgical options.

Diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, the Toronto mother of two found herself sifting through copious pamphlets, desperate to find out what her body and scars would look like after surgery. But nearly all of the pictures available were of white women.

“I wished that there were other people who were of colour in the breast cancer community that I could reach out to and connect with because I just felt so alone,” she explained to CBC Toronto over the phone.

“One of the things that was really important for me was to see images of women who looked like me, black women, black skin going through a breast cancer reconstruction,” she said.

 “And it became abundantly clear to me that those images didn’t exist.”

The Uncovered campaign will make its way to cancer centres across Canada in the coming days. (Submitted by Nicole Simmons)

So, the 44-year-old teamed up with the charity Rethink Breast Cancer, and this week launched Uncovered — a campaign featuring eight women of colour sharing their breast cancer stories, and a series of images post surgery.

“I realized that, yes, there’s a whole group of people who are underrepresented and their voices aren’t heard,” Audoin said.

The images and stories were posted online on Wednesday.  MJ DeCoteau, the Rethink founder and executive director, says the response has been overwhelming.

We are making every effort to make sure that it’s in every single cancer centre in Canada and then also making sure a lot of us and other organizations in other parts of the world are aware of it.” 

DeCoteau hopes the campaign will address systemic racism within the health-care system by shedding light on Black women’s breast cancer experiences.

The booklet features eight women of colour, their scars and stories. Audoin hopes it will bring comfort to other women of colour diagnosed with breast cancer. (Submitted by Nicole Simmons)

“When you’re at the hospital, often if you’re newly diagnosed, you’re having to make decisions around breast reconstruction surgery,” she said.

“[There are] all kinds of resources booklets. But the health-care team might have to share with you challenges that those booklets do not feature or have really any pictures of black women and breast reconstruction surgery.”

Audoin struggled for years to accept her post-surgery body. 

“it was really hard to come to terms with the surgery that I was having … Both of my nipples were removed and replaced by scars,” she explained.

The campaign is aimed at addressing systemic racism within the health-care system by shedding light on Black women’s breast cancer experiences. (Submitted by Nicole Simmons)

Sharing her experience has proved cathartic and Audoin hopes the Uncovered campaign will now help other women of colour grapple with a breast cancer diagnosis.

“When a woman of colour, a black woman, walks in the doors and says, ‘You know, I’m dealing with this diagnosis and I have to have reconstruction,’ they can have this resource … and see themselves reflected and have some idea,” she said.

“What does breast reconstruction look like on black skin? What do the scars look like? What are other women living with? This can help them come to terms with their own surgical choices and their breast cancer diagnosis.”

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

BBIC logo 300×167 (CBC)

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