Now Earls is asking questions, pulling her medical records because she is now experiencing pain in the right breast. On May 16, 2011 she received the news that she indeed had high grade infiltrating ductal carcinoma. She informed her daughter and daughter-in-law, and they had started asking questions of their medical associates. On May 26, 2011 the ceiling fell when she marched into the doctor’s office already aware of the fact that she had breast cancer but totally unprepared to hear him say, “put inflammatory in front of ductal carcinoma.” It is a very rare form of breast cancer that is not detected by mammograms because there is no lump in the breast; the cancer cells travel in the ducts. As a woman of color the prognosis is grim; there are only three documented African American women alive who have inflammatory breast cancer. It is very aggressive--the survival rate is 40%--and instead of the five year life span afforded by other forms of breast cancer this type cuts that expectancy to 2 and 1/2 years. Earls had immediate removal of the right breast, high dosages of chemotherapy, radiation and endocrine therapy, which is basically chemotherapy in pill form.
Searching for answers why the death rate for African American is greater than the death rate for Caucasian women has led Earls and her daughter to start a non-profit organization, “Fighting 4 the Tatas.” Since she lost her private health insurance, her business and home, she is acutely aware that cancer care must extend beyond just raising funds for research; that is important, but Earls is part of an email network of 1500 women with inflammatory breast cancer, and she is the only African American woman in the group.
Coping with a cancer diagnosis is devastating and frightening. Earls’ purpose in raising up the organization is to function as a resource center, offering assistance with utilities, helping women to feel positive about the image that stares back from the mirror; knowing what questions to ask the doctor, getting their medical records, and the clinical notes the doctor wrote; all of these can determine whether they can qualify for assistance.
Because this type of cancer is lumpless, many younger women are dying from it, because by the time they are diagnosed it has taken full control of their bodies. These are all flaws Earls hopes to address for other women, as she continues to tread softly, determined to live. In addition to the disease, she is fighting the stereotype attributed to women of color, that is, that they don’t get the life scans, they don’t follow up etc. Earls states that at age sixty she was dutiful to get mammograms, was eating healthy, exercising regularly and keeping a positive attitude.So that's why Fighting 4 the Tatas was created!