Olympian joins Eli Lilly to level the field for health inequity in breast cancer

U.S. Olympian and American high jump record-holder Chaunté Lowe is putting the same amount of passion and grit into helping level the playing field for Black women with breast cancer as she does with her sport.

Lowe, a breast cancer survivor herself, joins Susan G. Komen and Eli Lilly in a new multiyear collaboration to fight health inequality in breast cancer.

That inequality is so deep that Black women are 40% more likely to die from the disease than their white counterparts. There is a multitude of factors at play: difficulty in getting an early diagnosis, aggressive forms of the disease that are more common in the Black population, a dearth of quality care and discrimination and systemic racism

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Lowe’s relationship with Komen and Lilly began with her own reveal of her breast cancer, which she started posting on day one of her diagnosis—a “raw” video of her crying in her garage.

“It just started out by being so forthcoming with my story and talking about what happened to me, and having a true desire to see change in the medical world when it came to how African American women get information and how the outcomes of African American women are so abysmal at this point that we really want to do something to see that change,” she said.

Komen and Lilly’s plan is to focus directly on Black women with a breast cancer diagnosis and give them the resources and support they need in all areas of treatment. The partnership wants to provide culturally competent patient navigators who can help guide those in the Black community through the complex healthcare system to break down barriers to diagnosis and treatment.

Aiming to offer immediate and long-term help, the partners are zeroing in on three areas.

A virtual  "Navigation Nation" summit is planned for 2022, where patient navigators will receive training and education to help the community better overcome obstacles and better manage their breast cancer.

Patient navigation programs in Chicago, St. Louis and Indianapolis—three cities where disparities for Black women are strikingly high—will be expanded.

Further, the partners will support the national Komen Breast Care Helpline, which gives free advice from trained oncology social workers and offers help with finding local resources.

Health inequity is nothing new, but COVID-19 and the murder of George Floyd have brought the issue into the light, and more and more pharmas are committing to doing something about it. In addition to Lilly’s work, Merck has launched a project called "Uncovering TNBC" with the Tigerlily Foundation and other breast cancer advocacy groups focusing on the issues Black women face after being diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer.

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Lowe, a mother of three, is driven to help others dealing with breast cancer, especially Black women. She says not a day goes by that someone who’s been newly diagnosed doesn’t contact her on social media for advice, asking, “What’s next?”

“Being able to connect them with the Komen resources or being able to connect them to the Lilly website," she said, "is probably my greatest asset that I have now because I'm not a doctor, I'm not a medical professional, I'm not the one who has the expert advice, but being able to give them access to resources that I found early on has made a huge difference in my life."

I couldn't sleep at night knowing that I could have done something, and didn’t," she added

Lilly previously partnered with Lowe as part of an Olympic-themed corporate ad campaign in July.

Lilly’s breast cancer drug, Verzenio, first approved in 2017, just received an FDA nod as the first CDK4/6 inhibitor for certain people with HR-positive, HER2-negative high-risk early breast cancer.