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Research Is the Reason I Can Still Make People Smile
Comedian Suzette Simon raises awareness of breast cancer disparities and research
When Suzette Simon found out she had breast cancer in her right breast after a routine mammogram, her first thought was: I’m sorry, mom.
“I knew my mom had had breast cancer, so I was always diligent about getting mammograms and staying healthy,” she said. “But when I got cancer, I was like, What did I do? What have I not learned from her experience? I didn’t want her death to be in vain.”
The New York-based comedian, producer, and founder of NY Laughs, a nonprofit that produces free comedy programming in public spaces, was diagnosed in January 2020 with stage II ER-positive breast cancer. She immediately kicked it into gear to find her care team, interviewing several oncologists and surgeons across hospitals.
“I was trying to do what my mom couldn’t,” Suzette said. “My mom was powerless in her situation, so I wanted to change that story.”
Suzette’s mom was first diagnosed with breast cancer about 30 years ago and had a unilateral mastectomy. At the time, she was uninsured, with unsteady work and a child to care for, so she didn’t get chemotherapy and radiation. Unfortunately, her cancer later returned and was metastatic. Suzette was living and working in Japan at the time.
“I didn’t know the extent of how bad it was until I got back—and she died within two months,” Suzette said.
For her own treatment, Suzette opted to have a bilateral mastectomy, during which her doctors found that her cancer was in her lymph nodes. Though she got conflicting opinions about whether she needed chemotherapy and radiation, Suzette—thinking again of her mother’s experience—told her doctors, “Give me everything you have,” and opted for the most aggressive treatment.
Suzette was shocked to learn about the disparities Black women face in breast cancer care and outcomes—from their higher mortality rate to the fact that they are diagnosed at younger ages and at later stages of the disease. So, she found a creative way to be turn her comedic talents into advocacy and activism. She’s making videos about her experience on social media (follow her @strongblackboobs on all major channels) and launching a platform, #STRONGBLACKBOOBS, to raise awareness about disparities and offer information and community to other women of color.
She also wants to support research and is currently participating in a study comparing side effects from photon and proton therapies while she undergoes radiation.
“Black women are getting breast cancer younger. They are dying from breast cancer, but it’s a needless death,” Suzette said. “We need answers. Research is how we’re going to find cures.”
Read more personal stories about breast cancer from BCRF’s Research Is the Reason campaign here.