The pain nagged at Kiesha Harris. Then, the lump under her armpit swelled more.
At 34, the Maryland-born Harris, who lives in Columbia, seemed to know something that her doctors dismissed as nothing to worry about.
Harris had breast cancer.
However, because she’s young and had no family history of the disease, it was assumed that the lump would prove nothing more than uncomfortable aggravation.
“I was shocked when I was finally told it was cancer,” Harris said.
“I just wanted to know what steps were needed, and, of course, I wanted to know about chemotherapy and radiation,” she said.
Harris joined the 12 percent of women in the U.S. who develop breast cancer over the course of their lifetimes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2015, an estimated 231,840 new cases of invasive breast cancer have been predicted by experts, along with 60,290 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer.
Also, while white women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than African-American women, those diagnosed under the age of 45 are typically Black women.
“Two years prior to getting a second opinion, I’d tell my doctors about the lump under my arm, and they’d say because of my age and no direct family history I shouldn’t worry,” Harris said. “It got bigger, and I knew something wasn’t right, and when they finally diagnosed me I was fortunate because it was still fairly early in that I was at Stage 2 A.”
In January, Harris completed her chemotherapy treatments at Saint Agnes Hospital. Three months later, she underwent the last of her radiation. Now she’s focused on helping others.
“My mother asked me what was I going to do now, and I told her I needed some time to process everything but that I knew I wanted to help others,” Harris said.
“You’d be amazed at how many young women have the same story that I have, and this is clearly an issue. So, if we can have some sort of support to make sure young women get treatment and get the assistance they need, that’s what I want to do.”
Harris has put her words into action, starting a new nonprofit with a goal of assisting cancer patients.
“I started the New Pink Inc., an organization committed to helping recently diagnosed young women get through treatment by pairing them up with a “pink sister” breast cancer survivor,” Harris said.
“The organization recently hosted its first black-tie gala event at Morgan State University, and we had music, hor’dourves, a silent auction and a lot of fun.”
Already, the New Pink Inc. has hosted free health and wellness boot camps, and in December the organization plans a breast screening holiday party.
Future plans also include a mobile screening unit.
“I have two younger sisters, and I get choked up when I think of them,” Harris said. “The support system makes a world of a difference, and that’s what I want my organization to be – a means of support for those who may not have someone they can turn to.”
“I can’t imagine not having anyone there for chemo or radiation or any appointments. My mom and uncle never left my side, and through the New Pink Inc., we want people to know we’ll be there for them.”