THE BLACK COLLEGIAN Online's featured blogger and columnist Al "The Inspiration" Duncan is kicking off the new year by posting a new interview and hosting a dialogue with Ulysses W. Burley III, at 24 already a noted cancer researcher. The timely new dialogue gives insight into the career path and mind of a young man who is passionate about confronting a disease that, he says, "affect(s) black people twice as much as anybody else."
This theme has been explored on the IMDiversity.com/BLACK COLLEGIAN network of sites a great deal in the deal in the past year, becoming more timely as the election year has resurrected the issue of universal healthcare and who's falling through the cracks of insurance coverage in America. The topic's also coming to the fore through the increased media coverage and national discussion of the particular challenges facing African Americans in battling cancer.
As Dr. Burley observes, these challenges to African American cancer sufferers receiving the attention and treatment they need are both internal and external, social and psychological.
In terms of research, he observes that "There aren’t enough African Americans going into research period, let alone cancer research." Further, "only 13% of African Americans" who aim for them "end up graduating with science and math degrees. Only 3% of us are going to pursue graduate degrees in science and mathematics."
In the interview, he suggests that ethnicity can affect both which types cancer certain groups disproportionately suffer from ... and which types can receive (also disproportionate) research focus and funds. He believes that the upcoming elections may bring national and government leadership focus back onto cancer research, not only because of the attention to universal coverage, but because several of the presidential candidates from both parties have had direct, personal experiences with and suffered tragic losses from cancer.
At the same time, he acknowledges that ethnic disparities in research and treatment are not only caused by external obstacles. If African Americans disproportionately from certain kinds of cancer, he saks, “why is this and what are we doing to intervene? I believe that if you want to change something you need to become a part of it."
He says that research careers can draw lower salaries than many other paths in the medical sphere, which may dissuade some African Americans from pursuing scientific research as a vocation.
Further, there may be a stigma attached to cancer that is prevalent in the African American community, as well as cultural and spiritual aspects to how many Blacks deal with the disease that may not be widely understood by mainstream healthcare practitioners. This was a topic recently highlighted in a new book, "You Have Cancer": A Death Sentence That Four African-American Men Turned Into An Affirmation To Remain In The “Land Of The Living”, co-authored by THE BLACK COLLEGIAN founder Preston Edwards Sr. and three of his longtime best friends. They learned they suffered from the same disease at the same time later in life. They discuss the spiritual and psychological aspects of fighting the cancer, as well as the stigmas and social issues that can prevent Black men with cancer from seeking and embracing needed treatment and attention. They also discussed the book this past week on an episode of Weekend Today with Lester Holt focused on African Americans and cancer.
In the spirited dialogue with Burley that followed the interview, many readers voiced their appreciation for the young doctor, not only admiration for his dedication and his life and work choices, but for how he stressed the importance of research.
In one response from the dialogue, however, Dr. Burley took care to stress that the need for African Americans to become advocates for community health and to pursue science degrees and careers was not limited to cancer research.
"To answer a question asked earlier, I do believe that cancer and cancer funding will become more visible in the upcoming elections. Currently candidates are solely casting their respective health care plans mainly because this is what we the people have asked for. Therefore it is up to us to demand more from them. I am hopeful that the primaries will reveal worthy representatives for both parties, and that the narrowing of possibilities will produce more focused and pronounced plans within health care, not only for cancer intervention, but global AIDS, child obesity, and diabetes to name a few. Until then, we must continue to be advocates through initiatives such as the ONE Campaign that allow citizens to apply pressure on the government through letters, emails, and phone calls of demand and concern."
Join the continuing dialogue with Ulysses W. Burley III at Al's blog.