Lack of Representation Leads Woman to Create Program for African-Americans Battling Breast Cancer

SACRAMENTO -- The last words Tammie Denyse expected to hear come out of her doctor's mouth  - "You have cancer."

"I just kind of went blank and went immediately into denial," she said.

What happened next was one of the most grueling experiences of her life. Through surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Denyse relied on her family, friends and church community for support.

But when she looked for local breast cancer support groups, she didn't find many other patients who looked like her.

"I actually ended up traveling to the Bay Area to find other African-American women who were surviving this disease," she said.

That wasn't the only place Denyse noticed a lack of representation. Her doctor asked her to be part of a clinical trial but couldn't tell her how Black women usually responded to the treatment.

"I said if there are no other Black women involved in this trial, there will be one and they will know about the one," Denyse told FOX40.

Denyse did her own research as well, but what she found was less than promising.

"Many people don't know this, but African-American women die at approximately 41 percent more often than Caucasian women, who are actually diagnosed more often," Denyse said. "And when I found out about those statistics, I said, 'That is absolutely unacceptable.'"

As Denyse fought through treatments to kill the cancer cells, an idea was born.

"I thought about Carrie's TOUCH. I wrote about Carrie's TOUCH. I started putting the business plan together while I was still going through treatment," she said.

When she came out on the other side, she put those plans into action and founded Carrie's TOUCH.

"TOUCH is teaching, outreach, understanding, caring, and hope," Denyse told FOX40.

For the past 10 years, Carrie's TOUCH has provided support and resources for locals battling breast cancer, but its biggest mission is education.

Carrie's TOUCH organizes events to make sure other African-Americans undergoing cancer treatment know there are other people out there who look like them.

"Because a lot of women will ask, 'What does it look like if you have a mastectomy?'" Denyse said.

Turning her pain into prevention, Denyse hopes helping more people start a dialogue about breast cancer will save more lives.

"But I'm saying, we've got to break the silence," she said. "Because the silence is actually killing us."