Joyce Brown became her own advocate for breast cancer treatment

SHARE Joyce Brown became her own advocate for breast cancer treatment

Joyce Brown, Ph.D., has spent 40 years leading philanthropic and community organizations, earning a coveted Rosa Parks Award from her local NAACP chapter among other honors.

Yet doctors have refused to treat Brown during the two most vital moments of her life — during her heart failure 12 years ago and her discovery of Stage Zero breast cancer last year — launching her into patient-advocate passion mode.

The oncologist in the breast-cancer case instructed her staff to tell Brown that the doctor was refusing to treat Brown because the healthcare insurance was out of network.

“I had insurance. I went to the doctor and took medications regularly,” said Brown, of south suburban South Holland, who is now a published author and motivational speaker.

“I believe that some doctors treat patients as though they are imbeciles. You don’t know anything and they’re going to do what they want to do, regardless of what they are seeing,” Brown said. “You’re talked down to. You’re treated as though [the doctors] are all powerful and theirs is the only way to do things. That’s dehumanizing.”

Brown was having none of it.

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And not just because she had worked in leadership roles such as president and CEO of the Southwestern Michigan Urban League; regional director of the Kellogg Youth Initiative Partnerships for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and deputy director of the Tri-County (Peoria) Urban League.

She wants others to stand up for themselves, too.

Brown survived her heart failure with a new team of doctors and a heart defibrillator that ensures she suffers no irregular heartbeats.

She continued to keep her medical appointments, including getting yearly mammograms, despite, at age 73, being just shy of the age when most doctors recommend women quit having the breast examinations.

The mammogram showed that Brown had “zero stage” breast cancer, meaning that the cancer was contained within her right breast’s ducts.

After encountering doctors who again balked, she worked through a friend to find a doctor at Northwestern Memorial Hospital who treated her professionally. They removed the lump in her breast, making sure none of the radiation rays affected the defibrillator’s operation.

Brown then had 18 radiation treatments, and has recovered.

Her advice to others? “Get second opinions,” she said. “Keep being noisy. People like it when we’re quiet and just tell our girlfriends — but [they don’t like it when we tell] someone who can do something to change the trajectory.”

“We have to say, ‘This is not right,’ and this is how it can be changed,” Brown said. “Don’t stay with a doctor who is not serving you well. There is no shame in saying, ‘this does not work for me.’

“Women grapple with not just accepting but advocating,” she said. “You need to move on to find someone who will serve you in a way you deserve.”

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