If you are a person of a certain age, there’s a high likelihood that you once either emulated or had a full-blown obsession with one-time MTV veejay and host of BET’s Teen Summit, Ananda Lewis. Now 47, the former daytime talk show host has been laying low as of late, but on Thursday, she gave fans and followers some insight as to why—for the past two years, she has been battling stage 3 breast cancer.
As reported by Vibe, Lewis shared the news via an emotional video posted to her Instagram page, timed in tandem with the start of October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The revelation no doubt came as a surprise to many of those in Lewis’ inner circle as well, as she apologized for keeping the news to herself, acknowledging that the toll of a cancer diagnosis and her subsequent efforts to combat it were as much stress as she was willing to undergo as she wages the battle of her life.
“That phrase ‘Don’t talk about it be about it,’ that’s been my life for almost two years and honestly there’s nothing any of you could have done so I apologize if you felt like I excluded you,” she said. “It wasn’t personal, it was just something I needed.”
Now, Lewis feels the need to share her diagnosis with others, as she admits her own reluctance to get mammograms at the recommended age of 40 was “a mistake.” For context, Lewis explains she’d watched her mother have mammograms for nearly 30 years, only to still be diagnosed with breast cancer. Noting the correlation between the radiation exposure generated during a mammogram and other x-ray procedures and certain cancers, Lewis refused to undergo the annual exam herself until a self-exam and thermography revealed that she did, in fact, have a tumor
Now a mother of a 9-year-old son herself, Lewis still maintains that there is danger in repeated exposure to radiation, and has been heavily relying upon alternative and natural treatments and protocols to contain the spread of the disease. However, she now admits that her initial stubbornness cost her a crucial early diagnosis.
“What I didn’t understand, and what I need you to understand, the reason why I’m here telling you my business is because I would have had three or four mammograms by the time they caught it,” she says (h/t Vibe). “Instead, I’ve had to have 2 PET [positron emission tomography] scans so far. Guess how many mammograms worth of radiation a PET scan is. Anyone? 30! 30! So 60 mammograms! You do the math.”
There’s no telling how Lewis’ prognosis will develop from here, but what she now asserts is that she potentially cost herself years in treatment, as she “still [has] a lot of work to do” to eradicate the cancer cells from her body.
“If I had done the mammograms from the time they were recommended when I turned 40, they would’ve caught the tumor in my breast years before,” she continues, “and they would have caught it at a place where it was more manageable. Where the treatment of it would have been a little easier. It’s never easy, but I use that word in comparison to what I’m going through now. Instead, what I’m dealing with is stage 3 breast cancer that is in my [lymph nodes].”
“I need you to get your mammograms,” she urges.
Lewis isn’t wrong. The National Breast Cancer Foundation reports (pdf) that aside from skin cancers, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, comprising 30 percent of female cancer diagnoses, and meaning that one in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer in her lifetime.
In 2020 alone, the NBCF reports “an estimated 276,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the U.S. as well as 48,530 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer,” adding that an estimated 42,170 women will die of the disease this year. For Black women, the risk is especially high; though comprising just under 14 percent of the total female population (h/t Catalyst, Inc.) the Susan G. Komen Foundation reports that Black women nearly equal white women in the highest rate of breast cancer occurrences, with a 12 percent likelihood of diagnosis in their lifetimes. Black women under 40 also have higher rates of breast cancer compared to white women, and at every age, are most likely to be diagnosed with more aggressive triple-negative breast cancers (TNBC), which spread more quickly to lymph nodes (which can distribute cancel cells throughout the body) and are more difficult to survive.
This is why, as Lewis implores, early detection is key in not only identifying the presence of cancer but preventing its spread. While mammograms can be frightening—as can breast and lymph node biopsies, as this writer can personally attest after her own irregular mammogram—they are still the best forms of identifying what could be a life-threatening disease in its earliest and most vulnerable stages.
“I wish I could go back,” says Lewis, tearing up as she admits where she went wrong. “I don’t want to leave my kids, my friends, my family. Hell, I don’t want to leave myself! I like being here!”
But Lewis doesn’t want our sympathy; she wants our awareness and action. “I need you to share this with the women in your life,” she says.“I need you to tell [your friends and family members] that they have to do it. Early detection, especially for breast cancer, changes your outcome. It can save your life.”