What does it take to be resilient in the face of adversity? Let Maysa Clay’s story paint an inspiring picture. The breast cancer previvor and Bright Pink Ambassador took charge of her healthcare journey practically as early as she was able to, seeking out genetic testing when she was 23 years old. She knew from a young age that she would need to have the testing done after her mother — now a two-time breast cancer survivor — found out that she had a BRCA1 mutation.
So can you imagine what a shock it must have been for Maysa when a genetic counselor discouraged her from taking the test? According to the medical professional, Maysa (a Black woman) didn’t need such testing because people of African American descent don’t get the mutation. Yes — an actual healthcare worker purported damaging theories that could have altered the course of Maysa’s life!
Fortunately, Maysa knew better. Much better. The personal experiences of her mother and Maysa’s own knowledge about early assessment led her to continue to take the reins of her health, in turn leading her to have her breasts removed in June — and now blossoming into the vocal breast cancer previvor that she is today.
Name & Location: Maysa Clay, St. Louis Missouri
How did you learn about Bright Pink and what inspired you to get involved?
I found Bright Pink when I was searching on Instagram for different hashtags for BRCA1. It felt like the right fit when I saw the level of diversity in women who represent Bright Pink and based on the interactions that the women who engaged with the Bright Pink Support Group had with one another. It truly felt like a sisterhood.
How has being a Bright Pink Ambassador impacted you?
Being a Bright Pink Ambassador has been an incredible experience! As a Bright Pink Ambassador, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to show younger and older women that they too can take control of their health. I also get to be a voice for Black women who have otherwise had their voices silenced by the health community. I was once told that I didn’t need to be tested for BRCA1 because Black women do not have this gene. If I had listened to that medical professional, I could have put my own life at risk. I am always excited to hear about women who take the proactive steps in their health journeys.
How would you describe the feeling of having your mother’s support as you went through your journey given than she is a two-time breast cancer survivor?
Truly a blessing! I know so many women who are battling this all alone and had to start from scratch! I am so incredibly blessed to have a mother — a two-time breast cancer survivor — as my foundation! My mother even connected me with her doctors. All of my doctors were absolutely incredible and so patient. They listened to me every step of the way! To have doctors actually care about your well-being is something I thank God for every day!
What do you wish people knew about what women of color experience and how they are treated by healthcare providers and systems?
I wish people knew that we deserve to be listened to! There have been so many times that my voice wasn’t heard in a doctor’s office and it has put my life at risk! I wish that the health of women of color wasn’t downplayed by providers. We are people first and anything can happen. We deserve the same love and care that other patients receive. Though women of color are warriors, we are not invincible.
What advice do you have for other women of color who may deal with adverse healthcare experiences as they try to do what’s best for their health?
Do not give up! You know your body and you know yourself! If something doesn’t feel right, then it isn’t right! I spent three nights in the hospital trying to explain to doctors that my skin was burning, my throat was on fire, I couldn’t breathe, and I couldn’t walk properly. I kept pressuring the doctors to help me when they kept putting me off saying that I would be fine. Turns out, I was having such a bad allergic reaction that it caused nerve damage on the left side of my body! Do not let someone downplay what you are feeling. That moment was a turning point for me to realize that if I don’t advocate for myself, no one else will.
How did you take care of yourself, especially from a mental health perspective, as you prepared for your surgeries? Did you have your double mastectomy and reconstruction surgery in June? How are you maintaining self-care since your surgeries?
It’s hard not to freak out when you know that you are about to have something so traumatic happen to you. So, I did freak out a bit. I just tried to stay as positive as I could, and I spoke positively to others about what I was doing. I told myself, “Everything is going to be okay and you are doing this so that you can have a better future.” My first words out of surgery were, “I DID IT, I DID IT!” I just kept telling myself, “You can do this!”
Today, I tell myself, “You did what felt impossible!” I am trying to get used to my new body and to be comfortable. Every day gets much easier. I remind myself how incredibly blessed I was to be able to have the surgery to give myself a better quality of life in the future! So, I am practicing a lot of gratitude!
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned over the course of your journey?
The biggest lesson that I’ve learned over the course of this journey is to be kind to yourself! There were so many times that I was down about my “healing” body, instead of breathing life into myself. I was so mean to myself because I hated the way I looked after surgery and I hated how much pain I was in. There were so many times that I wanted to give up. I have learned that the best thing you can do for yourself is to be kind to and love yourself no matter what. Pain is temporary; your life is infinite. Be kind to yourself always!