Latasha Greer has spent a lot of her life caring for others. When she was young, she helped her grandmother take care of her sick grandfather, and these days, she works in patient care in her hometown of Detroit. On weekends, the Greers are a football family. Life has always been non-stop with work, school and a house she shares with her husband Charles and their five children. But in August 2015, Latasha was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). That’s when she hit the pause button.
Earlier that summer, she’d gone to the hospital with a lump she thought was caused by a blocked milk duct. She was thirty-four years old, had recently finished breastfeeding her youngest, and couldn’t imagine that breast cancer was a possibility. She had a biopsy, just to be sure, and brought her mother with her to hear the results. “When [my doctor] finally told me…everybody just faded away. My mom, she took a deep breath, and it’s like she sucked the air out of the room.”
Triple-negative breast cancer is an aggressive type that accounts for about 15 percent of breast cancers. Breast cancer cells can have receptors for estrogen and/or progesterone or have an excess of HER2 protein—things that people with TNBC lack. This makes TNBC particularly difficult to treat because hormone and HER2-targeted therapies don’t work in TNBC.
“Oh,” Latasha thought. “Lucky me.” Normally optimistic, and armed with the support of her family, Latasha still couldn’t help but think that a TNBC diagnosis was “like getting the short end of the stick.”
Latasha Greer didn’t know what triple-negative breast cancer was when she was diagnosed, and has since become an advocate for education and research.
After receiving her diagnosis, she found out that not only is TNBC difficult to treat, it also disproportionately affects African-American women and younger women. “And that’s something we don’t know in the community,” she says. That’s why it’s been especially important to her to advocate for African-American women who may face a TNBC diagnosis. She lives this out through her work with Young Survival Coalition (YSC), a resource and advocacy group for young women diagnosed with breast cancer.
Latasha lived without any sign of cancer for two-and-a-half years. Life got busy again as she raised her family and got a new job. Then, she began to feel a pain in her side. She couldn’t bend over or lie down. It even hurt to breathe. At first, she attributed the pain to the physical demands of being a patient care tech, and she was reluctant to see a doctor. “Who wants to go to into the hospital after you spend twelve hours there [for work]?” The pain wasn’t getting better, though, so she finally went in. The news was not good.
“Most of the time, I’m happy no matter what,” Latasha says. On hearing her new diagnosis, though, she broke down crying. She questioned whether she could “do this again…put my kids through this again…put my family through this again.” She’d come down a long, hard road already, and she knew her fight with cancer wasn’t over.
Tests showed that her breast cancer had spread to other parts of her body. “I was personally mad at the world,” says Latasha’s husband, Charles Greer. “The woman that I love and plan on spending the rest of my life with—why’s she got to be the one to get sick?” Charles began to rearrange his work schedule to be more available for his wife. He also had to reckon, emotionally, with the realities of Latasha’s new diagnosis. “Now I have to love her more,” he told himself. “I have to be with her more.” Having spent much of her life caring for others, it was time to let others take care of her. Their words, their work and their hope would keep her going.
Talking about her children, particularly her five-year-old, Latasha lights up. “She’s a dancer. She’s a cheerleader. She’s smart. I just want to be there for her.” Knowing, statistically, that TNBC could affect her daughters someday, Latasha continues to advocate for education and research. Though few advances have been made in 20 years, scientists are beginning to make inroads in understanding its biology. Latasha remains hopeful for new ways to treat this aggressive disease.
“Everything happens to me in August,” she says. “I got married in August. I got diagnosed in August. Had my bridal shower, my baby shower in August.” She doesn’t know what the next August holds, but she’s not thinking about that, for now. Instead, she’s gearing up for her son’s football championship. “I’m strong, and I believe that I’ll be here for a while. I have so much to do.”