116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
India Snow-Watt always has a plan. She is known for meticulous organization, her ability to come up with solutions in the moment, and her compassion.
While in the midst of doula training, leading her team of family support workers at Lutheran Services in Iowa, serving on Cedar Rapids’ Citizen Review Board and building her personal executive assistant business she got a phone call that changed her life - India had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Unlike many people who receive this call, India was not surprised.
“I have a family history of breast cancer - both my aunt and my grandmother had it, and there is also carcinoma on my father’s side. I knew I had the gene. To be honest, the only reason I was able to get a mammogram was because I demanded it.”
India had an order for a mammogram in hand, had the gene for breast cancer, and had a family history. However, when she contacted a local healthcare provider to schedule an appointment, they were resistant.
“Even with all of these risk factors, they kept questioning me. If I had gotten screened at 29, if they had detected it earlier, I probably would have had a different experience. Because they made me wait, it started spreading to my lymphatic system and that may be ultimately why I have to do chemotherapy.”
Black women tend to be diagnosed earlier with breast cancer than white women, but are less likely to receive adequate treatment despite advancements in early detection and screening technology. India made five attempts before the clinic relented and scheduled her mammogram.
On a sunny afternoon in May, India was working remotely in her southwest Cedar Rapids home.
“I pulled my laptop closer, and my phone rang. The person on the line said ‘I’m sorry, but you have cancer. We are waiting on pathology to determine the plan for treatment.’ I called my aunt and my sister right away.”
Having spent several years working in mental health-related fields, India made an intentional effort to sit with the emotions that flooded her immediately after her diagnosis.
“I knew if I tried to suppress or deny those feelings, the emotions would inevitably still exist in the end and they would manifest worse than if I had just processed it in the moment. So, I sat with it. I allowed myself to feel those feelings, to talk with people who love me, and to find ways to cope. Journaling was so helpful in those first few days.
“My employer offered doula training for free - and the first birth I attended, I was hooked. I knew I wanted this to be part of my life. When I got diagnosed, I was grieving - I want a family, and now I know I will never breastfeed. Will I even be able to have kids at all when my treatment is over? I don’t know that yet. I am two births away from being a fully trained doula, and I wasn’t sure that I could handle watching other women bring life into the world when I don’t know if that is going to be possible for me.”
When India’s pathology report came in two weeks later, she was relieved to learn that she had the most common - and the most curable form of breast cancer. As is her nature, she formed a plan.
“I had all of these options for surgery - and I knew exactly what I wanted. I had done my research, made a decision, and informed my care team. I was told I couldn’t have that procedure, and the surgery fellow who broke the news was so dismissive and rude about it. There was a mirror in the room, and she kept looking at herself in the mirror while she was talking to me. I was so angry and frustrated, because I had come up with a plan, and now I was losing control of that too.”
What gives you hope?
“My family. My support system. My sister lives in North Carolina, and came to stay with me until my first round of chemo. I am staying with my aunt right now, because she lives closer to the hospital and it’s so much easier to get to medical appointments. My best friend - I have great people in my life. I know that the impact I have made in other people’s lives is what makes them want to be there for me now, and that karma has been helpful to me as I recover.”
India’s own traumatic experiences led to both her line of work and how she has handled diagnosis and recovery. She leads a team of family support workers working with marginalized populations in Benton and Tama county.
“I have a great job. They care so much about me and about my wellbeing.”
As a Black professional in Iowa, that is such a rare statement. What does your employer do that has created that kind of trust and supportive environment?
“Cultural competency is built in as an intentional component of every training. They want us to be self aware and cognizant of our own bias when we interact with clients. It’s important that we approach the work with the right mindset - understanding that every family is different and they are helping us learn how to provide the best service to them. There is also a specific framework called “parallel process”. LSI is modeling the way they want staff to interact with families by incorporating those behaviors into how they engage with staff. If my supervisor is giving me correct reflections then I’m giving that to my team. When my staff goes out to perform home visits, they are giving those same values and behaviors to parents, then parents are giving it to their child.”
It seems so common sense. India - you always have a plan. What are you planning?
“I have learned so much about mindful self regulation, about taking the time for self care and self love. I want to advocate for that. For radical self-love.”
For women in Iowa, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis.
Every two minutes, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S.
Screening mammograms decrease risk of mortality.
Black women are more likely to die from breast cancer at any age.
The African American Breast Cancer Alliance is dedicated to educating and supporting African Americans in their journeys with breast cancer and survivorship.
For more information or to donate, visit https://aabcainc.org
Sofia DeMartino is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: email@example.com