Ricki Fairley didn’t have time to slow down when she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer eight years ago.
“I was a crazy superwoman of the world, the breadwinner for my family, and the rainmaker for my company, working in marketing,” she said during a recent conversation; “I was on at least four planes a week working with clients all over the country.” As she told the Baltimore Sun this past May, she couldn’t let the diagnosis rain on her parade. There was too much work to do, including radio ads for one of her clients: President Barack Obama.
“Normally I get a check up around my birthday,” Ricki said, when recalling the day she learned about the diagnosis; “My mom is a breast cancer survivor and I had put off my check up by a few months. If I hadn’t done that, I would probably be dead because my cancer wouldn’t have shown up yet and triple negative breast cancer is very aggressive.”
The doctor found a lump under her nipple about the size of a peanut. She had a biopsy done, but hopped on a plane immediately after to take her daughter back to college and start another long business trip. “My doctor called me while I was going through the security line and said I had breast cancer,” she remembered; “She told me I needed to come home, but I had speaking engagements and client meetings. I remember sitting on the plane thinking: is this thing for real?”
Because Ricki was diagnosed as triple negative, a cancer with an exceptionally high mortality rate, she had no choice but to cancel her work plans and fly home immediately. She had a double mastectomy by choice, followed by six rounds of chemo and six weeks of radiation. “Back then,” she explained, “the messaging online said that if you had triple negative breast cancer you were going to die. A year to the date of my diagnosis, they found spots in my chest. They told me to get my affairs in order and said I probably had two years to live.”
Ricki told the doctor that wasn’t going to work for her, so she went back for more chemo.
“I did another four rounds and when they checked again the cancer was gone. We don’t really know why, but God intervened and gave me this chance and my purpose,” she added; “Now I work as an active advocate for breast cancer awareness.”
It was during her advocacy work that Ricki found out about Ciitizen through a college connection. “When I heard about what Ciitizen was doing, I was blown away because I had a ‘breastie’—that’s what I call friends with breast cancer—trying to get into a clinical trial at Sloan Kettering,” Ricki recounted; “It took us three weeks to get her records together to apply for this thing. We spent hours on the phone trying to get her scans from various hospitals. It was crazy. And then once she got preliminary approval, she ended up getting excluded anyway.”
For Ricki, having an organization like Ciitizen to help with all that heavy-lifting seemed like a godsend. “It would have saved us all that time,” she stated; “When I was sick, all my records were with Kaiser. But when I moved to Maryland I started seeing different doctors and my records were scattered.” She decided to try Ciitizen as an experiment to see if it could actually help collect her medical data on her behalf. “Within two weeks I had all my records in the same place and all I did was click,” she added.
As a result, Ricki continues to advocate for breast cancer awareness and for Ciitizen, encouraging patients to take control over their health data. “I’m starting a movement to help pharma understand that black breast cancer is a different disease. Our mortality rate is 42% higher than white women. We die at three times the rate.”
Ricki hopes that more black women with breast cancer will sign up for Ciitizen and share their data to improve research for patients like her. “When it comes to clinical trials, we don’t have enough data about black women. Unless you understand our physiology, we’re never going to crack this nut. We need to talk about it and bring it out into the open. It starts with the data.”
If you are a breast cancer patient, breastie or thriver, please visit ciitizen.com/rickifairly to join the Ciitizen platform and gain control of your health records. We need YOU to help defeat black breast cancer by participating in research. Ciitizen makes it easy. Please join me!!