As part of our activity for Black History Month, we hear from Leanne Pero, award-winning breast cancer survivor and community activist on a mission to empower people of colour through their cancer diagnosis. Read on to find out about Leanne’s personal cancer story, her mission to address the gaps in cancer care, and how Macmillan is supporting the Black Women Rising project.
Leanne Pero was just 30 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2016, and only six months after her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time.
"I was fit and healthy. I was a successful business owner. I had a dream job at the world-renowned Pineapple Dance Studios. I was at university getting my business management degree. I was finally happy.
“My consultant said: 'I’m not going beat around the bush, unfortunately we have found cancer'. When I heard those words, I went into a state of panic and anxiety. I had a few days to handover my business of 15 years, defer my place at university and cancel all commitments for the foreseeable.”
Leanne undertook a gruelling eight months of chemotherapy, three operations to remove both her breasts, and 18 months of targeted therapy.
"No matter how many wonderful people you have around you, cancer is a lonely journey. I couldn’t shake the sense of shame around my diagnosis so only very close family and friends knew.”
During this time, she saw first-hand how mainstream cancer services didn’t provide adequate support for Black and ethnic communities. An absence of BAME cancer stories in the media, and myths and taboos within the community, had also contributed to a lack of education and awareness around cancer, its signs, and symptoms.
“Nothing prepared me for the aftermath of my diagnosis and the severe mental health impact of my ordeal. When I returned to the same hospital that treated me and asked for help, I was told by my breast care nurse, ‘you're a smart girl, go and look on internet’. As unhelpful as that advice was at the time, I did just that. And what I found there is really what has led to my ‘accidental’ work and role in the cancer community.
Leanne made it her mission to address the gaps in care for people of colour with cancer and, in 2017, set up her own project, which started out as a monthly support group bringing women together to support each other.
"I began to interact online with many women who, like me, were struggling with depression, trauma and isolation. I felt overwhelmed with how many stories echoed my own experience, so I created the Black Woman Rising support group to provide a free, safe space for women of colour to come together and talk openly and frankly about their cancer battles.”
"From there I set up my own cancer charity, ‘The Leanne Pero Foundation’, and then the UK’s first ever all Black female cancer exhibition, Black Women Rising – The Untold Cancer Stories, aimed at spreading some much-needed awareness amongst the BAME community.
Since then, the charity has gone on to run two podcasts, a magazine, and the Black Men Rising project, but the heart of the project is the monthly support groups that can have up to 30 attendees at a time.
“I'm very proud of what we've achieved but we are so small, and we recognise we cannot do it alone. Partnerships and collaborations with the larger charities and small organisations like ours who specialise in support and supporting specific underrepresented groups is key.”
Supporting the Leanne Pero Foundation
Macmillan is supporting The Leanne Pero Foundation through a grant of £100,000 to bring on three new employees to support the sustainability of the charity and its projects for the next 12 months.
This includes a second edition of their magazine being launched at the Houses of Parliament in November 2022, providing three more monthly online support groups and a dedicated phone line for its service users in January 2023.
This will help Black Women Rising create more opportunities to support and empower people of colour within the cancer community.
This is just one example of how we’re working in partnership with expert, grassroots organisations to improve the support available for underrepresented groups of people living with cancer.
If you need support with your diagnosis, or have any questions, please call our Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00. They are open every day 8am - 8pm and offer confidential support to people living with cancer and their loved ones.