My Black History | Tyler J. Woodard, M.Ed, MD
February is my month to be intentional about reflecting on the contributions Black people provided our society. I also use this month to think about all of the unsung heroes who’ve personally helped me develop my passions for medicine. Their lives, their stories, their hurt and pain motivate me to continue to find better solutions to providing equitable care.
I was only five years old, growing up in the rural South, when socioeconomic confines and limited access to healthcare crippled my family. I vividly remember sitting in the pews at my cousin’s funeral and hearing my Aunt Judy weep with despair. Her daughter was my age and had died in a community hospital after a horrific car crash. The crash was not immediately fatal, but our small local hospital had not been equipped to handle my cousin’s injuries. Later that month, Aunt Judy was again in tears. Imaging obtained in the ED after the crash had demonstrated that she had advanced endometrial cancer.
My Aunt, like so many other patients I would come to know, had forgone the routine gynecologic care that could have alerted her to the presence of disease early in its course. Even as a child, I understood the depths of grief that enveloped my family during Aunt Judy’s cancer diagnosis and treatment; only later did I understand the role that social and economic inequities played in her story.
My family’s cancer story is not unique. I chose to pursue a career in gynecologic oncology because I saw how cancer changes the lives of everyone in the family unit. It is a reality that access to medical and surgical treatments can powerfully change outcomes. Black and Brown women in underserved communities deserve more opportunities for prevention and early detection. This conviction drives me to seek out solutions for better cancer care delivery.
I’ve lost many loved ones prematurely to illnesses that could have been managed better and detected earlier. I’ve used the pain of their deaths to fuel my passions for providing comprehensive cancer care to communities similar to my hometown. Aunt Judy’s cancer story is My Black History. In honor of Black History Month, I salute all of my personal fallen heroes for guiding me toward my calling and my purpose.
Tyler J. Woodard, M.Ed, MD is the Chief Resident in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology New York University Medical Center Gynecologic Oncology Fellow 2021-2024 | Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology Washington University School of Medicine.
This column is sponsored by an unrestricted grant from GSK. Sponsorship excludes editorial input. Content developed by the SGO Diversity, Inclusion & Health Equity Committee.