Malone: Katrina’s Legacy

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b2ap3_thumbnail_6856.pngThis summer, my father died; he was 89 years old and suffered from Alzheimer's. I loved my Father and miss him very much, but I am comforted by the fact that he lived a full life. He received excellent medical care until the end of his life, and he died comfortably in hospice. My father was of Irish American descent.

This summer my friend Katrina J. Dennis died; she was 40 years old and suffered from breast cancer. I loved Katrina very much and am haunted by the fact that her life ended too soon. She, unlike my Dad, did not receive excellent medical care, she did not die in hospice but instead fought for her life hoping to see a verdict rendered against her care provider. My friend was of African American descent.

Through the use of hospital records, depositions, and court testimony including the treating surgeon, Katrina’s attorneys contended her surgeon failed to refer her to an oncologist after surgery or effectively discuss her treatment options. Katrina acted aggressively after her initial diagnosis, undergoing a double mastectomy. Based on her discussions with her treating surgeon, she fully believed she was cancer-free- she was not, and only learned she was not cancer free after a visit to Patient-First to treat back pain. Within 22 months of surgery, Katrina went from curable Stage 0 to incurable Stage 4.

Medical journals thoroughly document the disparate medical treatment of African American women who have breast cancer in comparison to their white peers. From detection and prevention to treatment and survival, our medical systems fail black women deserving of effective treatment and care. Despite having similar incidence rates to white women, African American women are 42 percent more likely to die from the disease according to the American Cancer Action Network.
Maryland has recognized the problems African-American women face within the health care systems of our state. In 2016, the Maryland Comprehensive Cancer Plan stated:

Racial Bias is also believed to influence patient-provider communication, and the patient-provider relationship as evidenced by the IOM report that revealed that blacks or African Americans compared with whites with the same socioeconomic and insurance status are less likely to receive the same treatments for cancer.

This well-researched truth looms over Katrina’s passing; I do not believe a plausible, rational explanation exists as to why Katrina did not receive the follow-up care of an oncologist or further treatment after removal of her breasts. The why will never be known, but Katrina’s case should be instructive for anyone paying attention. Patients who are detected with breast cancer must seek guidance at each stage from actual oncologists who are certified by a medical board.

Additionally, Maryland’s healthcare community should take a step back and honestly examine Katrina’s case to determine what can be done in the future to prevent such tragedies. The Work of the MCCP must be implemented and safeguards put in place to bridge the racial disparities that exist in our State’s treatment of breast cancer patients specifically and African-American women in general. .

Katrina Dennis loved her life- she was blessed by a loving family, surrounded by an extensive network of friends, was an outstanding lawyer and socially aware, working with her Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and Links, Incorporated sisters to break the ingrained societal barriers women face in our City and State. Through an endowed scholarship at the University of Baltimore School of Law, Katrina’s legacy will continue with young lawyers who will continue her work.

Unfortunately, Baltimore will miss my friend Katrina Dennis- and there is no comfort in that fact.


Katrina J. Dennis Memorial Scholarship;


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