December 05, 2022
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This is When You See Us, a series in partnership with our friends at For the Breast of Us, highlighting the experiences of Women of Color in the breast cancer community. Together, we believe that hearing the stories of women who look like you and can relate to your experiences has the power to foster community, power — and hope.
Since getting diagnosed with breast cancer 4 years ago, I’ve said that cancer didn’t happen to me — it happened for me. This experience has helped me find my purpose and understand what I’m supposed to do in this life.
I’m constantly on different platforms on social media, I’m an ambassador at For the Breast of Us, and I’m always getting the word out about early detection and being there for yourself. If you don’t feel peace in your heart about the diagnosis you’re given, don’t stop until you feel like you have the right answer. Speak up.
Thinking about the way I was treated and hearing the stories of others who have been treated the same way makes me beyond angry.
I’m a single mom with four kids, and getting the right diagnosis isn’t just about me. Fighting for my life isn’t only for me. Realizing that gave me the drive to stand up for myself and for others, and I thought: “Something has to be done, this isn’t right, and women shouldn’t be dismissed this way.”
My story isn’t unique. I’ve met plenty of women who say, “My doctor won’t listen to me,” or “I had a question, and they wrote me off,” and my mission is to reach these women and help them see that they have power. They can be advocates for their health.
Three days after Christmas in 2018, I went to the doctor because I was experiencing shortness of breath. They said it was adult-onset asthma or respiratory syncytial virus.
The only reason I was diagnosed with cancer was that the ER doctor decided to do one more test “to be safe.” It was a CAT scan with contrast, and that’s when my body lit up. It was full of cancer. A couple of days later, when I saw an oncologist and got a biopsy, I was told it was stage 4 and metastatic.
This kind of initial misdiagnosis wasn’t the first I had, unfortunately. In 2015, I found a lump in my left breast and did everything I was supposed to do: I followed up with my doctor, then went to a specialist. But I was dismissed. They said because I was a young Black woman, it couldn’t be breast cancer.
If you don’t feel peace in your heart about the diagnosis you’re given, don’t stop until you feel like you have the right answer.
I do think if I’d been properly diagnosed at that point, and if they had done their job, I wouldn’t have been lying on the floor at Christmas 3 years later, clapping my hands to get my children’s attention because I couldn’t speak. I doubt I would have been stage 4 and that the cancer would’ve spread as much as it did.
When I was finally diagnosed, the reason for the shortness of breath was that the cancer had metastasized to both of my lungs. I was only at about 50% capacity. It was also in my bones, spine, and part of my pancreas.
I’m a very faith-based person, and in the midst of this, I heard God tell me that he would heal me backward. By that point, I was already on oxygen, and I decided I was going to be a living, walking testimony. Those are the words I’m going to stand on. God was true to his word, and over the past 4 years, I’ve been healing backward, and now the cancer is only in my left breast where it started.
Through all of this, my children — three girls and a boy, ranging in age from 10 to 22 — have been a pivotal part of my healing. They’ve learned how to dress bandages, help me shower, and get me through panic attacks. They’ve truly been my caregivers.
As a mom, I feel like I’m still young at age 41. I felt guilty that they would have to step in that way. “You don’t start helping your parents until they’re in their 70s or 80s,” I thought, and it was way too early for me. I felt like I was taking part of their childhood away, and I knew that feeling to an extent because I had to take care of my sister when I was growing up. I vowed that my kids would live to the fullest and not have that kind of responsibility, but then there I was, needing help.
Through all of this, my children have been a pivotal part of my healing.
Then my son said, “You have taken care of us since we came into the world, so now we’re going to do that for you.” They had to say that a few times, but it finally stuck. And having them as that support system does allow me to focus more on this advocacy work that I find so important.
My breast cancer diagnosis and the way I was treated led me down this path of advocacy work. But without the support of my children through it all, I wouldn’t have been able to encourage others to advocate for their health.
There’s so much more that I want to do. I want to honor the ladies who won their battles but from the other side. And as long as I have breath in my body, I won’t stop talking about early detection and doing this work.
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