We all have days that we will never forget. These moments are etched into our heads and our hearts forever. Many of those moments brought us either our greatest joys or our most devastating sadness. For me, I can recall, moment by moment, three days that changed my life forever. Two of those days are the days I gave birth to my children. The third is the day I was diagnosed with the blood cancer, Multiple Myeloma.
From beginning to end, 2017 was a year that I then believed was tragic. I started 2017 with a bang, literally, when a storm birthed a tornado which piled trees on top of and into my home. This storm left us living in a hotel for months. Following that literal storm, I encountered an internal storm due to the many health issues I was having, in conjunction with battling depression and PTSD brought on by the first storm. However, it wasn’t until December 11, 2017 that I met my crises. That was the day my hematologist informed me that I have Multiple Myeloma.
Multiple Myeloma was once considered a very rare blood cancer, whose largest demographic was Caucasian males in their mid-60’s. Now reports show that African-American men lead the pack and that there is a spike in cases among women like myself who are African-American and much younger in age. Multiple myeloma is a cancer that forms in a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell. Plasma cells help you fight infections by making antibodies that recognize and attack germs. While we all have plasma cells, an abnormal amount of plasma cells indicates trouble, which is what raised concerns in my case. Multiple Myeloma causes cancer cells to accumulate in the bone marrow, where they crowd out healthy blood cells. Rather than produce helpful antibodies, the cancer cells produce abnormal proteins that can cause many complications.
The day I was diagnosed, it was as if the world was moving in slow motion. I literally remember every moment and every feeling. Overwhelmed, afraid, heartbroken, and doomed were among the many emotions I felt. I had never felt more alone, sitting in that office attempting to grasp what the doctor was saying, making an effort to hold myself together while planning my funeral and praying for my children. Most of all, I kept thinking, God Why me, why have you brought this crisis into my life?
My entire life has been hard, but my truth is that despite my hardships, I was always able to overcome. My mother was always a phone call away, and she would do damn near anything to keep me from drowning. I was strong-willed and educated like the women who raised me, so I always found a way to rise above situations designed to take me down. I had friends who encouraged me and spoke life no matter what was going on, but none of that could provide resolve for cancer. I remember falling into my mother’s arms crying like a baby, begging her to help me but knowing this time she couldn’t; that was horrifying and heartbreaking for both of us.
In the 15 days I had to wait before seeing the doctor again for more detailed information about my diagnosis, I cried and prayed more than I ever had before. However, it wasn’t until I leaned on one of my greatest resources (the women in my tribe) that I began to choose faith over fear.
My spiritual advisor, Kadesha Jenkins, prayed with me and helped me understand that every crisis wasn’t intended to end in death. Sometimes God brings storms to wash away old things in preparation for something new. She also made me see how I had become disconnected from God while battling my issues with the church, church folks, and religion (that’s a whole different conversation for later). She made me see that God wanted my attention because I had put our relationship on the back burner.
The first person I spoke to following my diagnosis was my friend Ty. At that moment, Ty did her best to keep me encouraged but, still sitting in the hematologist’s office, I wasn’t able to receive or absorb anything other than having cancer. However, once I began to prepare for the fight of my life, I remembered her words about my strength. I also recalled her attaching this crisis to my purpose. Duh Maui! Since I was 10 years old, I have known that all of the pain I experienced was attached to my purpose and this was no different. This crisis was another way for me to be of service to women/girls. This helped me to stop playing the victim and transform “why me?” into “why not me?”
I told my kids our theme for this chapter in life was “all faith, no fear” but girl… I was scared as hell! However, I begin to invest more time and energy into something familiar: my relationship with God. I returned to my church home and my soul was fed what it craved. Praise and worship were not what the doctor ordered (pun intended) but just what I needed. And so, it was. My faith was strengthened to a place that allowed me to see that this crisis was the univers’es way of getting my attention and forcing me to change. Did I still cry occasionally? Yes! Did I still have moments when I questioned God? Yes! Did I have faith? Yes! Was I ready to fight? Of course!
I returned to my next visit with the oncologist prepared for the worst but committed to making the best of it. Then, instead of the worst news, I was given the best case scenario for my situation. The doctor informed me that while the cancer was in my body, it was in a smoldering phase (asymptomatic) and no treatment was needed at that time. He did explain that this was temporary and that I would need treatment sooner rather than later. However, one year and three months later, those nasty proteins that cancer created in my body have decreased drastically, and to Dr. Neal’s surprise, the Multiple Myeloma is still smoldering. In the words of my girl Jen, “it can keep smoldering!”
I think the great Susan L. Taylor said it best when she stated, “In every crisis, there is a message. Crises are nature’s way of forcing change — breaking down old structures, shaking loose negative habits so that something new and better can take their place.” It’s so amazing what can happen when you choose peace despite the storms and crises you encounter. You not only summon the strength you need to be victorious over any situation, you open doors that allow you to empower others. Since my diagnosis, I have been inspired and been an inspiration for women who survived, are living with or have been affected my Multiple Myeloma. So yeah, as I have said before, “I have Cancer, Cancer doesn’t have me.”
March is Myeloma Awareness Month. Find out more about this cancer, here.