There are moments that remain etched in our minds and heart forever. Some of these moments produced our greatest joys while others, our most devastating sadness. I can recall, moment by moment, the three days that forever changed me and still conjure up an array of emotions. Two of those days produced tremendous happiness, and they are the days I gave birth to my son, Dazavier, and the day I gave birth to my baby girl, Daja. The third day that I will never forget though, induced a crippling fear. It is the day I was diagnosed with the blood cancer, multiple myeloma.
Before I proceed, let me tell you a little about multiple myeloma because I know that it isn’t as common as lung or breast cancer. Considering March is Multiple Myeloma Awareness Month, there’s no better time than the present to learn a little something about it. Multiple myeloma was once considered a very rare blood cancer with the largest demographic affected by it being 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 affects the immune system and forms in the white blood cells, called plasma cells. Plasma cells help you fight infections by making antibodies that recognize and attack germs. Damage to the DNA can turn plasma cells into cancerous ones, known as myeloma cells. Over a period of time, these myeloma cells multiply and spread through the bone marrow. Instead of producing normal antibodies, they produce large numbers of a single antibody referred to as monoclonal proteins or M-proteins. However, this antibody has no function in the human body. This eventually causes symptoms like pain and fatigue and can lead to kidney failure, a weak immune system, and easy bruising and bleeding.
Honestly, my entire existence has been one hardship after another, but despite less than favorable experiences, I have never found myself feeling hopeless. At an early age, I learned that living outside of situations I found myself in offered hope and it energized my ability to push past whatever hurt I encountered in my life at the time. However, December 11, 2017 was the day that changed everything. It was the day I met my crisis and when hopelessness invaded my space. I was consumed with the fear of so many things because all I could grasp at that moment was that my life was coming to an end and I had no control over it. That day the world was moving in slow motion. Even today I remember every moment and every feeling I experienced. Overwhelmed, afraid, heartbroken, doomed, and most of all, alone. I sat in that office attempting to hold myself together and digest what my hematologist was saying while planning my funeral and praying for my children, parents, and loved ones. Most of all, I kept thinking, God, why me? Why have you brought this crisis into my life? I wanted it to be a bad dream.
Nearly four years later, I am still living with the fact that I have cancer, but now I have a better understanding and appreciation for the crisis that I thought God sent to kill me. What I understand now is that being diagnosed with multiple myeloma is linked to my purpose. It provided another opportunity for me to encourage, empower and energize women and girls during the process of me growing, healing and coming to terms with my reality. I learned a few essential, life-changing things while on this journey to beat multiple myeloma; three things to be specific.
For one, if someone or something intended to kill you, hurt you, or break your spirit did not succeed, you are stronger than that person or that thing. There is no need to fear what isn’t capable of defeating you. Even in the face of death and great uncertainty, your ability to go toe-to-toe with it solidifies your victory. I remember when Chadwick Boseman died and stories of how he fought (worked and was present) while dying began to come out. Most people were devastated, but I was proud because I understood he was the victor. Cancer did not break his spirit, nor did it hinder him from creating a legacy that will live forever, which means cancer did not win.
Every day, despite how I feel, in the face of great adversity I show up for myself and find a way to do something that aligns with my purpose because that is how you defeat what intends to destroy you.
Secondly, you must do what you need to do to heal and be well. All trauma requires healing, and some of that healing comes with understanding what the storm you have encountered is intended to teach you. Another form of healing is accepting the situation and devising a plan that will soothe you. Most of all, healing comes from being true to who you are and how you feel in every moment of the journey. Fullfilling our purpose is the debt we pay for our time on earth and the space we occupy. I understand my responsibility and my purpose. My commitment to my purpose has become greater than my fear of cancer. I became determined to heal myself to help women and girls like me, but my top priority was to heal myself to truly be well.
For me, wellness was the gradual healing of my mind, body, and spirit by incorporating things into my daily routine that supported me being better in each of those areas. I studied to learn the disease, I educated myself on my options, and most of all, I followed my head and my heart. I respect my medical team and I value the advice of survivors, but I’ve done what I’ve needed to do to be healthy so that I can live and create my legacy.
Lastly, and most importantly, I learned to change my outlook. For a moment, I was so consumed by fear that I stopped living. How could I live when I thought I was dying? Who would nurture my children? Who would care for my parents? There were so many uncertainties and so many things I needed to do before dying. I kept thinking of how ill-prepared I was for it all. Then it hit me. Dying isn’t optional, but living is. We weren’t born to live forever, that is life’s greatest fact. However, we have total control over whether we live and how we do so. This made me more mindful of many things, including the way I treat others, and most of all, the way I spend my time. Now I live. I do what grants me peace and joy, like energizing women, sharing my truth, and creating things that support my purpose. Why? Because dope sh-t never dies.
This solo mission of fighting cancer has been a lot, but it’s taught me a great deal. Overall, I’ve learned that no matter the situation, the healing is specific to you and your needs. In my case, when you heal mentally and spiritually, the work to obtain physical healing doesn’t necessarily get easier, but it becomes more worthwhile.