As many times as we’ve interview veteran actress Vanessa Bell Calloway, I had no idea that she was a breast cancer survivor.
Today, October 26, marks the 6th year since she had a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery on her right breast.
She took time to celebrate the anniversary on her Instagram.
Though this is the first I’ve heard of this, Calloway shared her story with Black Doctor two years ago.
Calloway told the outlet, that she has always been mindful of her health. She was a former dancer who exercised regularly and ate healthily. She was also diligent about getting her mammograms and pap smears. As someone who was so health conscious, Calloway knew something in her body was not right.
She told Black Doctor, “I thought they were going to tell me that I had some incurable blood disease. I’m very dramatic! I had missed my mammogram because the place I usually went to closed. I had to find a new place, but life happened and I got busy. However, breast cancer- that was the last thing on my mind because since the age of 40, my mammograms came back clear.”
When Calloway’s doctor sent her to get an up to date mammogram, it wasn’t long before they discovered abnormalities in her right breast. As she waited for results, she went back to work.
Waiting, as you might imagine, is stressful and nerve wracking. Calloway was comforted by the gospel song, “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”
“If God is watching a little sparrow, surely He’s watching me. That song soothed me and got me through that period,” Calloway said.
Her doctor decided that she needed a lumpectomy. They did the procedure but her doctor wasn’t happy with the success margins afterward and he wanted to do another one.
“I was fine with that because I didn’t think anything was wrong. I just thought, ‘let’s knock this puppy out the park!’ At this point I had told no one but my husband; not my kids, not my parents, because I just thought it would be a one-two punch. And I am planner. I plan everything in life; everything has a schedule, so once it was determined that I wasn’t going to die, I made a schedule. I thought, I’ll have this lumpectomy, then I’ll have radiology twice a day for five days, and be done before one of my daughter’s birthdays in September, and no one would know the difference. So when he asked me to come back that Monday, I wasn’t thinking a thing.”
After her lumpectomy on Monday, she was scheduled to come in on Wednesday to begin the radiation treatments. She was so calm and unbothered by things that she went about living her life as normal.
“So I decided I’d get my hair done beforehand. No sense in looking crazy!”
But she would later get some news that would paint her cancer in a more severe light. While she was at the salon, she received a call.
Though Calloway thought the radiologist was calling to tell her she could come in for radiation earlier than expected, through the static she heard the word mastectomy.
Doctors had found that there were abnormal cells inside the milk duct in her right breast.
Her friends picked her up from the salon and took her home. Once she got there, she broke down.
“I was hurt, I was mad; I wanted to break something. I like my house, so I didn’t want to destroy it but I was so angry I wanted to shatter everything, like in the movies. I pounded on my floors instead. What snapped me out of it was my sister,” Calloway said.
“She looked me in the eye and said, ‘Vanessa, it’s a bad breast. Let it go.’ And my husband, who doesn’t’ cry, had tears in his eyes and said, ‘I love you. We have our daughters’ graduations and future weddings to attend, I need you here, I don’t care about that breast!’”
So she pulled herself together. “The voice inside of me said, ‘Get it together woman, are you crazy?!’ And then I didn’t cry about it another moment. We had a family meeting and broke the news.”
Calloway then had reconstructive surgery on her breast, using skin from her waistline.
“I took lemons and made lemonade!” Calloway said, whose sense of humor is surely one of the factors that got her through this ordeal. “The surgeon took fat from the ‘muffin top’ I got from having my two kids, and used that to re-build my breast. And while he was there, did some contouring around my waist! A new boob and lipo!” she laughed.
“I really found the upside. I felt blessed to be here and continue to do what I love.”
Since then, thankfully Calloway has been cancer free.
You can read her full interview with Black Doctor, here.