On every Friday night, the complications of life slowed down at the packed to capacity Kijiji’s Coffee Shop on Jefferson Street. Poetry turned the stressful juggling of business, family, health, dating and everyday survival into a magical place where words and feelings sprung uninhibited from the heart. I was known as the ‘Queen of Nashville Poetry’. I pictured myself becoming the next Maya Angelou and the event I hosted was an oasis to poets and poetry lovers to escape the daily grind. But now the deafening roar inside me drowned everything out.
I was a single mom with one teenage child and not one but TWO jobs…just trying to keep ahead of the bill collector’s and food on the table. I also had some other health challenges such as diabetes and hypertension but they were under control because I had a decent job with decent insurance and I went to the Doctor a lot!
In fact, in my mind, I was doing everything right considering what I had to work with. I was going to the Doctor, getting my checkups, Paps and breast exams. I SHOULD HAVE BEEN OK RIGHT?
BOY DID LIFE HAVE A BOMB TO DROP ON ME!
So you guessed it! During this perfect storm of life’s work, complications, joys and sorrows,
ALONG COMES cervical cancer and it knocked me completely off my feet! And put a spin on everything that I thought I had going on. Cervical cancer trumped all of that! At times it still seems so unreal that I would have a story like this to tell. I am not saying that I thought myself too good to get cancer but I had SO MANY OTHER things going on in my life that surely CANCER would not become one of those things!
That first moment in the doctor’s office after the exam, when he told me to go back and wait in his office instead of going home like normal I knew something was wrong and I had the most sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and as the time ticked by. I waited for the doctor to come and talk to me. My stomach and my mind began a battle with one another as to which could make me more afraid than I was. My mind won! I started imagining the most awful outcomes from this life changing visit. Cancer was going to teach me a very valuable lesson that it did not care what other things I had going on in my life. My first reaction on hearing I had Stage 2 Cervical Cancer was fear. The fear was so deep and bone-chilling that it took my breath away.
I grew up in a home where it was believed that when you got the ‘BIG C’ your life was practically over and you were on your way out of this world! My next reaction was anger! BOY WAS I ANGRY! I was angry with Man and God! How could this happen to me when I had so much other stuff going on in my life, not to mention, my child that I was trying to raise into adulthood and I was going to be the next Maya!
BUT CANCER DID NOT CARE!
Give me a break! My mind screamed! I did not have the time to go to 28 days of treatments and be off work as well as going into the hospital not once but twice, and having to stay three days each to have radioactive rods placed in my vagina and be cut off from those I loved. I was not ready to be weak and sick. I had so much to do, bill’s to be paid. Life to be lived!
BUT CANCER DID NOT CARE!
I went through those 28 days of radiation as well as going into the hospital twice for three days each with a big lead shield placed between me and the world, all the while trying to put on a brave front for family, friends, and especially my daughter. It was only the two of us against the world and this cancer!
By the grace of God, I made it. I am now 15 years cervical cancer free! Because of my journey and what I have gone through, I knew that my life would be changed forever. I had to find ways to try and give back and to spare other women the difficult road that I found myself traveling.
So, I founded the Cervical Cancer Coalition of Tennessee to offer voice to those who hesitate to speak. Also, I was told that cervical cancer has a higher motility rate in African American women which means we are more likely to DIE from this very curable illness. So on hearing this it really drove me to try and help women with information and support concerning cervical cancer. I vowed to tell my story in as many venues as possible that have women attending. Such as Survivorville and their My 2nd act presentation. As well as the non-profit I founded to encourage women to take better care of themselves, and get their pap tests. I still dream of the day when I am able to also help them with some the costs associated with the disease. Cancer can be very expensive even with insurance. When HPV came on the scene, and we found that cervical cancer can be transmitted from a sexually transmitted virus called the (Humanpaplomus Virus). Plus, the passing of the Affordable Care Act which provided fresh opportunities to make headway with HPV immunizations and cervical care, my message took on an even more urgent calling!
Has it been easy? No! The story and the struggle’s are still ongoing. I find myself at 60 years of age with some challenging circumstances but I cannot let that stop me from spreading hope and encouragement. It has not been easy but it has been rewarding. I have made a difference in a lot of women’s lives that have reached out to me for help and understanding.
However, many women are still out there that need to know that cervical cancer IS NOT A DEATH SENTENCE! They can survive and have full and happy lives. I estimate that going out to health events and conventions such as Survivorville and My Second Act Story that I have touched over a thousand women or more and hopefully have given them hope and peace concerning their journey. I have also started on a book called ( pause) “The Day My Vagina Tried to Kill me!” This book is about my story and my cervical cancer journey. Lord willing, it will be forthcoming soon with more food for hope.
In closing, I would like to leave you with one of my signature poems:
Thoughts of a Cancer Patient
Sitting in the doctor’s office
I have so much to do! I just want
To go home!
How did I come to be at
I wonder can the other people
See the terror on my face
It seemed only a day ago that I had
No serious health concerns at
All, Then old Mr. Cancer decided to
Make a call! I am to young for this
Now I am feeling like all hope in
Me has died!
But the doctor said they had caught
The cancer in time
And that with proper treatment I will be
The road will not be easy but I am so
Glad to be alive!
And I now wear an “S” on my chest
I will be ok, I will