In 2010 I was given the most devastating news.
It was a month before the very first annual Empowered Women of the Year award ceremony dinner was set to happen. We were busily involved in grueling preparations. Ticket sales. Last minute scrambling to get decorations. Calls to the caterer to make sure the menu was finalized. Errands to run here, there and everywhere. Honorees need their pictures taken and…….
“Your surgery results came back and there was a small cancer in the lump we removed.”
“What did he just say?” I’m thinking to myself, as he swivels around in his chair and rolls back up to his desk to set me up for my next surgery. “So, I need you to see a cancer Doctor, and let’s get you set up for your next surgery. We need to see if the cancer has spread to your lymph nodes.”
All this while his back is turned to me. He’s talking really fast too. This was just as awkward for him as it was for me.
“No, it’s not okay,” I’m thinking.
I mean what did he even just say to me? I came in two weeks ago at my OB-GYN’s request for him to check out this pebble-like lump that was lodged in what seemed like the cusp of my arm pit….not exactly in my breast. He asks me if it hurts. I say no. He says, “Let’s take it out.” I say,”Okay” Great! Then December 20th he takes it out and as I awake, groggy from the anesthesia, I hear an echo of words that sounded like someone said, “We’re gonna send it (the lump) to the lab for testing.”
That’s cool. I got things to do so I’ll see ya’ll on the 29th when I come get my stitches removed. My doctor said it was nothing. You all said it was nothing. I’m saying, (the blood of Jesus!) it’s nothing.
No one knew. I would have never told anyone that I discovered a suspicious, hard lump while I was doing a breast exam on myself in my full length mirror in my bedroom one morning. No way.
My mom’s best friend died of breast cancer when I was 13. She took that so hard. Ann was so close to my family that her daughter, Laura, and I called each other “cousins” I’d spend nights at her house. We’d go over on Friday nights and Ann and my mom would send me and Laura upstairs and leave us to our own devices while they would indulge in girl-talk for hours upon hours. Ann was my 2nd mom when I got in trouble with my “real” mom. You know how when you did something wrong as a kid, your mom told the family and her best friend and so you got the 3rd degree from all angles for about a month. Yeah. That was Aunt Ann to me. She’d sit me down, blink those big eyes at me, and say, “Alishia, you know better.” So now I have the same advantage of doing that very thing to my 15-year old daughter! Yes! Life is good!
Ann lost so much weight while she was on chemo. She went from having thick, beautiful brownish-black hair, always bouncy and flowing, to having none and wearing a scarf. I didn’t understand what was going on at the time. Why was Aunt Ann getting skinny? Why was she losing her hair? Why was Laura so sad? Mom said Ann hit her breast on the dresser while moving furniture one day, and suddenly she had breast cancer. Thank God we have more educational resources now than ever before, so that people know cancer is not something you get by being superstitious.
The last image I remember of Ann was her waving good-bye to us standing in her doorway as my mom pulled off. That was my mom’s last time going to visit Ann. She looked to be about 80 pounds, frail and tender. She also knew that was my mom’s last visit. My mom couldn’t take it.
Ann died. And my mom grieved for months–years. It hurt.
I thought when I went to my OB-GYN and he felt the lump on the left side of my breast that he was accurate when he said it was probably nothing to worry about. No history of breast cancer in the family. So I didn’t want to tell them. He recommended and ordered a mammogram and ultra sound for me (which immediately came back abnormal for both results) and told me to go see a general surgeon to discuss removing the lump.
I found myself in that general surgeon’s office on the day of my “diagnosis” alone (because he rushed out the room to get to his next “victim”), confused (because he did not educate me on the disease, and did not even bother to ask me if I had any questions, even had one foot in the door and one foot out when I called him back in to answer the question:”what type of breast cancer do I have?”) “infiltrating ductal ,” he said. And whisked away. I found out later it was also Triple Negative, a type of breast cancer that is aggressive, and found in young African-American and Latina women. It is often carried over to generations of women in the family from a genetic mutation of BRCA-1, and BRCA-2 cells. (Thank God I found out much later that I did not carry that gene!) However, due to my history of having this form of cancer, my daughter will have to get her 1st mammogram at age 28.
My phone was blowing up. I had to text a ton of family, and friends and explain it all from the very beginning. That didn’t go over well with Mom as you could imagine. Every one was scared. Including me.
Later, I picked up my kids from (I don’t remember where) and dropped them off at (I don’t remember where) and went to Bob Evans (my favorite restaurant at the time) to eat one of my favorite menu items–the carved turkey with stuffing, sweet carrots, warm gravy…..mmmm…….and I cried, and cried huge stinging tears into the plate of food as I ate, and as if no one but me and God were in that restaurant.
I wanted to know a few things from Him:
Hadn’t I been through enough?…the divorce…the season of homelessness….the season of unemployment and losing almost everything I had….the 5-year battle with depression that had just ended in 2009?
Hadn’t I passed enough “tests” of my faith?
Am I going to die?
Who is going to raise my kids?
Caleb and Sariah were 9 and 10 years old at the time. I was in a committed relationship with the man of my dreams (ummm… literally….we’ll tell that amazing story another day)
I was perplexed. Angry. In denial. And, soooo not trying to hear any of it.
That weekend after the doctor’s visit, I spent some time with my nurse friend, Annette, who walked me through that horrible moment on December 29th in that office. She texted me what questions to ask the doctor. She consoled me as much as she could because she was at work at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in the Kimmel Center, which is the cancer center there. So that weekend she looked at all my paperwork. “Alishia, this is a true diagnosis of breast cancer and so you need to be thinking about treatment options right now.” I couldn’t event think or respond. My mom was floored when I finally told her, and was adamant that I should not go back to that general surgeon, nor see his team of cancer doctors. I didn’t know what to do.
“Alishia, just say the word, and I’ll get you into Hopkins.”
The word was said. And it was done.
By the time I sat before those doctors: the oncologist, the breast surgeon, the radiologist, and the entire team. I was in an entirely different place, mentally, emotionally & spiritually. See when you come to a realization that pain is the reproductive system by which God produces your purpose, you understand the process.
Pain is your purpose.
My husband (my hero), and I at the 10th Annual Southern Lights of Life Fundraiser in 2014, hosted by the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition. I was one of several survivors who were models that evening.
God’s answer to my “why’s”– he wanted to take me from faith to faith and from glory to glory. See, I had gotten to know him as my healer when I went through the divorce. I had gotten to know him as friend when I was alone in many court battles with my ex-husband, and raising two stair-step kids on my own. I had gotten to know him as my provider when I didn’t have the means to make the ends meet. Whoo! And now, I was about to get to know him as a God of miracles!
Once I got a hold of what God was doing, and why he chose ME to do it through. It was on! I said these words to God before that visit to Johns Hopkins, “Lord, I want you to produce a miracle through my body. I want you to heal me miraculously. No chemo. No radiation. No removal of my breast. God set me up before the earth as a pinnacle of your power to heal.”
After many weeks of being processed into that miracle, listening to message after message come over the pulpit about healing and miracles ( I don’t believe in coincidences; I believe in divine order) With women from all over the country praying for me through a weekly prayer call I was connected to (Thank you Dr. Vikki Johnson!) From sitting with my children and educating them on my 95% chances of survival because we caught the cancer early. To telling my entire family that we all have to speak the same faith language and pray the same faith prayer (we were praying for a “Node Negative” result from surgery–that would mean the cancer did not spread to my lymph nodes) from going under the anesthesia totally believing that not only was God able to do it, but that he wanted to do it for me!
2 days before travelling back up to Baltimore for my results, I attended a local church (my church was in Baltimore at the time and I didn’t have the funds to drive up there that Sunday) The Holy Spirit had led me to worship at The Pentecostals of Dover in Delaware. The pastor was preaching about healing and miracles. Ha! Ok God. I hear you. And so this altar call for me was different. It was God and me sealing the deal. I said yes to the pain. He said yes to my miracle. So I simply wanted to “thank” Him for my healing. Not “ask” him for it this time.
My children and I on Mother’s Day 2014. Caleb and Sariah
As I was walking away from the altar and about to head out the sanctuary, I could hear Pastor Trout get back on the microphone. “He said, “I don’t know who this is for, but God said by Tuesday, you’re going to have your miracle!” Hmph! That was for me! Tuesday was my appointment with Johns Hopkins to get the results of my lymph node surgery.
That morning, March 11, 2011, the breast surgeon, Dr. Lisa Jacobs, asked me if she could see me before bringing my family back into the room. It was my mom, my good friend S. Renee Smith who cleared her entire calendar that day, and my soon-to-be fiance (now my husband).
I sat in her chair and she lay a piece of paper on my lap. As she layed it on my lap, she said these words, “Node Negative” She diagnosed me as stage 1, and recommend radiation, “just in case” she said, “there’s some residue left.” Well since God and I had that little covenant going on. I chose to believe–without the radiation–that I was healed. I had my miracle. God will make sure there’s no residue left! And he did. So here I am today celebrating close to 6 years, cancer free! I get my mammograms annually, and still conduct my own self-exams monthly.
My favorite verse of scripture, my life verse, is Psalms 126:5 & 6, the New Living Translation says:Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest.
My memory collage. (top left, top right, and bottom right: Me with my nurse after my lymph node surgery.
Here’s my point. This is what the other side of hope looks like. On the side of “the beginning,” there is a struggle to believe in hope, even though you know for a surety that hope is all you have to hold on to at the time. So you hold on. In tears, you hold on. Through the roughest part of the journey when hopelessness is against you, you hold on. When no one else believes, you hold on. You carry that seed of hope, bent over, limping, falling along the way. And then Romans 5:3-5 kicks in, you remember that “hope maketh not ashamed” meaning that God will NOT allow you to hope and then shame you later by not fulling what you’ve hoped for. And this hope comes in different forms when it comes to this journey called breast cancer.
Some survive the battle and live to tell it. Others survive the battle in a different way, through courage, strength and dignity, and their family members are the ones who live to tell their stories, carry their legacy, and make an impact in the world (see D’Angelo Williams Story http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000715205/article/mothers-struggle-with-cancer-inspires-deangelo-williams).
D’Angelo Williams, of the Pittsburgh Steelers, lost 4 aunts and his mother to breast cancer. Instead of losing hope, he turned his pain into his purpose. He has a movement now to make sure women receive free mammograms through his foundation. He’s on the other side of hope.
Either way, know this: God doesn’t waste pain.
God is giving you a harvest from your seed of hope. That harvest is character, integrity, trust, and a new perspective on life. Your story is a harvest that can be passed on to others. There’s no way that harvest is just for you. What are you going to do with your pain? You have to turn it into purpose. Who are you going to inspire with your story, or the story of your loved one? (who did not lose the battle to cancer…..she won it by how she fought it!!!)
We don’t always understand everything that God allows but we know there’s purpose in it.
For more information about breast cancer awareness, visit:
Susan G. Komen Foundation ww5.Komen.org
Cancer Treatment Centers of America http://www.CancerCenter.com