In October 2008, just two months shy of my 41st birthday, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma of the right breast. After a partial mastectomy, 15 rounds of chemotherapy and 33 treatments of radiation, I developed lymphedema of my right arm, hand and fingers. Lymphedema is a condition of localized fluid retention and tissue swelling caused by a compromised lymphatic system.
The swelling made performing the clinical aspects of my job impossible. To add insult to injury, my boss at that time, who was not a physician, told me, “A physician who is not clinically capable is of no value to me.” Having been born and raised on the Southside of Chicago, I should have cussed him out and told him where he and his entire family, including his mama, could go. But I couldn’t. Not because of my moral high ground, but because I was crushed. At 42, after all of this suffering, I had no value.
Over the next few months I endured daily physical therapy, my boss terminated me from my executive management position from an organization from which I thought I would someday retire, and I began wearing my compression garments 22/7. Now considered disabled from clinical practice, I set out to reinvent myself to stabilize myself financially. After careful consideration, I decided to spend my lifetime sharing my story, sharing my life, and fighting to bring an end to this disease. I had no idea how that would translate into putting food on the table for my two teenagers who expected to eat every day! I knew, though, that doing so would bring me sheer joy.
I didn’t know my opportunity for a fresh start was coming, but it always was: the chance to break a bad habit or revive a lost dream, to get a handle on finances, to start a business, or to write a book. Had I not walked through the hard part, I would not have come to a place of celebration or perhaps of fulfilling my God ordained destiny. I decided not to waste another minute stuck in the past. I changed my mind and I changed my life.
On a daily basis I began to take steps, no matter how small, to break the patterns of my past. I refused to live in fear of a recurrence, new cancer, or metastases. My life-long dream of being a practicing physician was stripped from me in an instant, and admittedly I wanted to die as I saw no hope. I thought the world would not miss me or my talents and it might even be better off without me. Stepping past my fear opened a flood of blessings I could have never imagined. With the limited time I had on earth, not because of any illness, but because I’m human, I would ask myself daily, “What am I doing with my time?” I would answer, “I’m changing my outlook. I’m looking to a new way of doing things. I’m accepting a new vision. I’m renewing my faith and trust in The One.”
After my diagnoses and the death of my mother, I faced the harsh reality that I had spent the first half of my life merely existing. Since reconciling my loss and subsequently all that I have gained, I have decided to LIVE!
Love myself and others
Inspire those around me
Voice my dreams
I L.I.V.E. every day, and as a result I will leave behind a legacy that will hopefully allow others to journey along a path that is not as harsh, not as lonely, and not nearly as painful. I did what I needed to do. It wasn’t easy, and it took time, but my faith kept me on track. It took hard work and courage to choose recovery. It took hard work to change for continued growth. I had to look from the place where I was—and go!
I shared with a friend that when you have experienced death up close and personal and live through a diagnosis like cancer, your view of the world changes. He couldn’t feel the way I did, though he did understand why I felt that way. Unless God says differently, the reality is that I will most likely die from cancer-related complications, and a cancer death is not an easy one. I live with this thought every day. It is not a pervasive thought, but one that causes me to live fervently and with purpose.
Treatment as lengthy and as disruptive as mine has caused many survivors difficulty with returning to their normal daily life. A small number of survivors have become dependent on the attention and sympathy and feel neglected when life returns to normal. I wasn’t in that number. As a matter of fact, I came out of treatment running to redeem any time stolen from me because of my disease. I insisted that life wasn’t going to be business as usual, but better than before.
I have created a thriving healthcare consulting business, deliver impassioned keynote motivational speeches internationally and have recently co-founded a company for which I also serve as the Chief Medical Officer. My suffering has become an opportunity for blessing and abundance.