How It Started; How It’s Going: The Cancer Edition

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

 


On January 24, 2020, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

 

Today, on December 2, 2020, I had my last round of radiation, completing active cancer treatment.

 

Here’s a look at everything that happened in between.




On February 9 I celebrated my 39th birthday with my husband and my cousin Tasha (who’s more like my sister) – two of only a handful of people who knew about my diagnosis at the time. I also shared with readers of the See Jane Write blog my 40 Before 40 list – a list of 40 things I wanted to do over the next year before I turned 40 years old.

 

But secretly, I wondered if my 39th birthday would be my last.

 

On the morning of February 26, I had a lumpectomy to remove the tumor from my left breast. The procedure went well, and I even went for a walk that afternoon, much to the chagrin of my husband who, rightfully so, wanted me to rest.

 

But back in December of 2019, I decided that I would walk for exercise for at least 30 minutes every day in 2020 and I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from sticking with that resolution – not even breast cancer.

 

My brother, another person who knew about my diagnosis, came to visit me and inspired me to write this story.

 

In January, with the diagnosis, my life seemed to fall apart. In February, with the successful surgery, things started to feel as if they were coming back together. In March, my life fell apart again and so did the entire world.

 

While the world was reeling from being hit with the COVID-19 pandemic, I was trying to accept the news that I would need chemotherapy. When I was first diagnosed, I was told I would only need surgery and radiation.

 

But things changed. Though the cancer hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes and thus was only Stage II, the tumor was large and was growing fast. Given that, my age, and other factors (such as the odd shape of the cancer cells found in my breast and the fact that Black women are more likely to die from breast cancer than women of other races), my oncologist recommended chemotherapy. First, she ran extra tests to be sure.

 

While waiting for the results I prayed fervently asking for God to remove this cup from me.

 

But that didn’t happen.  

 

On April 30, I had chemo port placement surgery. When I had my lumpectomy, my husband was there by my side up until the moment I was given anesthesia. Because of COVID-19 when I went in for the port placement my husband had to literally drop me off at the corner and I had to go it alone.

 

Because of the hair loss that inevitably comes with most chemotherapy, I knew I would no longer be able to keep my cancer diagnosis a secret.

 

So, on May 4, I “went public” and shared the news on social media, here, and the See Jane Write blog.

 

And I’m so glad I did. Since that day to this one, my husband and I have been showered with support in the form of gifts, cards, food, words of encouragement, and prayers.

 

I started chemo on May 7 and later that month I started to lose my hair. And I wrote about it, of course.

 

But here’s the thing – while hair loss is the most visible side effect of chemotherapy, for many cancer patients, it is the least of our concerns.

Early in my treatment, my red blood cell count dropped so drastically my doctor thought I might need a blood transfusion. My heart rate was often so high I could see my heart beating through my chest.

I continued walking for exercise every day but sometimes walking for 30 minutes felt like walking for 30 miles.

Fortunately, I never vomited during my treatment, but I felt queasy almost every day. I lost 15 pounds in one month because some days rice and apple sauce were the only things I could eat. Some days everything tasted like sand.

I also dealt with neuropathy and hand-foot syndrome, so some mornings I would wake up and could barely use my hands. (I’m still dealing with neuropathy today.)

To be honest, losing my eyebrows – which happened much later – bothered me more than losing my hair. And I wrote about that, too.

Despite all the side effects I endured, I tolerated chemotherapy very well, according to my oncologist and nurses.



I finished chemotherapy on September 17, and I rang the bell (a tradition in the cancer community) to signify the completion of that part of the journey.

And I must say that throughout my treatment my good days have outweighed my bad days. I’ve been able to work and write in spite of everything.

And I’ve kept on walking, too. In fact, I was even quoted in an article about breast cancer in Oprah magazine on how walking helped me cope with treatment.

I’ve been featured in other publications, too, including Rethink Breast Cancer, Wildfire Magazine, and BhamNow.



On October 17 – one month post chemo – I walked 6.2 miles for the DC Wonder Woman Virtual 10K.

 




On October 26, I walked 8.46 miles (the longest distance I’d covered post-chemo) for the 8.46 Breathe Race series to honor George Floyd, who was killed by a police officer who knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

 

Many things happened in October. I regained my sense of taste. My eyebrows grew back – overnight! And I dressed as Sister Night for Halloween.



 

I also started radiation treatment. I must confess that after going through five months of chemo, I thought radiation would be a cakewalk. I was wrong.

 

At first, I was fine. But then the treatment started to make me feel utterly exhausted and the discomfort from the radiation burns made sleeping nearly impossible. For about a week the burns were so painful I couldn’t lift my left arm without crying out in agony.

 

But after that rough week, I turned a corner and as quickly as the burns got bad, they started to heal just as fast.




 

Today, December 2, I completed the last of 36 rounds of radiation. And once again I got to ring the bell – this time signifying not only the end of radiation but also the end of active cancer treatment.

 

My cancer journey isn’t over. It never will be. As long as I am alive, I will be fighting against cancer in order to stay alive. I will be taking medication for the next 10 years and visiting various doctors frequently. In 2021, I’m planning to make major lifestyle changes as well so that my post-cancer body can be as healthy and strong as possible.

 

But completing active treatment is a milestone, nonetheless. And I’ve learned so much from this experience.

 

When I first announced my diagnosis on my blogs and on social media, a friend said to me, “God didn’t do this, but God will get you through this.”

 

I tried to hold on to this. And most days I did.

 

I’d recite Genesis 50:20 — “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

 

I wrote Psalm 91:9-12 and Psalm 91:14-16 on pink index cards and carried them with me to chemo treatments.

 

Sometimes, I still felt angry and hopeless. Sometimes I was too tired to feel anything at all.  

 

But I used prayer journaling to write my way back to God again and again.

 

 

When I look at how I’ve not only survived cancer treatment, but I have thrived along the way, I know that God must be with me.

 

In spite of cancer and in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have consistently made enough money not only to pay my bills but also to pay down debt and make generous donations to causes I believe in. And I still have extra cash to buy Fabletics leggings and Savage X Fenty lingerie whenever I want.

 

I’ve been able to grow the See Jane Write brand and community, too. I’ve been busy writing stories about women and for women and helping women write stories of their own.

 

And as I’ve been sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly of this journey, so many people have told me that I’ve inspired them.

 

I hope that I’ve inspired you. I hope I’ve inspired you to believe that you can write your way through anything and that no matter what obstacles are standing in your way -- just KEEP GOING.



8 comments:

  1. God didn't do this but God will get you through this. Thanks for sharing and being so honest! Always here to cheer you on!!

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  2. My God, Javacia. It is such an honor to even know you. I read your journey on here and, yes, you are most definitely an inspiration to me and so many other women. Cancer is a deep fear of mine. My mom died of ovarian cancer, being diagnosed at 79, and passing away three months later at 80. Her passing devastated me and the grief and mourning are present in my every day life, still. I pray God's blessings and mercies on your continued recovery. I am a huge fan of yours and I'm so glad our paths crossed. Thank you for everything you do, everything you've done, and everything you are, sis. God bless and keep you.
    Octavia

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  3. LOVE YOU! A true soldier in Yah's mighty army!

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  4. I've got tears welling up! Thank you for your vulnerability and letting us witness your cancer journey. I know I speak for all of us when I say we love you so, so much. xoxo

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