I didn’t know it at the time, but on January 24, 2019, my life changed forever. It was a Thursday. I had had a lingering cough for about a month. I went to my primary care doctor 3 times that month and received breathing treatments for my asthma. But even with the treatments, nothing had changed, and the cough was still there.
A Constant Cough
The cough was constant and annoying. I sometimes had shortness of breath from walking. On January 22, my daughter Tonika Brent, who was 18 at the time, asked me, “Have you had a chest x-ray done?” No, I hadn’t, I said, and that idea never even crossed my mind.
So, on the morning of January 24, with my daughter’s words in mind, I decided to go to the hospital. I had a CT scan done at the hospital, and I was waiting for the results. One of the physicians speculated that it was pneumonia.
I was sitting in the waiting room, and at around 5:30 PM, an emergency department doctor came in and escorted me to an empty room. He told me that the scan showed I had lung cancer. He paused for a moment, and then said that they also saw cancer on the tail end of my pancreas, which was later confirmed by a biopsy.
I just looked at him with tears in my eyes—it was like an out-of-body experience. I immediately thought of my family. My husband, my daughter, my son: “How could I possibly break this news to them?”
Telling the Family
I called my husband and told him and my daughter to come to the hospital. When they arrived and my daughter saw me, she immediately knew something was wrong. I couldn’t hold in my emotions anymore, and when I saw my “baby” and my husband, the tears started flowing. My daughter ran into my arms, and we both cried.
I told them what my diagnosis was. We said a prayer, and I exclaimed confidently that I was going to beat this.
I was admitted to the hospital that night, and I had a biopsy the next day. The biopsy showed that it was non–small-cell lung cancer.
The next days were a whirlwind emotionally for me and for my family. My daughter cried every night. My son, who was 26 at the time, and is always tough, broke down and cried. We had no clue what the future held.
Of course, the first thing you think of when you get a cancer diagnosis is, “Am I going to die?” I had moments when that thought crept in, but I am a strong person of faith.
I have been a fighter my entire life. I didn’t have an easy childhood. I moved to a different state alone at age 17. I got my strength from my aunt Ree, who raised me like a daughter, and I thank her for giving me this foundation of strength.
Through it all, I persevered. I met my amazing husband at age 18, and we have been together ever since. I gave my son and my daughter the stable, happy childhood I never had. My husband and I bought our home when I was only 21. I had several jobs, ran my own daycare business, then worked for the IRS and for Comcast. I ended up at UPS, where I started as a customer service representative and worked my way up to supervisor in 6 months.
There were several moments in my life when I could have thrown in the towel and given up. But I am a very strong-willed person. I knew that God had taken me this far in life, and he wasn’t going to let me down now. I looked at myself in the mirror and told myself that I was going to be all right, and I was going to beat this disease.
We are all put on this Earth for a limited time. We have no control over when we arrive or when we depart this life. I internalized and accepted that fact. I know I have no control over it—no one does—but I strongly felt that my story wasn’t ending here.
My Positive Care Team
The process moved very quickly. We met my oncologist, Dr. Samdani, who did wonders for my family in terms of making us feel at ease. From day one, he has been very positive and uplifting, which is very important.
My treatment plan was to have chemotherapy for 5 months. On February 8, 2020, I underwent surgery to place the chemo port in. On February 11, I had my first chemotherapy, and you will not believe what happened. My husband, who was so stressed about me, ended up having a stroke! While I was having my first chemo treatment, he was admitted to the hospital. We were thankful that it was only a minor stroke, and he only stayed in the hospital for 4 days and had no major side effects.
The next couple of months I continued with chemotherapy, and I developed strong relationships with my nurses, who are truly a godsend. They made what could have been a very depressing process fun and bearable. I continued to go to work and maintained my normal life. I also joined a cancer support group at the hospital.
I cannot overstate the importance of having people to talk to who know exactly what you are going through. I also developed strong friendships within the support group. One positive thing that has emerged from this journey is meeting several wonderful people I otherwise would not have met.
Eventually, my treatment plan expanded, and I had to undergo 15 rounds of radiation therapy. I am grateful to my radiologist, Dr. Randolph Sr., who was another positive person on my cancer care team.
On July 24, 2020, 1.5 years after my diagnosis, I got a phone call from Dr. Samdani—my cancer was officially in remission. I dropped to my knees in happiness. Lung and pancreatic cancer, gone. I was extremely blessed. Earlier this year, we welcomed my first grandchild to the world. We felt we had many things to celebrate.
Life Changed Again
However, on September 11, 2020, my life changed again. I was having trouble with my coordination and was advised by one of my nurses to go to the hospital. At first, they thought I had had a stroke.
After more tests, it was determined that I had a seizure caused by 2 tumors on my brain. It was a gut punch. We were assured, however, that the tumors were treatable.
On September 15, 2020, I had brain surgery to remove 1 tumor. About a week later, I had a Gamma Knife procedure to remove the second tumor.
Brain surgery was one of the scariest things I have ever had to deal with. However, as I did before, I held onto my faith, knowing that God was in control.
Thankful Symbol of Hope
On November 23, 2020, I had my first follow-up after my brain surgery with my surgeon, Dr. Singleton. There was no evidence of any tumors. I truly had something to be thankful for that Thanksgiving. I also wish to thank my daughter Tonika for assisting me in writing this article.
Throughout my journey, I have met several fellow patients who have told me that my story has given them hope. One woman proclaimed I was a walking miracle! I realize that God makes things happen in our lives for a reason.
I want to be a symbol of hope, not just for patients with cancer, but for anyone. I want people to know that they can get through anything. I believe we all have that inner strength. Sometimes we just have to dig deep to find it.