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The Test in my Testimony

 

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Today marks my 6th “cancer-versary” as a breast cancer “thriver.” WooHoo! Amen! And, wow! After rereading these words, the lyrics of a gospel song immediately came to mind. “As I look back over my life – And I think things over – I can truly say, that I’ve been blessed – I’ve got a testimony.” Make no mistake about it, I’ve experienced some extreme challenges while on this cancer journey. However, they are outnumbered by victory…after victory…after victory! 

I remember getting that phone call at work as if it were yesterday. The diagnosis simply made no sense. For decades, I had been doing everything recommended to lead a healthy lifestyle. I ate properly and exercised regularly. I never drank and never smoked. Cancer? The drive home was accompanied by a torrential downpour of tears. I can’t tell you how I arrived safely. But when I walked through the door, the silence was so loud. Cancer.

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Somewhere between the tears, God managed to get my attention. He reminded me that during the years I spent on “Separated Street” and “Divorce Drive,” He provided everything that my children and I needed. I began to have great conversation with myself. “Yeah, that’s right. And if He could do all of that, He can certainly handle a cancer diagnosis.” From the very beginning, I knew that there was purpose connected to my diagnosis. My goal then became living – by any means necessary.

 

Days later, I had a 2-hour conversation with a survivor. She suggested that I include blueberries, strawberries, and tomatoes in my diet. My response? “Yuck, yuck, and yuck!” Since childhood, I have always hated the feel of seeds in my mouth. And now she wants me to eat them? After we hung up, the goal continued to ring in my ears: “living – by any means necessary.” I began the process of teaching myself to eat blueberries, strawberries, and tomatoes. It would take me 20 minutes to eat 1 strawberry and 5 blueberries. Talk about torture. Today, I absolutely love blueberries and strawberries, and I like tomatoes. Of course, I now wish that they had been part of my food repertoire earlier in life.

 

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6 years later, the goal remains the same and I apply it to everything. I’m clear – I fight cancer every day with every decision that I make related to my health – spirit, mind, and body. For example, I have to: 1) make good decisions about what I eat and drink, 2) monitor my stress levels and distance myself from negative people and experiences, and 3) be mindful of the products that I use on my body and in my home. I’m also clear that God is my center. He is responsible for the smile on my face and the joy in my heart. I have to stay plugged in and connected because He created me on purpose, with purpose, to fulfill purpose. Cancer just happens to be part of my purpose.

My purpose also includes this platform of promoting health and wellness as a lifestyle. My divine assignment is to “speak a word in season to him who is weary.” I don’t want a diagnosis of any type to be the wake up call that forces people to start paying attention to their health. The 25 years that I served in the field of education was the training ground for my current role as an inspirational speaker. I enjoy teaching people how to properly read and interpret nutrition labels. I love speaking to audiences about making lifestyle changes so that they can stress less and enjoy life more. My message can help someone improve the quality of their life, and possibly extend their quantity of days on Earth.

I strive to live each day with an exclamation point – not a comma, a period, or a question mark. I refuse to live a life of regret. My relationships with family and friends are extremely important to me. I make sure that I show and tell them that they are loved and appreciated. I believe that we should live like there’s no tomorrow. When you think about it, there really is no such thing as tomorrow. When tomorrow arrives, it’s called today.

bc girl“Every day is a good day. Some are just better than others.” I coined this phrase years ago and it has helped me get through some trying times. You may find it helpful as well. I envision a world without cancer. Until then, I’m committed to making a difference in the lives of others. 

Cancer didn’t happen TO me. It happened FOR me. And if I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.  

I can truly say, that I’ve been blessed – I’ve got a testimony.”

 

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Black History – A New Conversation

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Although February is Black History Month, we must be careful not to restrict the subject to merely one month of the year. As an educator who was often the only teacher of color on staff, I saw this happen in the classrooms of my colleagues. In an effort to reverse this pattern, I brought the issue to the forefront by speaking up about my concerns. I made it my business to help young, elementary students expand their view of the world. Black history goes beyond the color of one’s skin. Black history impacts world history.

During Black History Month, we are often exposed to men and women who have contributed to fields such as medicine, education, science, entertainment, politics, and sports. I believe that health history should be factored in to what is highlighted during Black History Month. In the same way that learning about the past can help us understand and appreciate our present so that we can prepare for the future, the same is true of our health history. We need to know what is being passed from one generation to the next.

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Perhaps it’s a cultural “thing,” but family health matters are often considered “hush hush” and swept under the carpet. You know, the proverbial “elephant” that everyone sees, but no one talks about. This is not beneficial and has gotten us no where – except to an early grave. I encourage dialogue about family health as part of my platform as an inspirational and experiential speaker promoting health and wellness as a lifestyle. We must have the conversations, ask the questions, and then use the information to take action.

Some chronic illnesses can have a generational impact. If we don’t know what’s in our family blood line, then it’s possible to be blindsided unnecessarily. Let’s look at breast cancer. Guidelines state that women should get their first mammogram at age 45. However, a daughter of a survivor needs to get her mammogram 10 years earlier than when her mother was diagnosed. Without this knowledge, the daughter may miss that early screening and find herself embarking upon her own cancer journey. Did you know that even though white women are diagnosed more frequently than Black women, Black women are dying at higher rates? Additionally, Black women are being diagnosed with advanced stages of breast cancer. This can limit treatment options and result in higher death rates.

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Diabetes and high blood pressure are other chronic illnesses that can impact multiple generations. These conditions may be the result of something more than heredity – cultural upbringing. Lifestyle plays a role in the presence or absence of disease. I’m referring to the foods and beverages that are/are not consumed, food preparation, as well as whether we are/are not engaging in exercise. We can control and change these variables. But if no one is willing to have the conversations, to ask the questions, to do something different, nothing changes and the unhealthy patterns continue.

“Nothing changes if nothing changes.” How true. We have to address the health history in the Black community and in every community. It may mean the difference between life and death for current and future generations. Did you know that in some places of the world, babies are being predisposed with conditions such as diabetes in utero due to the food and drink choices made by their mothers? What?! Life is tough enough as it is. We should want the unborn to enter the world with the healthiest start possible.

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Conversations about family health history have to start somewhere, with someone. YOU can be the voice that initiates an ongoing dialogue. To help you get started, the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition has created a Family Health History Tree.

http://debreastcancer.org/pdf/DBCC_Black_History_Month_2017_full_tree.pdf

Print it out and do your research. Then, talk to family members and your physician about genetic risk factors that may exist, as well as lifestyle changes that can be made. 

History is just not something we celebrate – it’s something we create. 

 

be NspireD!

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