By Nneka M. Okona, Guest Blogger
It was a snow day the day that I found out about my mother’s breast cancer diagnosis. When I woke up that morning I was far too preoccupied with the flaky, pristine snow that glittered over what had previously been a rolling lawn with browned, dying grass. I could hardly contain my excitement and my mind went into overdrive over such an unusual predicament for a child that grew up in the suburbs 20 minutes east of Atlanta. My mother however, wasn’t at all focused on the excitement of me or my sisters. She was consumed with a diagnosis that seemed to be too much to bear for herself. She sat me, my father and my four sisters down at the dining room table and shared her news. While she tried to reassure all of us that everything would be fine, I was stuck on the c-word. The c-word meant death. Suffering. Losing of hair. Becoming frail and fragile.
Cancer meant I was losing my mother.
I was seventeen years old at the time, three months shy of graduating from high school. I couldn’t comprehend how serious this diagnosis was and I avoided dealing with its severity. I remember the many nights my mother didn’t sleep because she was plagued with insomnia and nausea. I remember her losing her hair; her lush, jet black locks that were once her crowning glory that she tucked neatly in a French roll before going to work. I remember her growing faint and weak after only walking across the room because the chemotherapy, radiation and the cocktail of numerous drugs she was taking stripped her of her once vivacious, outgoing personality.
Cancer changed her. Cancer changed our family. Cancer changed me. But most importantly, it changed my will to fight. It completely altered my attitude about perseverance. I knew I had to do something to fight back. A few years after my mother’s diagnosis, I took my first step to fighting back against cancer: I became a volunteer to help execute a local American Cancer Society Relay for Life. The cancer advocacy and volunteerism bug didn’t stop there. When I learned a Young Professionals of Atlanta for the American Cancer Society was group looking for steering committee members, without hesitation said yes. Of course, I would put my leadership skills to work to help fight cancer!
Almost three years later I still sit on the Young Professionals steering committee. As I get amp’d up for relay season I remember that moment, that snow day and how scared and alone I felt. I remember feeling like I had just been handed a death sentence for the most remarkable woman in my life. I know that many of you probably feel the same way if you have recently received a cancer diagnosis for yourself or for a loved one. But don’t let your sadness derail you. Fight back, just like I did! Fight back by cleaning up your lifestyle to avoid the high risk cancer factors that usually come as a result of poor diet and little to no exercise. Or go to a cancer relay event in your community and get inspired!
Cancer affects so many but you don’t have to feel alone. Get involved with the American Cancer Society in your community by giving your time. Donate money to the cause of cancer research so that one day, no one will have to endure what my family did, or you, your family, friend, church member or coworker.
Last year marked eight years of my mother being a breast cancer survivor. Each time I share with my mother my involvement with the American Cancer Society, she smiles. She doesn’t know I do it all for her. Maybe I should tell her.
Nneka M. Okona is a writer based in Atlanta who perpetually kicks cancer’s ass. You can check out her other musings on her blog, http://www.nisfornneka.tumblr.com or tweet her @NisforNneka.
Here are a few Cancer Awareness & Advocacy Resources Friends of Ebonie recommends:
American Cancer Society
Fuck Cancer Foundation
Run for A Cure Africa