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What does having cancer feel like? (It ain't pretty)

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Sometimes, I forget. It’s usually around 3 a.m., while sleeping in bed. I’m wrapped in my favorite gray-and-blue threadbare blanket, dreaming that I’m back in my 20s – full of energy, sporting some unabashed red lipstick and waistless.
Then, I get a punch in the gut.
I jump up and claw my way to the bathroom. Sometimes there’s a dramatic scene, with heaves and fluids and tears. Sometimes it’s just sitting on the cold toilet seat with a dull stare.
Then, I face the mirror. Staring back is an ashen, brown face with a bald head and dull eyes that have only a smattering of lashes left. That’s when I remember: I have cancer.
For me, it’s been like wearing a large, weighted coat that drags the floor. No matter the weather, no matter the place, I cannot remove it. It digs into my shoulders and pushes my feet into the ground.
It’s hot on the inside of it, and it doesn’t match with any of my clothes, but I must wear it — this backbreaking, suffocating cloak called cancer.
The magnitude of bei…

The Great Fallout: My hairy days ahead

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I’ve never really appreciated my hair. Growing up a little brown girl in East Birmingham, I would lament that my dirty-brown, cottony mane wasn’t long enough, straight enough or looked like that of the pretty girl in my sixth-grade class. To me, my locks were too short and too nappy, and I thought God had given me a bum deal.
At night, I would take out a pair of my black, opaque church tights and fit them on my perfectly round head. I’d twist the legs into a long braid, contort it into different styles and then prance in the mirror until my mama made me take them off.
When I’d remove my mock do, I would be thrust back into reality and deflated all over again. I wanted long, curly coils like Denise Huxtable on “The Cosby Show” and bouncy bangs like Tootie on “The Facts of Life.” Heck, I even wanted Michael Jackson’s long, twisty locks like on the “Billie Jean” video. (I’m an 80s baby.)
On Saturday mornings, when it was time to get my hair pressed for the week to come, my mama would brac…

I come as one, but I stand as 10,000

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On the morning of my first chemotherapy treatment, I got up before dawn. As my family slept, I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, pulled up my threadbare Mickey Mouse shirt and stared at my body.
My brown, rounding figure wears my age, my former vices and my lust for carbs. My eyes fell to my right breast, which is now noticeably shorter than the left. I assume that is because the HER2 positive cancer inside has eaten away at spaces and places.
Above my left breast, there is a scar that marks a port buried beneath and just above that, a mark on my neck is where a catheter feeds into a vein. Every three weeks, that will be the path where the drugs will be inserted and prayerfully shrink this disease.
Not knowing what to expect, the movie inside my head began to unfold. Will it hurt when the nurse tries to access my port? Will the chemicals burn as they flow through my veins? Will I immediately become sick and my hair fall to the ground?
The questions got louder and louder like a gnat…

The first step in my healing is...forgiveness

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The morning after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was in bed buried beneath blankets with no immediate plans to emerge. There were plenty of Cinnamon Pop Tarts in the kitchen pantry and a paid-up subscription to Netflix to keep the kids at bay – at least for a few hours.
But, around 10 o’clock, my mama called and asked if she and her prayer partner could come over. Now, a request from my mother is not really a request. It is a courtesy call, so I knew that I needed to get up and get ready with the quickness.
I hadn’t combed my hair or taken a shower. I covered up the hole in my baggy sweatpants with an overstretched college T’shirt, put on my head rag (yes, “rag”), practiced a force smile and then braced myself for a visit.
My mom, a devout Christian who repeats my name at least 1,000 times in a sentence, and Mrs. Janice, a petite brown who has what we call “cat eyes,” walked in and greeted me with long hugs and sad eyes. Mrs. Janice was joined by her husband and we all gathere…
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My interruption
The Birmingham sky was postcard pretty on the Friday that I found out I have Stage 3 breast cancer. Brilliant brushstrokes of cerulean stretched from East Lake to West End and the sun pierced through the sky. It was like the setting of a dream, but the snap of cold in the air reminded me that it wasn’t.
It was lunchtime, and my team and I were interviewing for an opening in our department. The candidate, a woman, was in her early thirties. She had a messy ponytail, cheap mail-order tortoiseshell glasses and wore an ink blue pants suit that revealed her skinny legs. Five minutes into her talk, I wrote the words: “She’s a no.” She rambled and complained about her former employer and my mind drifted toward lunch.
I discreetly pulled out my phone underneath the table and scrolled through emails while she answered the questions from our prepared list. I saw that I had missed a call from an “801” number and my heart began to beat in my chest.
I clumsily excused myself from th…