I didn’t take it seriously when my mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004.

She didn’t look sick. She didn’t act sick. She still had her energy and smile and was always loving and sensitive. Despite our financial hardships or how she felt, she made sure my seven siblings and I never missed a trip to the circus or a chance to sing and harmonize with her. My mother remained the same person in and out of her sickness. She always said she would beat it, and she did.

Then, the cancer came back, and it spread throughout her body. I watched my mom go through operations on her brain. She was in pain, and she started losing her hair and dropping weight. That’s when it became real to me.

I never would have imagined it. I didn’t see it coming to a person who was so lively. Although she stayed in high spirits, I saw the change in her security. She didn’t feel like herself. That was very hurtful to witness.

While I was on the Up Close and Personal Tour with Chris Brown, Sean Kingston and Soulja Boy in 2007, I would go to my grandmother’s house to see my mother. When I visited her on her birthday in December of that year, she was in bed. She looked at me but  didn’t say a word. She didn’t have the strength. I thought, ‘Wow. My mother is dying.’ That was the point where I found clarity. I knew she was going to pass on.

Six days later, she did.

She died after I went back out on the road. My dad, who accompanied me when I traveled, pulled me to the side during our stop in Atlanta and told me. I couldn’t feel. I couldn’t cry. I was in a daze. It was a shocking moment.

After the funeral, my father, who was no longer with my mom, asked me if I wanted to take a break, but I continued to work. That’s how I dealt with her death. I didn’t know how else to cope. I kept telling myself I was okay, but in reality, I needed time.

I was just 18 when she died. I wasn’t a woman yet. I felt like I needed my mother to become a woman. It was stressful for years, because I was lost.

At 26, I’m just starting to find myself. I still miss her. I cry occasionally. I still reminisce and think about what life would be like if she was still here. But I also think about all that she has given me.

My mother has taught me about integrity, self-confidence and self-love. She stressed the importance of sharing that love with other people, protecting your family and never letting up. I hear her voice, and it helps me to grow. I practice how to be the best me on a daily basis.

After her death, I refrained from saying “I know how you feel” to folks who’ve lost a loved one to breast cancer, because everyone’s situation is unique.

The only thing I can say is to take it one step at a time. Let God guide you. One of the best pieces of advice that my mom gave me was to love God. Having faith in a higher power has helped me tremendously, because I have a better understanding of who my mother was to me then in the flesh and who she is to me now in the spirit.