“Im going to be very honest. This doesn’t look good.”
“Doesn’t look good as in I can die?” I asked half shocked but fully afraid.
“Yes” said the doctor as he tried his best to keep me calm while remaining clear about the fact that this could be one of the very last conversations I have.
“I’m still going to perform the surgery. I’m going to do everything I can. Your only job is to just wake up after the surgery. Now close your eyes and relax”
I heard his words and tried to prepare for the surgery. Physically I was as prepared as I could be. I was in a hospital gown laying down on the operating table. I could feel the anesthesia kicking in. I fought it for as long as could. I tried to force my eyes open. If these were going to be my last moments on earth I wanted every single one of them. I fought hard but the anesthesia won. “Your only job is to wake up.” The surgeon’s words swirled around in my head as I clung to my faith and drifted off to sleep.
I did it! I woke up! I proudly screamed with tears in my eyes when I realized that I that I was awake after the surgery. Maybe it was less of an external scream and more of a barely audible gasp. I was in a post-surgery sort of fog. I don’t fully remember that part. I do however, know exactly when this fight for my life started.
The day everything started was pretty normal. I had a sinus infection which was pretty standard for me. I went to see my doctor with hopes of getting a new prescription. My doctor has a way of disarming her patients and asking probing questions that naturally lends itself to sharing things that seem mundane. Because of this I casually mentioned some symptoms that (to me) were normal. I found blood in my stool. It wasn’t the first time. In fact, when it happened in the past I told my previous doctor and she inquired about my lifestyle. During that season in my life I was going non-stop. I ate whatever was fast. A burger and fries would always do the trick. After sharing what my typical meal and day consisted of my doctor attributed the blood in my stool to stress and poor diet. I made some changes. I ate a salad here and there and cut down on the soda and wouldn’t you know it, the blood was gone. Everything was all good. Or so I thought. After that “diagnosis” I always attributed the blood in my stool to poor diet so I pretty much ignored it whenever it happened. I only brought it up casually when I began seeing my current doctor. When I shared with her the history of blood in my stool and explained the previous “diagnosis” she was alarmed. She stated that I need to see a specialist for testing and check for colon cancer. Test for colon cancer? A test that’s NOT covered by my insurance? Ah, the hustle of healthcare business I immediately thought. I carried these doubts home with me when I shared the information with my husband.
“What if it’s serious?” My husband asked when I told him I’m not taking the test. “What if it’s not,” I responded with thoughts of a $3,000 out of pocket expense dancing in my head. “I’m sure it’s nothing and I don’t want us incurring an unnecessary expense to confirm what I already know,” I said. My husband pushed back. He didn’t want to risk the chance that I was wrong and I didn’t want to fight anymore. I agreed to take the test.
After the test was completed my gastroenterologist stated she was headed out of town but she would call me with the results if the test indicated that it was something serious. The next day during a night at home with dinner and conversation with my husband and friend I got a phone call that I never fully expected to receive. My doctor was as loving as one could expect when she delivered the news that made my heart stop. You have rectal colon cancer. You need to have a portion of your colon removed.” I heard the words and sort of just swallowed them. I held them inside of me and returned to the room and continued with the night as if I had just spoken to a random telemarketer. “It’s pretty far gone. We can’t wait.” I swallowed the words again when they threatened to push forward and leap out of my mouth in the middle of dinner.
The night ended and my husband and I went to bed. He slept and I stared at the ceiling. I finally woke him up and told him the news. He had so many questions. I had such few answers. I told him everything I knew. We stayed up all night. We prayed. We talked. We prayed some more. Without ever returning to sleep we got dressed and went to the hospital. He contacted our family, shared the news that was told to us.
Two weeks later my family sat in the hospital waiting room grappling with the sudden news and I laid in the operating room listening to a doctor tell me my only job is to wake up from a surgery I almost never made it to.
But I did it. I woke up. I woke up again and again and again. I woke up after every proceeding surgery and I woke up every morning after long chemotherapy treatments. If you ask me chemo and radiation is worse than the cancer. Each treatment was so draining and a total nightmare for a claustrophobic person like myself. I laid inside of that machine and it felt like it was closing in on me. My saving grace was Andra Day’s song “Rise Up.” I promised myself that one day I would meet her and share how her song helped me to rise. I played it during each of my treatments. Most days I didn’t feel like I was going to make it.
But I did it. I made it again and again and again. I wish I could say that everything was perfect after the last chemotherapy treatment, but life after chemo hasn’t been easy at all.
In my research to better understand my diagnosis, I discovered how large sugar consumption is connected to cancer. I learned how common colon cancer is in the Black community and how disproportionately Black people die from this form of cancer. The ugly truth is that many doctors don’t screen for this form of cancer because the test usually requires an out-of-pocket expense. It’s not uncommon for health care practitioners to assume families can’t afford it and avoid administering the test even when symptoms are present. So, I’m fighting this battle while fighting my own cancer that returned months after my last chemo treatment ended.
The first time I was diagnosed with cancer it knocked me off my feet. This time I’m shaken but still steady. Prayer, family and my organization helps me to stay grounded. I started Brown Sugar Rehab to educate people on the effects of high sugar consumption, and to raise money to pay for treatments and screenings for those who can’t afford them. Since the start of Brown Sugar Rehab, I’ve released PSAs and have done interviews trying to bring awareness and help families. This is my way of fighting. I’m fighting for myself, for my family who want to see me live long enough to have a child, and for every person that may get a phone call they never fully expect and must listen to a surgeon say “I’m going to be very honest, this doesn’t look good.”
As as Told Shanita Hubbard