My voice gets stronger | Khadijah

I didn’t realize how strong my voice really was until I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003. I was 28 years old, with lots of dreams to fulfill, and my daughter was a spirited 6-year old. It felt unfair to have to deal with such a devastating illness at a young age. When I explained to her that I was going to have to take medicine that would make me lose my hair, a single tear fell from her large almond-shaped eyes. This ignited my fire to fight with everything that I had so I could be around to raise her.

After I had a mastectomy and endured chemotherapy for several months, I was deemed “cancer free.” I wanted to help other survivors along their journey, so I started working with the Young Survival Coalition as their program manager. In this role, I traveled to various events and conferences to educate the public and the health care community about young women with breast cancer. I also shared my story with various media outlets. In 2007, I recorded an inspirational CD, This Day, and gave it away to other survivors to encourage them to stay positive despite the adversity they faced.

I continued living my “new normal” life until I developed a persistent cough in 2010. To my dismay, a chest x-ray showed a blood clot and multiple tumors in my lungs; a biopsy confirmed that the cancer had returned. Unlike when I was first diagnosed and cried profusely, I didn’t this time. The doctor tried to gently explain what metastatic breast cancer meant, but I said that I understood: my disease was incurable. I needed to take control of something because my stomach was swirling around and I was wondering how I was going to relay this information to my loved ones. This time around, my daughter was 13, so she understood more about what cancer could mean. When I told her the news, she gave me a hug and said sweetly, “Mom, you beat it before; you’ll do it again.” My heart wept.

Yet, my faith abounded. I had relied heavily on prayer and reading the Bible during my first diagnosis. I knew that my spirituality would have to anchor me once again because I was literally fighting for my life this time. My doctor recommended that I take oral chemotherapy, which worked for over a year to relieve my symptoms and minimized the coughing. In 2012, my airway was cleared with radiation and with the new chemotherapy regimen that I’m on, and my tumors continue to shrink; so we treat this as a chronic illness. I even had the audacity to get my graduate degree in journalism from Columbia University in 2013 because my dreams are still relevant and attainable.

I have my days when I just get tired of dealing with cancer, but I keep moving forward because it’s not over until I stop singing and I don’t plan to do that any time soon.