You Never Forget The Cancer Call

I’ve been struggling with writing lately. It’s not because I have nothing to say or am uninspired. It’s because I have way too much to say and struggling to get my thoughts written down in a cohesive way. The perfectionist in me doesn’t want to write something awful, yet I need to release some of what has been on my mind lately.

My six-year anniversary of getting the cancer call was on Tuesday, September 14th. I woke up that morning with mixed emotions. It’s one of those memories that will never fade. The flashbacks are clear and packed with emotion. I was working at iHeart Media sitting in my cubicle on 9/14/15. I’d had the biopsy at 4pm on 9/11/15 which fell on Friday that year and was told it would take 48-72 hours to receive the results. I’m always aware of the time because of all my years working in media and making sure the commercials were the correct spot length. I remember looking at my phone when it rang at 3:05pm and not recognizing the number but knowing in my gut to answer.

“Megan-Claire, you have Invasive Lobular Breast Cancer. We don’t know the stage yet. You need to get a pen and paper and take some notes because time is of the essence.”

The entire trajectory of my life changed in an instant. Yes, I’m still alive and “survived,”, but many other warriors I’ve crossed paths with during these six years have died. Why am I still here and they aren’t? They had husbands or wives and children. I don’t. Survivor’s guilt is real. It’s important for people to not negate these feelings because the guilt is just as crushing as the loss of friends. 

I miss them.

I think of their families.

I wish I could’ve taken their place.

So yes, I’m still here but not physically or mentally the same. I’m chronically ill thanks to fibromyalgia, back pain, and neuropathy. I’m in pain every second of every damn day. Some days are manageable and other days it’s off the charts. I literally look like a different person (chemo curls are back) in a body I don’t recognize at all. 

Being naturally resilient is a blessing and a curse. Even when I don’t want to show up for myself I somehow always manage to push up and just do it. I’m fully immersed within the cancer space. There are days where I feel passionate about my advocacy and days where I am utterly drained. I have to continuously remind myself that it’s okay to put myself first and can say no to various requests of my time. That doesn’t mean I am selfish or don’t care. That is self-care.

For the first time in six years, I did not completely wallow on that day. You see, cancer cannot take away the essence of me, you or anyone. Ever. The one constant that brings me pure joy is the arts, specifically the theatre. So, I went to see a musical with another theatre friend that evening. It was the first time I had done something that literally breathed life into me. I fully enjoyed myself and felt the familiar feeling of walking into a theatre and feeling like I was home. It was an evening that cancer could not touch.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

A True White Ally

I received You Are Your Best Thing: An Anthology edited by Tarana Burke and Brené Brown and card from my lovely, supportive, and compassionate friend Shannon earlier this week. The Black authors who contributed to this anthology are extraordinary and so raw in sharing their experiences of being Black in this society. It has taken almost the entire week before I had the right headspace to begin reading it.

I feel an avalanche of emotions topple over me after reading the introduction and the first four stories. My head is spinning, tears drying, and heart is still pounding.

I must thank Shannon for sending this to me because it is not something I would’ve bought on my own. To be honest, seeing Brené Brown’s name on it made me hesitant to even open it at first. Once I read the introduction, I appreciated that Brené acknowledged that some Black people would feel this way and she and Tarana addressed the reason for this collaboration and both explained the dynamics of their friendship.

The fact is, Shannon reads my blog, my social media posts, and takes time to check on me and really talk to me about racism and how she’s worked toward acknowledging her own white privilege. She’s heard the brokenness in my voice, has seen the pain and exhaustion on my face, and continues to reassure me that she IS a safe white ally and genuine friend.

She knew I needed a different kind of support and keenly aware that she should not be that person for obvious reasons. I’ve expressed countless times through conversations and through my writing that I don’t have many Black friends and have always struggled with accepting my own Blackness and experiences. It’s what prompted the blog piece I wrote called Mixed Fragility last year. Much of my existence has been where I am the only Black person in the room, in the company, at the table or on the stage.

2020 was a pivotal year for me because it’s the first time I truly began to be afraid to drive alone, live alone, go into the store alone. I also felt a newfound sense of rage and brokenness that differs from all my previous feelings and entered a period of wanting to rise up and express the hurt and confusion I continuously feel for being in this skin.  

I’m about to make another cup of chai tea and read a few more chapters because this is the first time I can honestly fully relate to parts of these Black experiences shared. These Black authors are exceptional, and I can feel a tender pull of togetherness and understanding from their words. I used to think I was the only one who felt such rage, self-hate, and shame.

Through action and from a place of respect, Shannon let me know that she stands firmly by my side as not only a white ally and anti-racist, but also as a genuine friend.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

Afraid of Experiencing Joy

Am I afraid of experiencing joy? Yesterday, I was listening to the podcast Small Doses by the exceptionally brilliant and talented comedian, actress, author, and businesswoman Amanda Seales. Her guest on this particular episode was Layla F. Saad, the author of Me and White Supremacy. When Layla was talking about her experiences as a black Muslim woman raised in the UK, she struck a painful chord in me when discussing the fear of joy. It’s something I have thought about over the years but never fully acknowledged within myself.

After cancer, the expectation by friends, family, coworkers, and even some other cancer survivors are to feel joy and happiness that you “made it” to the survivorship stage. I don’t feel joyful about being in this stage because I’m in more physical pain than I was during active treatment. I’ve tried so many medications to try and help manage the fibromyalgia, neuropathy and back pain, but none have brought any real relief.

How do I embrace joy when just breathing can cause ripples of pain throughout my entire body?

How do I embrace joy when getting out of bed causes me to cry out in pain and hold onto my cane for support?

How do I embrace joy when I don’t have a family of my own to live for?

As I struggle to navigate my way through the thick clouds of despair, frustration, anger, resentment, and pure rage, I do have fleeting moments where I’ve experienced joy. That’s the issue. The longest period where I experienced pure, full on joy was during my recent adventure in Zadar, Croatia where I met the amazing Ancora.ai team for a bit of business and tons of fun and team bonding. I experienced so many levels of joy that I was almost in shock by how light and happy I felt. Is this what life is supposed to be like?

When I look at pictures from that trip, I almost didn’t recognize my face because it was literally glowing from the joy I was feeling. There were no filters or spotlight used. I had not realized how weighed down I had become from dealing with

battling racism my entire life

oppression and microaggressions my entire professional career

feeling like I don’t belong anywhere

fighting to have my symptoms taken seriously by doctors

the reality that racism seeps deep within healthcare and certain Facebook cancer groups

not being able to fully be myself and be accepted

and

not knowing how to be joyful long-term.

Yes, I was scared to travel to Croatia by myself but also knew I had to do it. I needed to get away from the United States and see if I’d feel the same oppressive weight over there that I do here. I wasn’t followed in any stores. I wasn’t looked at suspiciously. In fact, some of the local people didn’t automatically know that I was an American. The waiters I met were welcoming and hilarious. I never felt pressured to hurry or make a rash decision. The entire Ancora.ai team were so lovely, compassionate, hilarious, caring, and brilliant. I didn’t have to compartmentalize any racist comments or feelings of being undermined in order to make it through the day. I could just be full on Megs/Megsie/Meggie/Megan-Claire without judgment. My laughter and sheer joy were real and not faked. I didn’t have to wear a mask. Is this what joy feels like on a consistent basis?

Unfortunately, as soon as I landed back in Atlanta, GA, I felt the weight of oppression, microaggressions, fear of police, and felt suspicious eyes on me. So, once again, my joy was fleeting. In fact, the joy in Croatia seemed almost too good to be true.

Maybe that’s why I’m afraid to experience joy long-term because I’ve never known life without having to deal with hurt, pain, despair, fear, frustration, stress, and rage. Yet, I have the right to experience joy more than once every blue moon.

I need joy.

I crave joy.

I deserve joy.

Damn it; I’m going to find some joy!!!

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

How Much of Me Can I Reveal?

My birthday is next Saturday, July 3rd. I’m hitting another pivotal age that will move me into a new age category when filling out registrations, applications, or patient paperwork – 45. Aside from noticing how much my face and body has aged the past five years post-cancer, I’ve noticed the mandatory toleration of bullshit and then racist bullshit barometer that has been forced upon me since the first time I was called a nigger in the 4th grade in order to survive is gone.

Will there ever a time where I can bring all of myself into a room? How much of me can I reveal without getting hurt? How do so many white people not see the protective cloak I wear to help fend off the inevitable insults, microaggressions, full on racists remarks, undermining of me, and them trying to “put me in my place?”

I remember turning 25 while living in LA. By that point, I had become

A little jaded.

More insecure.

Had experienced first heartbreak.

Unhappy with career.

Self-hate.

Diagnosed with depression and anxiety.

I couldn’t financially pursue acting the way I wanted because many unexpected and painful things happened while in LA that forced me to go the corporate route because I needed health insurance and somewhat steady income. I put my dreams on hold.

I remember turning 35 while living in Atlanta. By that point, I had experienced

Living through a terrible recession.

More heartbreak.

Lack of professional direction.

Being called stupid by my white female boss when I worked for an in-house agency.

Being told I’m brilliant by a white employer but unwilling to pay more for my expertise.

Letting go of pursuing acting.

More health issues and unexpected weight gain.

My hair on the left side started falling out.

More depression and anxiety.

Self-hate.

My white doctors dismissing my symptoms even though I knew something was seriously wrong.

More anger that was boiling into rage.

Now we fast forward to soon-to-be 45 while living in Atlanta. Now, I continue to have difficulty navigating through life because of

Supposedly “surviving” Stage IIA invasive lobular breast cancer.

Lack of quality of life thanks to permanent damage stemming from 16 rounds of chemo, 8 surgeries, and 33 radiation treatments.

Unmanaged chronic pain due to fibromyalgia and chemo induced peripheral neuropathy and medically induced menopause.

Being told by two white women when I was working at a huge ad agency that I had to keep my health and work separate when I began struggling from side effects from taking Arimidex to help prevent a recurrence. They said this in front of everyone.

Being called by the other black woman’s name 2x by an older white woman, who was/is a tRump supporter, after being there for two years at the job I had before the pandemic. There were only two black women in the marketing department. We have vastly different looks and personalities.

Having my ideas stolen by white women in the workplace throughout my entire career and them receiving the credit and not being able to call them out on it for fear of losing my job because I needed the money.

Realizing how oppressed and degraded I had become after consistently dealing with the white fragility of white women and every so often white men.

Dealing with white women in certain cancer groups who have actually said, “race doesn’t belong in the cancer space” and “not everything is about race.”

Being trolled and targeted on Twitter by racists because I began speaking up about it more and more.

Palpable cracks in my soul after seeing black men and women being murdered at the hands of white people over and over and over and over again with no accountability.

Discovering white people who I thought were friends and who I trusted let their racial bias and racists thoughts show, which has destroyed my trust in a lot of white people.

Watching an insurrection happen LIVE and seeing those racists being treated with dignity and able to just go home afterward.

Palpable pain, self-hate, unhappiness, and rage continues to runneth over.

I honestly didn’t want to write out the flood of thoughts that have been whirling in my head since the start of this year. Writing it down makes it real. I literally have tears in my eyes as I write this, and heart is pounding furiously because I am just so fucking tired of having to be ON all the time and never knowing who I can trust anymore. Now that the veil of oppression has been lifted from my face, how do I continue moving forward without hate seeping into all the cracks in my soul that have formed during my soon-to-be 45 years on this hateful planet?

Will I ever develop the ability to move past…

the darkness

the sadness

the hurt

and the rage.

Well, that remains to be determined.

What I can confidently say is I’m finally at a place professionally where my voice and ideas are encouraged, supported, and uplifted. I’ve never received that kind of respect before, and it feels strange yet deeply appreciated and comforting. I suppose miniscule steps forward are still steps to be acknowledged.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie