Khadjiah Diagnosed at 28

"I didn't realize how strong my voice really was until I was diagnosed with breast cancer."

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 Young Survival Coalition as their program manager. In this role, I participated in various events and conferences to educate the public and the healthcare community about young women with breast cancer.

I continued living my “new normal” 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 told him that I understood: my disease was incurable. I wondered how I was going to relay this information to my loved ones. This time around my daughter was 13, so she understood 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. 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, 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. Sometimes I am so 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.

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