Claim Your Blessings

| February 24, 2013 | 0 Comments

by Maimah KarmoMaimah_Karmo_Book_Cover_Fearlessv2(1)

“I don’t want the world to see me, ‘cause I don’t think
they’d under­stand. When everything’s made to be bro­ken,
I just want you to know who I am.“
— Goo Goo Dolls, “Iris”

Scream­ing in silence, I felt my world col­lapse around me when I heard those four words, “you have breast can­cer”. I felt every­thing tilt around me, spin­ning, like a mad merry-o-round. I felt gripped by fear. I was 32-years old. I was just start­ing to live. After flee­ing my home coun­try of Liberia when I was 15 years old, with just one suit­case, my fam­ily and I had lost every­thing. I had worked hard for 17 years to build a new life. I finally had the job, the salary, the house, car, a part­ner and a beau­ti­ful three year old. In that moment I felt my dreams dis­in­te­grate around me.

After a mam­mo­gram and a failed aspi­ra­tion, my doc­tor told me that the lump wasn’t can­cer. “You’re too young,” she said. “Come back in six months.” Over six months, I started to feel increas­ingly exhausted and I was hav­ing night sweats. I also noticed that the lump was grow­ing. I sched­uled another appoint­ment. The doc­tor insisted that noth­ing was wrong with me. The next day at 4:45 p.m., she called to give me the news.

Over the next few months, I had to learn the lan­guage that all women diag­nosed with breast can­cer come to learn. I learned about blood draws, Elston scores, stag­ing, recep­tors, estro­gen lev­els, treat­ment types, pre-medication names. I thought that the worst of it would be the breast can­cer diag­no­sis, but the third day after my lumpec­tomy, my fiance’ called to tell me that he couldn’t deal with this can­cer thing. He wanted out.

I never thought I would beg some­one to stay with me, but I heard myself say, “please don’t leave me.” I was so afraid of going through can­cer alone. After we hung up, I sat on the stairs look­ing out the win­dow. I felt so empty and alone. I couldn’t do this by myself. I wasn’t strong enough to do it all — to deal with the doc­tors, the chemo, the deci­sions, the house, bills, work, and tak­ing care of a three year old child.

As soon as I had healed from the surgery, I began chemother­apy. I was sure that I’d be the only woman who had chemo and who wouldn’t lose her hair. I would use my pow­ers of pos­i­tive think­ing to will it from hap­pen­ing to me. After my sec­ond treat­ment, I began to see hair on my shirts and pil­lows. I guess my pow­ers weren’t so mag­i­cal any­more. As my hair fell, I felt my body get weaker and weaker. The weight peeled off, and I watched the pro­mo­tion I had worked for slip through my grasp. After my sec­ond chemother­apy, I found myself hos­pi­tal­ized. As soon as I could think clearly, my mother told me that I was going to live with her. I felt lost. Every­thing that defined me as a woman was falling away — my hair, breast, the shape of my body. My career was falling apart, I had lost my fiance’, my home; my heart and my spirit were bro­ken and I felt as if I was sink­ing into an abyss. I lost hope — the only thing that kept me going for­ward was my lit­tle muse.

I went to work when I could, but fol­low­ing my treat­ment, I spent hours in bed, with the trash bas­ket close by, fight­ing the nau­sea and then throw­ing up. I thought it would never stop. I’d throw up and cry, cry and throw up, sleep, eat, then do it all over again.
After four months, it occurred to me that I could con­tinue to feel like a vic­tim, or I could look for the bless­ing in all of this. One night I had a talk with God. I made a promise that if he restored my soul, I would give my life in ser­vice. The next morn­ing when I woke, I was a dif­fer­ent per­son. I now saw the world as if through a dif­fer­ent set of eyes. It occurred to me that I had spent so much time look­ing at me and “my” can­cer, that I had not given thought to oth­ers, and other young women going through the same thing that was hap­pen­ing to me. I needed to take up the charge to make a dif­fer­ence. The rest of my life would be spent doing just that — serv­ing oth­ers and feel­ing blessed.

I founded the Tigerlily Foun­da­tion, to edu­cate, advo­cate for, empower and sup­port young women — before, dur­ing and after breast can­cer. I was still in chemother­apy and had no fund­ing, nor any idea how to begin or run a foun­da­tion, but I had made a promise to God. He had deliv­ered on his promise and now I had to keep my side of the agree­ment. I knew that I could not wait until I got bet­ter to start doing the work that lay before me, so I started doing some­thing every day to build the orga­ni­za­tion and to serve oth­ers. Look­ing back, I know now that whether I had lived or died, in serv­ing oth­ers was where I found my heal­ing, because in giv­ing to oth­ers, I for­got my own chal­lenges and pain; and in their place, gained joy and friend­ships. The joy of giv­ing love to oth­ers was much big­ger than look­ing at myself and ask­ing “why me”. I felt blessed that this expe­ri­ence has awak­ened me, because before my diag­no­sis, I had been liv­ing “dead”, as many of us do, dis­con­nected from our true selves and cut off from the very thing that keeps us breath­ing — our con­nec­tion to the pow­er­ful spirit form, from which we came.

Each of us is born with a pure con­nec­tion to God. As we grow in the world and in our attach­ment to earthly things, that con­nec­tion weak­ens and is some­times bro­ken. Life sends us signs to awaken us, but often, we ignore the lit­tle signs, until some­thing big hap­pens, to awaken us to the real­iza­tion that life is for the liv­ing — today, and to remind us that every moment is a gift if we choose to accept it.

Breast can­cer forced me to see the truths and the pre­tense — and forced me to really see myself for the first time. It gave me a deeper appre­ci­a­tion for who I was and in many ways, allowed me to love myself and oth­ers in a way I’d never had. I now know that life is in the jour­ney and in the liv­ing of it; it is as much in the misses as the hits and in the fail­ures as the suc­cesses. There is as much to be learned from the falling down as in the get­ting up and more to learn from imper­fec­tion than from get­ting it right every time. As I looked death in the face, I made up my mind that I would live every day as if it were my last. I look back on the time before my diag­no­sis, when I held back from fully lov­ing, and I know today that love is free, so I give as much of it away as I can every day. Love is not just some­thing you say, but some­thing you do, so I live it actively. I know now that hap­pi­ness is a choice and a state of being, not some­thing you’ll be when you get some­place else. So I choose, and want to inspire you to choose, to find joy in every moment.

Breast can­cer gave me clar­ity and a single-minded focus I’d never had. My per­spec­tive is crys­tal clear. My faith is unfet­tered, and my belief in my des­tiny is unshake­able. As I wrote this arti­cle, I sat back and reflected on the past six years. The des­per­ate, defi­ant promise I had made to God, Tigerlily Foun­da­tion has now grown into a national orga­ni­za­tion, offer­ing peer sup­port, buddy bags, meals, finan­cial assis­tance and other pro­grams to improve the qual­ity of life for young women. In the Fall of 2012, I wrote my mem­oir, Fear­less: Awak­en­ing to My Life’s Pur­pose Through Breast Can­cer, to share my chal­lenges, growth and transformation.

Life is not promised to us for­ever, but as long as we are alive, we have to find joy in every moment. We need to be fear­less in the quest for our own per­sonal truth. Life will bring its chal­lenges, but there is always a golden nugget in each one. It could be a deep­en­ing knowl­edge of one­self and learn­ing that you’re stronger than you thought, or it could be that God is teach­ing you grace in a way you never expected. My hope is that every woman — whether diag­nosed with breast can­cer or not, finds her truths, cre­ates joy and allows her chal­lenges to form within her incred­i­ble inner strength; and that each of you faces life in a way that you are not bro­ken by cir­cum­stances, but that you bend and grow through it all.


Category: Inspire

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