Uncovered: Becoming a Conquerer

November 23, 2022

When I was diagnosed a month after turning 40, I went numb if I can be honest. I was already on my healing journey from past trauma, finding myself and my happiness again to only find out I’ll need to hang onto my survival skills a little longer. I wasn’t concerned about the financial aspects or the physical changes I was about to endure, I was more concerned about who was going to help me if I needed help, as well as my support system. I had no parents or a close knit family who would or even knew how to rearrange their life to help me with mine, so I did what most of us in the Black community do often and that was to keep pushing with a smile on my face, known as fake it until you make.

At first, everyone was all in because they wanted to have their pats on the back for extending and offering help to the little Black girl who was brave enough to share and tell her story out loud, not realizing the struggles when she wasn’t sharing out loud. Sharing something with such a impact on one’s life isn’t done often in the Black community for many reasons, whether it’s due to shame, lack of knowledge, low income homes (some with no clue of what health or life insurance is) or just too much of a burden to carry not knowing with whom you can rely on. How can others offer help when they’re fighting their own battles with little to no energy to spare? Some may say I grew distant, but I had to fight the best way I too knew how while silencing the unnecessary noise and distractions.

During my treatments, I believe I was on an adrenaline rush because I was busy fighting for my life, no time to complain or self doubt but keep rolling with the punches. From my mastectomy, to chemo, radiation and DIEP flap reconstruction, I found enough strength within me to keep fighting while also cheering other survivors on believing, “We got this.” Just as life doesn’t come with a manual, neither does fighting cancer. Doctors had the answers to the medical questions, knew what medications and surgeries would be best, but very little did anyone consider what mental strength it takes to run this race.

I’ll be the first to say surviving was very familiar to me prior to my cancer diagnosis, but today I chose the word “conqueror” verses “survivor.” Conquerors face overwhelming dangers for a chance to rule, but believe the reward outweighs the risks, and this is what I needed to remember in order to make it through. I gracefully worked every day during both chemo and radiation treatments because bills don’t stop just because you’re fighting cancer, and not everyone has a backbone to rely on. I sometimes thought to myself, my past very well equipped me for such a battle as this because I was already conditioned to make “IT” happened regardless of what the day may bring.

When everything you’ve been through catches up with you, a cancer hangover is more common after treatment or in a later stage of dealing with cancer, but I learned it can also be experienced during the fight. My lifestyle was forced to change due to the reality of cancer. Now, the best word to fit my journey is: “exhausted.” Today, I not only crave, but also want a soft life moving forward. Whatever I have to minimize or whoever I have to decline to keep my life simple, soft and full of pleasure, that’s what I will do. Today, I’m living bold and proud while also allowing myself to rest and slow down. Some may call it lazy, but I don’t care because I owe this to myself.

Unfortunately, this hangover left me with another form of trauma, but it will not take me long to heal from it emotionally or spiritually because my survival skills taught me well. Some battles are chosen, while others throw you into the fire without your consent not even showing you how to exit. Instead of addressing the scars later in life, today I fully embrace the scars and the damage during the process because I deserve to be free in this life. I have enough faith and hope knowing everything else will work itself out. When I look in the mirror and see my scars I see a strength stronger than before, so I smile to myself and whisper “I conquer” because I have a new level of confidence while taking my life back my force… Here’s to my tomorrow! — Syreeta

Uncovered: A Breast Recognition Project is a resource and ongoing project that focuses on the breast cancer experiences of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. Through powerful imagery, genuine storytelling and more, it shines a light on the physical and emotional scars of breast cancer, cultural barriers and health equity.

Learn more and read other Uncovered stories here!

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