“The struggle of being a survivor has been very real, and the truth is that even iron breaks down. I can’t do it alone, no matter how inspired I am.”
When were you diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma?
I was diagnosed in October 2004 when I was 18 years old.
What was the biggest challenge during treatment?
Everything was the biggest challenge for me. I fought tooth and nail to get to college and was a freshman at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. It was five weeks into my freshman year—during midterms. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that I wouldn’t be returning to school, AND I was now tasked with fighting for my life. I returned home to Kansas City, Missouri, to undergo all the blood tests and biopsies, which ultimately led to being diagnosed with and treated for Stage IV Hodgkin’s. Heartbreaking, to say the least.
When did you first meet another Hodgkin’s survivor?
I met Quiana Parks in 2016. We’re the same age and went through treatment at the same time. It was an emotionally expressive moment for me. I love her.
What has been the most difficult thing about being a survivor? The most rewarding?
The most difficult part is that, not only am I surviving HL, but I am also surviving as a Black man, a gay man, an artist and a poor person. It’s lonely navigating the world with so many strikes against me. The oppression of the world really crushes each of these parts of me; collectively they are crushed. At age 18, I never had a starting chance to be self-sufficient and independent. I have been tethered to a medical system that has never cared about me. I haven’t had consistent care, and I struggle with even using the word “care” because it hasn’t and doesn’t feel very caring. So, the compounded factors make survival a very difficult thing. I’m often afraid I won’t make it to age 40. Two healer/teachers, Sobonfu Somé and Malidoma Patrice Somé, who have been important to me.
The most rewarding has been my ability to understand the shadow side of life–how “darkness” serves me. I was so young, with such a pivotal diagnosis, that I was ushered into the realm of sickness, dying and death. I have deeply connected with many people who are sick and dying; I continue to honor my dear loved ones who have died. The urgency to care and share what resources I have–whether inner or outer resource–is paramount to me. The struggle of being a survivor has been very real, and the truth is that even iron wears down. I can’t do it alone, no matter how inspired I am. I still need critical help and support. So, I guess the reward has yet to come.
What is the most interesting place you have visited or would like to visit after COVID?
I would say the most impactful place I’ve visited is Salvador, Brazil. I don’t believe there will be an “after COVID,” just like there isn’t an after cancer/Hodgkin’s. However, I do look forward to when I will be able to properly visit Africa.
I’ve spent some time in South Africa over the years. I see myself spending time in Burkina Faso and other African countries. Burkina Faso is the home of two important spiritual teachers who have been major healers and instrumental in fortifying my faith in my body and genetics as an African person. I have infinite reverence for their understanding and eons of practiced faith. I want to be in a place where this isn’t a concept or something you can buy, but it is essential to the day-to-day experiences.
Who is the person you admire most?
I admire people who endure suffering and really try to make sense of what they have or don’t have. The ones who can’t help but express what happened to them and how it still impacts them. The ones who keep repeating how they feel because they haven’t and don’t feel heard. Because I know that this chips away at their souls. But I admire the tenacity in those who go out with a fight. I never say people “lost their battle to cancer” or “cancer got the best of,” because cancer died, too, when said person departs the physical plane.
What would you say to your pre-Hodgkin’s self?
Words of wisdom, “if I had only known…” Trust yourself and your heart, mind, spirit and soul. Be firm, but lead with soft hands, a soft voice, soft heart, soft eyes and love. Always give thanks.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Hopefully, still living if the world can give me that grace. I can’t be here if others don’t see me here or want me here. It’s not even that I refuse to put the onus on me. I just can’t do it alone; no one can.