In December 2011, I was diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM), one of the most aggressive, expensive, and lethal forms of brain cancer. Unfortunately, mine was Stage 4—the worst of the worst. Treatment options for GBM were and still are limited and costly. Even with optimal treatment, the average life expectancy for GBM patients was just eight months. Sadly, less than 5% of patients survive past three years, with only 1% surviving ten years or more.
As I learned more about the disease, I wondered why me? Glioblastoma is most common in older people (between the ages of 65 and 74) and occurs more often in men than women. When I was diagnosed, I was 47 years old, female, and in good health. No one in my family had a history of brain tumors, and I never had any classic tumor symptoms: worsening headaches, nausea and vomiting, blurred or double vision, or seizures. The diagnosis seemed to come out of nowhere.
Looking back, there were probably subtle physiological changes occurring in my body that I ignored or simply didn’t recognize for weeks—maybe even months—before my diagnosis. First, I recall making an unusual number of mistakes while typing; my left fingers were not hitting the correct keys. I initially attributed this to carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition that impacts individuals who perform repetitive movements with their hands, like typing. I certainly fit that category. At the time, I didn’t connect the dots between my typing difficulties and feeling off-rhythm at a concert a few days earlier. I later learned that increasing pressure in my head caused by a tumor in the frontal lobe of my brain was triggering both. My typing situation led me to see a doctor, but brain cancer was the last thing I expected.
Upon receiving the diagnosis, I was stunned and overwhelmed. The doctors attempted to convey information to me, but I was unable to fully comprehend or absorb what they were saying. My body felt heavy as I sat slumped in a wheelchair. Their words and voices seemed to swirl around me like a vortex. As the urgency of surgery and the possibility of a poor outcome became apparent, I was forced to confront the new reality that lay ahead of me.
Treating my cancer would be extremely challenging. My first hurdle would be immediate surgery, which ideally would remove the entire tumor while sparing the healthy brain tissue. That would be followed by weeks of radiation, months of chemotherapy, and an array of other medications to mitigate the toxic and potentially life-threatening side effects. My loved ones and I would also have to prepare for the possibility of my death.
As hard as it was to face a terminal illness, I was determined to fight and not let my condition define or defeat me. My faith in God and the support of my beloved family and cherished friends strengthened me to carry on.
Surgery was performed the next day. The entire tumor was removed without complications. Thirty-nine radiation treatments followed, and over the next year, I underwent ten five-day cycles of chemotherapy. All the treatment caused uncomfortable side effects, and I still experience some of the residual impact.
My journey with GBM has been a rollercoaster of emotions, but it has also been transformative. It has taught me to focus on the blessings in my life, to appreciate the simple things, and to never take a single day for granted. It has also reignited my passion for storytelling—a gift I’ve had since childhood, but which I paused during my law career. Following my diagnosis, I wanted to put this gift to use and finally scratch ‘writing a book’ off my bucket list. Amazingly, I accomplished that goal, and my book The Other Twin was published in 2021 to high acclaim.
My experience with GBM has given me a greater sense of purpose. I often share my journey to inspire other GBM patients, especially in the Black community. And I have become a vocal advocate for brain cancer awareness. According to the American Cancer Society, Black people are more likely than any other ethnic group to die from most cancers and to live the shortest amount of time after a cancer diagnosis. Black women are particularly vulnerable to discrimination in health care settings. I believe increased awareness, improved health literacy, and better and more equitable access to basic and specialized care can shift this paradigm and bring about better outcomes.
Eleven years later, I represent the one percent of long-term survivors who live more than a decade after a GBM diagnosis. My survival is nothing less than a miracle, and I proudly display it to inspire hope. It has given me a newfound appreciation for every moment, a deeper understanding of the power of faith and perseverance, and a sense of purpose.
I am even more confident now that with God by my side and the support of my loved ones, I can conquer any challenge I encounter. My hope is to be a beacon of light guiding others to that same belief.