I am a journalist and a communications, marketing and public relations professional. I've discovered that my passions are telling people's stories and motivating people to find their purpose and live their best life!
Last year my mother went on an amusement park ride with me for the first time in my life. And I’m a grown woman with children of my own. Growing up mom didn’t do any rides – no spinning saucers, no bumper cars, not even the slow moving merry-go-rounds. She would stand at the side of the rides smiling at me, encouraging me and waiting for me to get off – but she herself never got on any. Plus she’s afraid of heights.
It didn’t come easy for her to get on that Ferris wheel at the North Carolina State Fair. She reluctantly agreed after countless pleas from my daughters. She was all smiles when we got into the long line. But as the line shortened and we got into the final que for the Ferris wheel, I noticed that mom kept glancing behind us nervously. It became obvious that she was having second thoughts so I asked, and she confirmed that she didn’t want to go on the ride again. “How can I get out of this line now,” she asked, looking at the dozens of people behind of us that she would have to squeeze by to get out of the metal barriers. In my mind I was like “really mom.” We had waited so long, gotten so far and throughout the wait I kept showing her how very slowly the Ferris wheel spun. So I was disappointed that she had given up.
I gave her options for getting out of the line, but reluctantly she chose to stay and got on the ride. She was nervous at first, stepping carefully into the bucket, holding on tightly to the sides, finally sitting cautiously. Then the Ferris wheel began to move. She was scared. Then she started to smile…then giggle. Then my mom literally started laughing out loud! It was contagious. We all started to laugh out loud! There we were – three generations of womenfolk – laughing and giggling and being silly on a Ferris wheel. My face hurt from smiling so much. As a rotation brought our bucket to the top, giving us a night view of entire fairgrounds, mom confessed that it was not as bad as she thought and she actually liked it!
I was so happy we were getting to experience this with my mom. A selfish part of me wished she had conquered this fear earlier. When I was able to think beyond myself, I realized that it was probably harder for mom at this stage of her life to overcome a fear she carried for so long. I realized that you’re never too old to do something you’ve always been afraid of doing. I realized that it’s never too late for anything!
It’s June. 2016 is halfway gone. The world has lost so many icons. I myself have lost four family members in as much months. Some of you are waiting for the right time to get on your Ferris wheel. You are waiting for the fear to subside, for your money to be right, for someone to admit that they were wrong. Some of us are waiting to do that thing that we’ve always wanted to do but have been too afraid. Why are you waiting? Courage isn’t the absence of fear. Courage is the ability to move forward in the midst of fear. What is it that you’ve always wanted to do? It’s never too late. I encourage you to do it now! Do it afraid!
On April 21, while speaking to a cousin on my morning commute I mentioned frustration with one of my daughter’s teachers. The teacher just appears aloof and disinterested. She isn’t a bad teacher, per se. My daughter is learning well. But there is an emotional element simply missing from everything that she does. And I noticed it from the moment we met. But being new to the school and city, I betrayed my instincts that told me to to switch teachers and had my daughter remain in the class.
Our conversation took a turn when we both began praising a man, who had spent a year as our teacher but impacted our entire lives – Isborne Fredericks.
Isborne Fredericks is no ordinary teacher. He is a leader with the ability to touch students’ souls, see in them value that they never knew existed and get them to recognize that value – all while imparting stellar education. He has taught hundreds of students and I consider myself fortunate to have been one of his students when I was in sixth grade at the Joseph Gomez Elementary School on St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.
He was my homeroom and history teacher, and a true visionary. Long before Virgin Islands history was a requirement of the VI Department of Education, Mr. Fredericks created his own VI History curriculum. Our 11 and 12-year-old selves had to learn the executive leadership of the three branches of the VI Government. I still remember searching and calling people to complete my list of commissioners. Yes, we had to find the names ourselves, then still memorize them all. We often protested that we had too much work, but Mr. Fredericks always made us feel that we had the capacity to learn and produce even beyond his expectations.
He also imparted morals and values. Students were to treat each other with same respect as we treated him. He showed no favorites – the respect, grace and mercy that was extended to the best of us, were also extended to the worst of us.
Mr. Fredericks began preparing us sixth graders to be competitive in a global world. Azerbaijan, for example, is an Asian country that we learned about when many had not even ventured outside of the U.S. We also had to know how to spell it. Points were deducted for misspelled words, T’s left uncrossed, or I’s left un-dotted. Taking pride in our work, all the time, is something else that he stressed. He expected, rather demanded, our best always.
And then there was African history. We had to learn the countries on the continent and be able to identify a certain number of them on the map. We even began learning an African language!
In the true essence of developing the whole child, Mr. Fredericks taught the African Bamboula dance as an extra-curricular activity. I can hear him all now beating his drum and singing, “Whe Joycie gone, Joycie gone down the river. Whe Joycie gone, Joycie gone down the river….”
My all-time favorite teacher, I always thought that Mr. Fredericks was special to me. Until I reached high school and realized that many of us in my graduating class claimed him as their favorite also. What was shocking was a time, as an adult, when I was out with a cousin who is about 10 years my senior and we saw Mr. Fredericks. My cousin remarked that Mr. Fredericks was HIS favorite teacher. Unbelievable, I thought to myself, this man has been impacting generations of students!
As we wrapped up our conversation my cousin asked the whereabouts of Mr. Fredericks. I told her where he was and to look him up on Facebook. I encouraged her to share with him directly his impact on her life. Life is too short not to, I explained.
A few hours later I found out that Prince died. And so during this 2016 Teacher Appreciation week, I hope to honor Mr. Fredericks and all the teachers who have made a difference. Gomez Elementary School really set an unshakable foundation in my education and my life. Ms. Wilkes, Ms. Dominique, Ms. DeWindt, Mr. John, Ms. Christian, Ms. Freeman, Ms. Donastorg – if they shaped at least one life, they shaped mine.
But everyone at Gomez contributed. How could I say that Cheryl Potter, Joan Dawson, Sylvia Woods (God bless her soul) were not my teachers? They never graded my papers or signed my report cards, but they taught me just as well. And l can’t forget the special subject teachers like Mr. Robinson, Mr. Dallas, Mr. Shaw, Ms. Rhymer, Ms. Carson…. Or substitute teachers like Ms. Brooks (sleep in peace) and the two Ms. Benjamins. The support staff also kept us on the right track. I can hear Ms. Sadie saying, “manners will take you round the world and back!”
Throughout my years in the public education system I’ve had extraordinary teachers. Ms. Morton’s seventh grade English class at Bertha C. Boschulte Junior High made me love writing. Mr. Monti’s math class in high school taught me patience. Then it was Jack Beauvais whose class helped me to find what I now recognize as my purpose. I wasn’t even supposed to be in that journalism class he taught at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School. I was in 10th grade and the class, I was told, was for 11th graders. But because I was in advanced English courses, I was admitted with ease. After producing a news broadcast for a project in Mr. Beauvais’ class, I knew I wanted to be a journalist.
I always tell people that in the Virgin Islands we have learned to make do without much. But we still achieve. We achieve in spite of – largely because of our dedicated teachers.
To everyone who has taught me, I say thank you. To all of my family and friends who have made teaching their profession, I say thank you. To all of the teachers that have taught my daughters, I say thank you. And to all of the aspiring teachers who have hopes of molding future generations, I say: “go for it. The world needs more Isborne Frederickses. The world needs you.”
When funds are low buy dish washing liquid. It can be used to bathe, wash dishes, wash clothes and mop floors. If you have a car, you can use it to wash the car too. Try the lemon scented for a nice fresh smell!
It takes about two days for a check to clear, once the merchant doesn’t use an electronic fund transfer for the check at the checkout. So even if your account balance is zero, you can write that check to buy those groceries two days before your actual pay day.
If you have bread in your house, you have food. Better yet – if you have flour and know how to bake bread or make johnny cakes or ‘bakes’ – your family will not starve.
Everything can be diluted or divided to extend its use. Everything except for medication.
Being sick is expensive. A medical emergency or chronic illness can bankrupt you. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” is not just a phrase your grandma used to say. It’s now something you live by.
Strength can be found in vulnerability. At times you must let your guard down, open yourself to criticism and allow yourself to humbly move through a struggle.
Sometimes you have to swallow your pride and ask for help. Whatever you’re struggling with, someone has already overcome. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness but one of intelligence.
True friends are always with you during a struggle. They may not be able to pay your rent or even your bail, but the ones who really care are always there offering to help you as much as they can.
A struggle brings you self-awareness. During a struggle you become more in tune with yourself – your strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, tolerances etc. You develop a keener sense of who you are, sometimes discovering your passions and purposes.
You need your parents more as an adult than when you were a child. As a child you couldn’t wait to grow up and leave the nest. But now that you’re on your own and facing a major struggle, mommy or daddy, or, mommy and daddy ‘got you.’ They are there for you “in health” and especially during sickness. They’ll never let you starve or watch you become homeless. What a blessing!
A higher power exists. No matter what or who you identify as a divine higher power, in your lowest times you have found strength there. As a matter of fact, you know you couldn’t persist without divine mercy and grace.
You didn’t die. Although it felt like the struggle came to kill you, it didn’t. You are still alive; stronger and wiser than before.
The struggle – any struggle – is temporary. As bad as it may seem, know that “this too shall pass.” Some struggles last longer than others, but all must end. With faith, hard work and perseverance, brighter days will come.
Cramps. “It feels like really, really bad cramps.” That’s how my friend Debra described the labor pain that she experienced and what I should expect with my first child. Debra, one of my best friends, had given birth on August 13, 2000 to her first child. My due date was late August/early September 2000. I never really had a firm due date because I wasn’t sure of the exact date of my last menstrual period. It was coincidental and helpful that Debra and I were pregnant with our first child at the same time.
Debra’s description of labor didn’t help me one bit. I never got cramps. Growing up my mom would tell me that I’m lucky to never experience the painful abdominal contractions that many women endure monthly. So as childbirth neared, the expectant pain was nothing I could prepare for.
By early September, my obstetrician told me I was past due. Nothing I did helped to induce my labor. At a visit to Dr. Ronald Nimmo on Tuesday, Sept. 5, he said my cervix started dilating. A woman’s cervix must be dilated to 10 centimeters before active labor – the pushing – begins. We went over the stages of labor and he told me if I went into labor overnight to call him then go straight to the hospital; if I didn’t go into labor by morning, I should check into the hospital at 7 am.
I was scared. I didn’t know what to expect. Suppose I went into labor overnight? Suppose I didn’t? You mean I’d still have to interrupt my sleep for a 7 am check in!? There were no contractions during the night. In the morning I decided I wanted to go for one last swim. My boyfriend Vibes advised against it. We needed to check in at 7 am and we didn’t have the time, he said. I told him I needed to feel myself enveloped in the cool buoyancy of the Caribbean Sea. So we went to Magens Bay. The air was cool. The sun had risen over a dewy morning. It was so nice! Vibes kept reminding me that we needed to hurry up. Against better judgment I submersed my entire body in the water, saturating my newly-done box braids. We had to hustle back home so that I could shower before heading to the hospital.
When we reached the hospital, about 90 minutes late, the friendly intake staff told me they had been waiting on me and welcomed us. Vibes gave me an I-told-you-so look. The only thing I could think of at the moment was that my hair was wet and it was making me cold.
I followed the nurses’ instructions putting on the hospital gown, getting hooked up to the IV and those things. When the doctor did his rounds a few hours later and examined me, I was still the two centimeters I was the day before. When he said: “I can give you something to help you out,” I obliged.
The contractions started coming! The nurses kept offering me pain meds, but I was determined to have a natural childbirth. The contractions kept coming stronger. When I told the nurses I was ready to have my baby they said I was a private patient, so I had to wait until my doctor came back. What! I was ready to have the baby and they were telling me I had to wait! When the doctor finally came back for his afternoon rounds around 5 pm and examined me. I was still two centimeters! After five hours of contractions I was still dilated at two centimeters! Dr. Nimmo said he would give me something to stop the contractions. It was only then I realized my labor had been induced. Earlier when he offered to “give you something to help you out,” he meant an induction. I was totally upset. I never wanted to be induced. And I was hungry.
The contractions slowed within a few minutes and I was ready for dinner. When I told the doctor, he explained that once someone was admitted to the Labor and Deliver unit they couldn’t eat. Who the hell came up with that stupid rule! Now I was furious! “So I can’t eat anything,” I asked the doctor. He told me I could have as much ice chips that I wanted. If looks could kill, Dr. Nimmo would be dead.
The plan was that I would get my rest, and more than likely I would go into active labor overnight. The doctor allowed me to walk the halls while he was there. But as he was leaving he suggested that I rest. So I did. As soon as he left I told Vibes to go buy me some food. Vibes told me no. I was shocked. My wishes were his commands throughout my pregnancy. And now he tells me no? I asked him if he wanted me and the baby to starve. He still wouldn’t get the food. This was getting ridiculous. I was in labor all day and now I was starving. And my usually defiant boyfriend was on the doctor’s side.
I was totally frustrated! I decided to stop talking to Vibes. I buzzed the nurse and asked her to help me out of the bed so that I can walk. She said she couldn’t, Dr. Nimmo had ordered bed rest. I didn’t understand. The nurse explained that the doctor ordered me on bed rest so I had to remain in bed. This was beyond ridiculous! I reasoned with her that just a few moments ago I was walking up and down the halls. She didn’t budge.
This was torture. Starving. Bed rest. And I had to lie on my left side only. I don’t remember much about the rest of that night. I made up my mind I wasn’t talking to anybody!
Second Day of Labor
By morning I felt a bit of calm because I knew my mom would be flying in first thing from St. Croix. I wasn’t sure what to expect from my mom. She initially felt I was young to have a baby. But I already had a degree, a full-time job, some savings, no debt and lived on my own. I was overjoyed when she arrived. Surely she would be compassionate. Surely she would tell my doctor and nurses I needed to eat and to walk. Seeing her brought a smile to my face. I filled her in on everything that had happened. My mom brought an unbelievable comfort when I needed it the most. Then it happened:
“Betty!” Dr. Nimmo exclaimed when he saw my mom. She had been a nurse at the Roy Schneider Hospital on St. Thomas, where I was in labor, for about 15 years before moving to St. Croix. Everyone loves my mom. And I would soon find out just how much. Dr. Nimmo hugged my mom and they chatted a bit. Soon Vibes, who the nurses sent home for some rest the night before, showed up. That was a perfect time to voice my complaints. I was starving and wanted to get out of bed. The doctor agreed that I could get out of bed. Food, he said, I couldn’t have. My mom agreed. What! I began my protest. Vibes just watched as I argued with the doctor and my mom that I was pregnant had not eaten for a day. Finally Dr. Nimmo said I could have some sports drinks and hard candy. The sugars would provide energy for the labor, he said. Vibes headed out to get them.
And so it started. One by one all of my mom’s friends heard that she was at the hospital and began showing up to see her. One of the first was Denise. “Bettttyyyy!” Denise exclaimed when she saw my mom. The hugs, kisses and laughter ensued. Then Denise turned to me:
Denise: Nanyamka, how are you doing?
Me: *groaning* I’m in pain
Denise: Yea, that’s how it is with your first child. Just hang in there. We’re here for you.
Then she was back to the giggling catching up with mom. And that’s how it went all morning with my mom and her friends. Because I had to lie on my left side, my back was turned to the door. So many of her friends’ faces I saw only briefly when they came around to see me. While it seemed like the entire nursing staff at the hospital came to see my mom, I wasn’t allowed to have visitors in Labor and Delivery. But my friends kept calling. They kept demanding: did she have the baby? Was it a boy or girl? After a while the nurses seemed to be annoyed with their phone calls. “Can you take this call,” one of the nurses said to my mom. “I keep telling them I can’t give out patient information.” The contractions kept coming. Against what I had planned, I accepted pain medication when the nurses offered.
It was after 1 p.m. Dr. Nimmo was getting concerned. He told me if the labor didn’t progress, he would have to do a cesarean section. I protested. He explained that the baby’s vitals were fine, but I was in labor for over a day, partially dilated, couldn’t eat and if I remained in that state I could put both the baby and myself at risk. I signed the surgery consent forms and he allowed me to walk the halls. Both my mom and Vibes felt a cesarean section was an option. I didn’t! Nor did my dad, who was on St. Croix, but had been calling regularly. Vibes didn’t want to put me or his first child at risk with a prolonged labor. I could sense the fear in my mother as we weighed the options. She too had rough childbirths and had a cesarean section to deliver me.
I told everyone that could listen that I was not having a cesarean section. Ms. Maria Rivera, the mid-wife on duty sympathized with me. At the time I was dilated about five centimeters and the contractions were regular – as they had been all day. She told me that she’s not my doctor, but if I allowed her, she could help me. I had heard that line before. The induction didn’t work, I reminded her. She said no, she would massage my cervix so that it could dilate. I agreed. She said relax, suck on your lollipop (one of the hard candies I was allowed to eat), and by the time you are finished with the lollipop you’ll be ready to have your baby. I was unsure, but my options were few.
Ms. Rivera went to work while I sucked on my lollipop. Sure enough, as I had finished my lollipop Ms. Rivera announced that her work was done. When the doctor checked me, alas, I was dilated to 10 centimeters. It was time to push!
Dr. Nimmo assembled the team. It was a tight fit in my room with the doctor, nurses, Vibes, and my mom. Just as I had learned in Lamaze class, I pushed on the doctor’s counts. Vibes held one leg and my mother held the other. The doctor was down the middle. I pushed for about 30 minutes. But the baby didn’t come. The doctor gave me a 15 minutes break and I resumed pushing. I was annoyed with Vibes who was all up in my face screaming “push, push!” After about 30 more minutes of pushing – still no baby. The pain was excruciating and my back felt like it was splitting down the middle.
I kept telling everyone that I needed to squat. Or I needed to be on my knees. The doctor gave me another break from pushing. The baby had already crowned. Everyone could see a tiny bit of the head, but the baby won’t come down. As I was taking this second break from pushing I overheard a nurse telling my mom. “She ain’t really pushing. It’s the Demerol, it has her drowsy.” And my mother nodded in agreement. I was so pissed off! I had pushed with all my might! But I didn’t have the strength to respond with anything else but the rollong of my eyes.
The doctor told me we would try the pushing again and if the baby didn’t come we would go into surgery. I begged him: I need to go on my knees in a squatting position! He gave a command. The next thing I know the nurses had transformed the bed, putting up rails around the head of the bed. They helped me to a kneeling position on the bed, using the rails for support. I felt relief in my back immediately! Then I started pushing without the doctor’s count – and Vibes noticed. He started telling me I needed to wait on the doctor. Schupees! Whatever! Soon Dr. Nimmo’s commands to push caught up with me. After this third round of pushing, the doctor checked me and said it was time.
“The baby is coming. Let’s get her in delivery,” Dr. Nimmo said. I was confused. The baby was coming and I had to be moved? They put me to lay on my back and wheeled me out of my room into the most sterile-looking room I had ever seen – there was stainless steel and white tiles everywhere. Someone explained that it was the delivery room. In the delivery room I got a strange urge – I needed to vomit. Before I could fully explain it, the nurses had a basin to my mouth. I felt like I had lost all control of my body. The contractions kept coming.
The doctor instructed me not to push. Again, I was confused. I had waited two days to deliver this baby and now he was telling me not to push? Dr. Nimmo said that it was important for me to follow his instructions so that I didn’t hurt the baby or me. He said he was going to make a small incision to help the baby come out, but first I would feel a little pinch as he numbed the area. I wanted to push so badly, but Vibes gave me that look. Dr. Nimmo made the incision quickly and I was back to pushing.
“Push with all your strength!” Dr. Nimmo said. And I did, screaming at the same time. I glimpsed at Vibes for a split second and he looked like he would faint. The head came out! Instant relief! I stopped pushing. Then Dr. Nimmo started the count again. With a few more pushes I had given birth to my first child!
“It’s a girl!” everyone screamed. “Congratulations!” were ringing in from everyone in the room. And I exhaled. It was 5:25 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 7.
As Vibes cut the umbilical cord, I was worried that he would pass out. They brought me my baby girl and I took her into my arms. At that moment I felt a love like I had never before felt toward another human being. Then they pulled her away. “We have to clean her up,” a nurse said. “We were only showing her to you.”
At that time I wanted to tell Vibes to keep a close eye on our daughter. I didn’t want any switched-at-birth mishaps. But no one could find Vibes. Dr. Nimmo told me I wasn’t done yet. I had to deliver the placenta. A few moments later I pushed it out. Dr. Nimmo began the process of stitching me back up. I could feel every stitch! I tried to close my legs and pull away from the doctor. A nurse told me “you want the doctor to do a good job, right? You need to open your legs.” I obeyed. The entire lower half of my body felt numb with pain.
Everyone was asking for Vibes so a nurse left the room to find him. “He out there crying,” the nurse said when she returned. “Give him a chance to catch himself.” The nurses all laughed.
Shortly after delivery I got a burst of energy. I started telling my mom of all the people she needed to call to tell them the baby was born. I started telling Vibes to look for distinct marks or features on the baby so we could always know she was ours.
“Rest,” my mom had told me. “You did good. Now rest yourself.” The nurse told me they would wheel me into a recovery room where I should rest for a while. I told her I wanted my daughter.
“She is fine,” the nurse assured. “She has her father and grandmother watching her.” All of a sudden I felt very cold. I started to shiver. The nurse covered me up. I was still cold. She told me she would get some warm blankets that just came out of the dryer. That did the trick. Being the daughter of a well-loved nursed served me well then and throughout my stay in the hospital.
Then, as if a switch inside of me had been flipped, I instantly felt tired – totally exhausted and drained actually. And I fell asleep to recover.
Editor’s note: As I fulfill my life’s purpose to “tell the story” I’ll soon be writing biographies, memoirs and other pieces that will require people to be open and honest with me about very personal aspects of their lives. I decided to share a very intimate part of one of my biggest transformational experiences – childbirth. If you have enjoyed this personal part of my story, I hope that you will trust me to share the story of others with you. No part of this story may be reused, reproduced, or otherwise copied without direct written approval of the author Nanyamka Farrelly.
“Know your body and don’t ignore when something seems wrong,” breast cancer survivor Raynette Cameron advises. “It could be a headache – it could be a pain in your pinky toe – don’t ignore it,” she warns. Raynette knows first-hand. She noticed a lump near her collar-bone just days after being declared healthy following her annual wellness exam. She went back to the doctor immediately. The lump was stage-three breast cancer. After successful treatment, Raynette is hoping her story can encourage others to better manage their health and perhaps save their own lives.
“We’re having too many people dying of breast cancer and when they look back they may have had a lump for two years and they just ignored it,” she says. “You don’t have to die from cancer. Early detection is the cure,” she says. But it’s not just for cancer, she says. People should pay attention to any sign of discomfort in their bodies and get it checked out.
The hesitation to go to the doctor may be cultural, Raynette notes. “Especially for West Indians – men and women – we don’t want to go to the doctor.” She says a lack of insurance or money should never be a deterrent from going to the doctor, because there are programs available to help with medical expenses. “And those that have insurance, why wouldn’t you go get a wellness exam? It’s free with your coverage!”
After six rounds of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy and 24 radiation treatments, Raynette returned home to St. Thomas Virgin Islands in August 2013 from Louisiana where she was treated. Now she is adjusting to her “new normal.”
“These hot flashes are so rude,” Raynette says with a laugh. “They show up at any time, unannounced.”
Hot flashes are just one of the side effects that Raynette experiences. Her balance, eyesight and memory are some of the other things that have been affected. “To survive breast cancer you have so many things that come with survivorship,” she says, noting that she is now post-menopausal as a result. She also wears a compression sleeve on her left arm to prevent the swelling known as lymphedema. “I had 18 lymph nodes removed,” she says, explaining that it was required for the aggressive state of the cancer. On the bright side she says, “I got me some new boobies. And this time I got to choose exactly how I wanted them.”
Uncharacteristic of many people, Raynette was very open about every step of her ordeal.
“I was never quiet about my diagnoses. I posted my diagnoses three or four days after I found out,” she says. Facebook was where Raynette shared her highs and lows with family and friends.
That openness has drawn many to Raynette, both for advice and support. “I’ve been holding some hands,” she says, explaining that she has accompanied several women to mammogram appointments. Others she has had to force, she says jokingly. “I dragged my sister to get a mammogram as soon as she turned 40,” Raynette remembers. Three of Raynette’s aunts are breast cancer survivors. And her paternal grandfather died of colon cancer. So she took no chances with her sister.
“People are afraid that it (a mammogram) hurts,” she says. “But so what! It’s only for two seconds and it can save your life.” Raynette says four of her close friends and family have been diagnosed with breast cancer in the past year. She has since gotten genetic testing for “BRCA 1 and BRCA 2” also known as the breast cancer genes. The tests came back negative.
Now Raynette is focused on giving back, whether that means sharing her story, accompanying someone to a doctor’s visit or raising funds for the USVI chapter of the American Cancer Society (ACS). Proceeds from her “No Tears, Just Prayers, Cause God Got This,” branded products are donated to the ACS. What started as slogan that Raynette used to comfort her family following her diagnoses has turned into a noticeable brand. One day after undergoing a series of testing Raynette and her family were walking through a mall when her mother suggested that they inscribe the mantra on a baseball cap. Her father decided to make several of the caps so that his daughter could sport different colors after her chemo treatments. They were so cute that Raynette posted them on Facebook. The rest is history. She now sells branded hats, visors, head bands, t-shirts and other accessories.
This October, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Raynette also hosted another fundraiser. “I needed to make this fun and bring awareness,” she says. “This year I wanted it to be all about giving back.” The result was “Paint the Porch Pink,” a party on her patio where all invited guests wore pink. Over 50 people attended, including eight breast cancer survivors. Vendors were invited to sell their products and a percentage of all sales were donated to the ACS. Next October, Raynette says, the event will be open to the public at a larger venue.
Her long-term goal is to establish the ‘Ray of Sunshine Foundation’ to bring about breast cancer awareness and to support people with the disease.
In the meanwhile, Raynette continues to thank God, her family and her doctors. As part of her continued monitoring she must undergo screening every three months that includes chest x-rays, sonograms and lab work.
“At my check up in September my doctors said, ‘You are a walking miracle.’ I never take that for granted,” she says, tears streaming down her face.
“I am a survivor first and foremost,” Raynette says, “a woman of faith, perseverance and a fighter.”
She found a lump near her left collar-bone on Aug. 28, 2012 – just days after her annual check-up. On Aug. 29, she went back to her doctor, who said the lump looked like a muscle strain but ordered a sonogram to be sure. The sonogram came back inconclusive and she took an MRI. The MRI revealed a mass, so she took a biopsy.
Raynette A. Cameron has always been meticulous about her health. As an adult she never missed a dentist appointment or her annual women’s wellness check-up. She even got her first mammogram when she turned 40 years old, as recommended. So imagine her utter shock when she was diagnosed with aggressive stage three breast cancer – a few days after she had been given a clean bill-of-health following her annual wellness exam.
“The doctor said, ‘It’s not good news Raynette. It’s cancer,’” Raynette recalls of the day her physician of 12 years gave her that life-changing news. Shock! It’s the only thing Raynette said that she felt after receiving the diagnoses.
The National Cancer Institute defines cancer as diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues. Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems. According to the institute, there are more than 100 different types of cancer and breast cancer is the second most prevalent in the United States – prostate cancer is the first. Breast cancer represents 14 percent of all new cancer cases in the U.S. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is observed nation-wide in October.
“I’m an advocate for getting yourself checked out – doctors’ visits, those annual stuff, the dental appointments every six months,” Raynette said. So even with all of the testing, cancer was the last thing on her mind. “The shock was like: Me? I’m on top of my health…I go walking off and on….I watch what I eat,” she says. “It was like ‘what do you mean,’” she recalls. “The shock was just tremendous.”
The first few days after the diagnoses were hard.
“I cried for two days,” Raynette says. “Then I felt a calm that said ‘stop crying and get to work.’ With that I just put all my energy into what I needed to do to live.” Soon she was on a plane, from St. Thomas Virgin Islands where she lives, to Florida.
Raynette comes from a large extended family who took her diagnoses hard. She notes that her family is also a prayerful family. While Raynette had dried up her tears, her family’s gloom continued.
“I had to tell them ‘look, if you can’t call me without crying, don’t call me – text me, send me an e-mail, but let’s not have these crying fests,” she remembers. “I would say to them, no more tears, let’s just pray.” Out of that came Raynette’s mantra, which took her through chemotherapy, radiation, three surgeries, a near-death experience and recovery: “No More Tears, Just Prayers, Cause God Got This.”
Raynette decided to seek treatment in Louisiana, where her father and step-mother live. On Nov. 30, she spent her 41st birthday in surgery receiving her chemo port. The lump that was four centimeters when it was discovered, was 12 centimeters by the time she began chemotherapy. For Raynette, chemo was not the nightmare that some other cancer patients experience. She lost all of her hair four days after she began chemo. Her appetite followed. But she took her medication “religiously” and never experienced nausea or vomiting. She continued chemo every three weeks to complete her six treatments.
After completing chemo came another shocker. Raynette’s doctors told her they had to remove her left breast. “I told them they would have to take both,” Raynette says, without skipping a beat. In May 2013 she had a bilateral mastectomy. During the surgery she remembers waking up to a team of doctors hovering over her. They asked how she was doing. When she replied she was fine, they told her they were taking her back into surgery. It was only after the bilateral mastectomy was completed and she recovered did Raynette learn that massive hemorrhaging caused her to “slip away,” during the surgery. “They had called a code blue,” Raynette says.
After recovering post-operation, Raynette started radiation. “Radiation took more out of me than chemo,” she remembers. Still she found the energy to return to St. Thomas for the annual Relay for Life – twice; in June, but the event was postponed, and then in July for the event. She did 24 of the initially scheduled radiation treatments because third-degree burns to the treatment area caused her doctors to cancel the last two.
“By July I was convinced I needed to come home,” she says. And on Aug. 28, 2013, exactly one year after she discovered the lump, Raynette returned back home to St. Thomas – cancer free.
After successfully completing treatment, Raynette’s oncologist had a stark confession. “She said ‘we didn’t think you would make it,’” says Raynette. “It’s miraculous as aggressive as it was, it didn’t spread,” she notes. “That shocked the crap out of my doctors.” Because of the severity of her condition, she was also a case study at the hospital in Louisiana.
“I’ve always been a fighter,” Raynette says from her St. Thomas office at Bellows International where she is the director of Human Resources. So she treated breast cancer as any other opponent that wanted to take her down – she fought it.
“I couldn’t think of having my mother, father and siblings having to bury me,” Raynette says. “I had to give it my best shot. I never asked why me,” she said. “Because why not me. Breast cancer doesn’t discriminate.”
Part II, “Breast Cancer: A Survivor’s Advice” coming
“I just wanted to teach math.”
Bertrum Foster, Jr. says, those words with such indifference that it belies his major accomplishment. Just wanting to teach math led Foster to a Ph.D. in mathematics.
The statistics for black males excelling in the sciences are dismal. They are even more grim on the doctoral level. His intent was never to bolster the statistics for black males, even though he did. Dr. Foster simply wanted to teach mathematics on the collegiate level. In order to accomplish that goal, he needed a Ph.D.
“I like math because it’s a challenge,” says Dr. Foster, also known to many as “Beep.” His passion for math began with 9th grade algebra. But his first passion was for basketball.
Like many young boys, Dr. Foster imagined himself playing professional basketball. But by high school he was 5’9″ and realized that his dreams of playing professional basketball were slim. But his love for the game continued. In 1995 he lead “Jah Youths” the basketball team founded in his Donoe neighborhood on St. Thomas to the Thanksgiving Tournament championship.
During that same time period, in 1994-95, he lead his Ivanna Eudora Kean High School Devil Rays boys basketball team to consecutive inter scholastic basketball championships.
After graduating high school, Dr. Foster took a break. He held several jobs in Oklahoma for four years before returning home and enrolling at the University of the Virgin Islands to take a shot at the men’s basketball team.
For him, getting a college degree was imperative. He remembers his first real job while in high school – stacking shelves at the Plaza Extra grocery store. “I would just watch the clock,” he recalls, mindlessly working until his shift ended. He would also watch the boss and think to himself, “I need his job.”
“The people who had the kinds of jobs I liked all had degrees,” Dr. Foster says. At UVI he remained a boss on the courts and in the books. In 2003 he earned a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from UVI.
After undergrad Dr. Foster again took a break from academics, this time working in New York.
As time passed he got serious about his career, returning to grad school at Howard University. In 2013 he earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from Howard.
Being totally honest, Dr. Foster confesses that his carer choice first came about for the wrong reason: when as a university student he walked into the office of a mathematics professor who was playing solitaire on the computer. “I wanted to play solitaire at work too,” Dr. Foster says with a laugh.
But Dr. Foster learned that being a professor is no game. In addition to lecturing he has to mentor and advise students, grade papers, conduct research, get his research published, make presentations to academic groups, serve on committees and be at the forefront of curriculum development. “It’s definitely more work than meets the eye,” Dr. Foster says.
After serving as a professor at Montgomery College in Maryland and a lecturer at Howard University, Dr. Foster was recruited as an assistant professor of mathematics at UVI. Although it was challenging readjusting to the facts of life in the islands – high electricity bills, high cost of living and high crime: “Corned beef is $12 a can,” he notes as an example – Dr. Foster is happy for his circle of experiences.
His next goal is to become a tenured professor. And he still plays basketball – four days a week. Soon he will start coaching and training young men in the game. At 30-something years old, Dr. Foster is at the top of his game – a mentor in the classroom and on the courts. Sounds like a slam dunk!
I was so amped up about getting to work today! I got up extra early (in spite of going to bed late). I actually did a “before-shower-workout” – about five minutes of exercise before you shower – that I had been meaning to start doing for months now. And I cooked lunch. I usually bring my lunch to work. Today, though, I had to prepare something to go with my eggplant parmesan. After cooking I packed my lunch bag early. I got ready in record time. And I was ready to leave the house early! On the way to work I had a long talk with God. This talk was longer than usual, perhaps because I was early and didn’t have the regular drive-time pressure. As I spoke to HIM, thanking HIM for his blessings and praising HIM for blessings to come, my heart filled with gratitude.
I pulled up at work, all chipper. Then I realized that I forgot my lunch bag at home. I was so upset. The strange thing is that when I’m rushing, I never forget my lunch bag. I started thinking. I knew that I’d be too busy to leave campus today. And I said to myself that maybe I should fast (abstain from food) for the day. But I was joking. With only some green tea in my stomach, I was already hungry. And although I was on good time, leaving to buy breakfast and lunch would only put me back. So I hot-stepped into the office – ready for the day.
At my desk, I decided that I would fast. That I would try to continue the connection I had earlier with God – despite the busy day I knew was ahead. I’ve been fasting on and off for many years. I haven’t been too routine within the last 4 years, as I had in the past. I usually fast for spiritual reasons. For me it’s sacrificing the physical, for connection with the spiritual. So I like to prepare myself physically in advance. Today however, gave me no preparation. Interestingly, just a few days ago, a colleague told me that she was fasting as part of an observance of a Catholic holy day. That gave me even more encouragement for today.
Later as I drank some cold water, it tasted so good. It was like the best thing I’ve ever consumed! I thought about how important water was to me since it was the only thing that I had. I thought about all the people around the world who didn’t have clean drinking water. And I silently prayed….
Because fasting is spiritual, I rarely speak about it. Scripture tells us to “appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy father which is in secret.” (HB Matthew 6, 16-18) But I wondered how common fasting was now and personal rituals around it. I’m quite aware of the Muslim holy season of Ramadan. I also know that some Christians fast during Lent. But I wondered about less structured forms of fasting done by individuals and families.
Do you fast? Do you encourage everyone in your family to fast? At what age do you allow your children to fast? Do you fast with groups? Or is fasting for you individual thing? How does fasting work for spouses who are of different religions or faiths? In what other ways do you connect with God? Let me know. I want to hear from you!
Sometimes people think that because they talk a lot, they are being a great communicator. Wrong! Talking is only 50% of communication. So if you talk 100% of the time, you have failed Communication 101.
We must all learn to listen. Listen to others, but also listen to our inner voices. We can’t do either if we are talking. Listening entails other senses than our hearing. We should also listen with our eyes, listen with our hands and most of all, listen with our hearts.
Be silent. In your silence, listen.
I’d like to hear from you. What or who do you need to spend more time listening to today?