During each of her three cancer diagnoses, Tameka Johnson was flooded with harsh emotions—pain, anger, fear, frustration—but found her respite in writing, in loving her daughter, and living life “on purpose.”
By Tameka Johnson, as-told-to Britt Julious
My story is that of an evolver. I was originally diagnosed with osteosarcoma, which is a form of bone cancer, at the age of 13. But almost 20 years later into remission, I was diagnosed with stage II HER2 estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer at the age of 31. It was May of 2013.
Finding out I had cancer again was a struggle for me. I didn’t really embrace that very well. I took it really, really hard, probably as anybody would. It was something that I would say broke me at the time. I had to go through treatment again. I understood what that was because at 13 I experienced it.
Later, I [got a] bilateral mastectomy. At the time, I just felt like I wanted to get it over with; I didn’t want to have any recurrences. I thought, take them both! That was probably the hardest surgery I had ever experienced.
People say, “Oh, you get a new set of breasts, girl! Don’t worry about that!” But it’s not the same. It feels like they’re gutting you like a fish. That was hard healing from that surgery. I struggled a lot with my image because you’re losing your breasts. You’re losing your nipples. I actually kept one nipple. I don’t know why. There’s no sensation there, but it was just me wanting to feel like a woman and wanting to keep something.
My daughter at the time [of my first diagnosis] was about four years old, [and I am a] single mom. [She’s] been fighting with me, and everyday I have to encourage myself [and] encourage her. My poor baby. I just felt bad for her because she’s been going through this, and she’s 11 now. She’s going to be fighting with me until the very end of my life. I just feel like it’s something too heavy for her to carry. She should be living. I think she does live a happy life, and I try to make sure things stay as normal as possible, but there’s some things that aren’t normal that she’s experienced.
Three years into remission, I was re-diagnosed at the age of 36 with stage IV breast cancer. My cancer had metastasized to my left collar bone and left lung. Just when I thought it was over, it wasn’t.
When I was diagnosed the first time, my grandmother told me, “God is trying to get your attention.” I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t understand it. God’s trying to get my attention? I thought. What does that mean?
I carried a lot of anger. I carried a lot of “unforgiveness” for myself for the things that I had done as a young woman and as a person. I had to reflect on how I treated other people. Like, Tameka, you’re not that person. You have to learn to let go of things. Stop being angry.
Because I wasn’t able to work, I was able to sit and reflect on myself, my past. I was able to forgive myself. I was able to forgive other people. There’s not one thing that I hold on to anymore, so I’ve learned to live and let things go. Live in the moment. Live without fear. Live life on purpose. I’ve learned to speak life into myself because I’ve never really been an optimistic person. The first time I was diagnosed with cancer, the first thing that came to my mind was, I’m going to die. My second diagnosis, it was, you can’t think that way. You’re going to live and not die.
My cousin encouraged me to start blogging. That wasn’t my thing. Everybody was [already] in my business. I’m that person that keeps everything to themselves, but once I started blogging, [it became] an outlet for me. It helped me to face cancer again because I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t even want to address it. I had it, but I was hiding it even though it was so obvious. I didn’t want to give it life in a way.
I carried a lot of anger. I carried a lot of “unforgiveness” for myself for the things that I had done as a young woman and as a person.
I journaled a lot. During my first diagnosis with breast cancer, I put my feelings in a journal, but I never put them out there for people to see. And I hadn’t always been a writer. But now I am. I don’t know how great I am at it, but I know that it’s something that I’m supposed to do. My purpose is for me to share my story.
It gives me a little bit of anxiety sometimes, but I feel good at the end of the day because I’m sharing my truth, and in my truth, it could be a blessing for somebody else. It could allow for someone else to tap into their truth and share their story. My journey is not the same as the next person’s journey with cancer, or with life, period.
My relationship with God has evolved. My relationship with myself has evolved. I’ve evolved as a woman, as a mother, as a person. I’ve seen myself change. I’ve seen myself willing to share my story, willing to talk about cancer, what it’s done to me, what it’s done for me. And that’s kind of weird to say—what it’s done for me. But it’s been an eye opener for me. It’s helped me to really look deeply into myself and address some things that I needed to address about myself. And it’s helped me to open up.
No matter what the outcome is, I don’t even think in death cancer ever beats us. As long as you’re fighting, it can never beat you. Just don’t ever stop fighting.
I had to stop doing the negative things and focus on the positive in life. I had been blessed in my life, so I had to focus on those blessings in order to move forward. I’m here. That’s the number one thing. I’m still here. My heart is still pumping. I’m not saying I’m rich, but I still have a roof over my head. I haven’t had to struggle. It’s not me bragging, but I see the blessing in it.
What I’ve learned is to live life on purpose. Like that’s the number one thing. Just live life on purpose with no regrets. I’m not saying go out here and wild out. Enjoy yourself. Don’t be so hard on yourself. And just live. Live, live, live.
There was a purpose in my pain, and the purpose was for me to be able to share my story with others and be strength for others. I’m happy with the life that I’ve lived and that I’m living. If you think that cancer is gonna beat you, that’s what’s gonna happen. If you think you’re gonna beat cancer, that’s what’s gonna happen. No matter what the outcome is, I don’t even think in death cancer ever beats us. As long as you’re fighting, it can never beat you. Just don’t ever stop fighting.
Tameka Johnson is the creator of the blog “Evolving Soul.” Tameka has seen herself evolve in ways she could have never imagined, and those stories of evolution and restoration are some of what she intends to share with the world.