As you may or may not know, September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month. Blood cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the UK with over 400,000 diagnoses each year. To shine a light on this disease we spoke with three Black Women Rising members about their experience and journey after being diagnosed with blood cancer.
Antoinette Carr, Multiple Myeloma
Antoinette Carr was diagnosed 11 years ago and says that her life has changed profoundly since her diagnosis. She notes that the most challenging part of her journey has been a loss of independence, adjusting to the new limits she can maintain and the physical changes her body has endured.
“Over time, the increasing severity of my illness eroded my physical abilities, leading to a loss of independence. I found myself unable to perform everyday tasks and struggled to be the mother and wife I aspired to be, causing considerable mental distress. Cancer's impact extended beyond my physical health, it has reshaped me as an individual.”
She does also note that she has learned to adapt to each step along the way of her cancer journey. “Each day becomes a journey of acceptance and the pursuit of my best self,” she adds.
Blood Cancer Awareness month holds a deep significance to Antoinette. Not only due to her diagnosis but also what it means for the community. She states the importance of blood and stem cell donations from the Black African and Caribbean communities. She says, “I needed a stem cell transplant but couldn't find a donor match in time, which highlights the urgency of this issue. While it's too late for me, it remains vital for others to have the opportunity to receive the life-saving treatments they need.”
Jacqueline Durban, Lymphoma / Large B Cell Lymphoma
Receiving a cancer diagnosis is challenging enough. You already have a million questions, and fears. But receiving a cancer diagnosis and then having to explain that to young children is something else altogether.
Jacqueline who is mom to two boys, Sebastian and Oliver knows first-hand how hard this can be. “The hardest part of my journey was telling my kids I had cancer… I had been given resources, practiced over and over again what I was going to say, planned the best time and desperately tried to get my head around it all. I told them together and they were incredible! They listened, asked questions and then we had dessert.”
In speaking about the toll her cancer diagnosis took on her mental health, she says, “I think you have to actively pursue help for your mental health. Unfortunately, professional help won’t come to you, you have to chase it which is exhausting, frustrating, expensive and can take a long time.”
Jacqueline referred herself to the GP and then was encouraged to contact Macmillan. It was through them that she received a six-week therapy course that taught her how to manage her mental health during this difficult time.
On speaking about Blood Cancer Awareness Month, she states, “I was diagnosed with Lymphoma during blood cancer awareness month last year. Today, I am here sharing my story and raising awareness to anyone who may have symptoms, may feel something just isn’t right, may be starting their treatment or someone exactly where I am trying to figure it all out.”
Angel, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Aside from the physical impacts that cancer has on the body it is no surprise that cancer can a have huge effect on your mental health. Supporting your mental health while going through treatment and after is a vital part of this journey. Angel can attest to this.
She notes that it was prayer and the support of her family that supported her mental health the most. “My parents were the people who were there for me through every single appointment, hospital stay and everything in between. They did their best to keep me in good spirits and enjoy all that I could whenever I was able to.” She goes on to say, “I found a lot of comfort in praying and listening to gospel music because it gave me peace of mind.”
When asked what she hoped others would gain from listening to her experience, she said, “I’d hope for others to remember to take each day as it comes and find what works for them, the little things that bring them joy in every day.”
On the topic of Blood Cancer Awareness month and what it means to her, Angel says, “It means visibility, people can learn about other cancers and understand what signs and symptoms to look out for. They will be able to advocate for themselves if they recognise something concerning.”