A year ago, I volunteered to help with a project for women cancer survivors. I have participated in several events over the years that were geared to help restore or uplift the spirits of cancer survivors through pampering, empowerment, or patient advocacy. Diving in heart-first, I was excited to volunteer to help stamp out the stigma of cancer. At this event, I met women from diverse backgrounds on various stages of their journey with their cancer diagnosis. Some of the women had recently completed their treatments and some of them were a few years down the road. Some were well known in the community and supported by family and friends. A few were still in treatment but only one was homeless.
Wanda was in a battle for life with no place to call her own. She was referred by her oncologists who knew about the special event. When Wanda entered my makeshift dressing room, she was a bit nervous as she gave me a once-over and checked out the surroundings packed with designer clothes and jewelry on loan to me from personal friends from around the country. As I introduced myself, I promised her we were going to have a fantastic time as I pulled my “stylist” title out of the box for her makeover and photo session. I told her about my grandfather who was the motivation for me volunteering that day.
Wanda countered my icebreaker conversation with words of her own as she told me how she wanted to look. “Not shy, this one,” I thought to myself with a smile. After our intro, Wanda tried on clothes while preparing for her photo shoot. During that time together, we talked about each others' lives. Wanda did not hold back her thoughts and gave me quite a few old-school zingers about her observations about life from a street perspective. Her words were honesty on steroids. She shared her thoughts about “people wanting to help others when their own lives are messed up.” Hearing her priceless commentary had me roaring with laughter and deep in thought.
Wanda talked about her cancer diagnosis and her chemo treatments that seemed endless. She did not hold back about the physical and mental pain. She expressed her gratefulness to the Madison Church of Christ congregation that befriended her and took her under their wing. The more I inquired about how she was taking care of herself, the more she shared about her life and background. "Cancer was the last thing on my mind,” she said softly at one point. She had seen many trials before cancer, I was told. But those trials produced one of the most courageous women I have ever met.