Breaking the Silence
Felicia Johnson is an LBBC Hear My Voice: Metastatic Breast Cancer Outreach Volunteer. The program provides tools to help people living with metastatic breast cancer make a difference in their communities. Learn more and apply for the 2017 Hear My Voice program.
The ride on cancer’s river started well before I could comprehend the gravity of its impact. My name is invisible behind the silence of breast cancer. I should be Felicia S. Johnson. That is the name stated on my birth certificate. However, at the age of 14, my identity and those of the women in my family were given an alias. The alias was cancer. It selected us. Cancer and all its molecular and biological systems had slithered in like termites destroying a home. I could not say my mother’s name without it being followed by the word “breast cancer.” It continued to follow her sisters and their daughters also. But why did they silence the word cancer? There was imminent danger in keeping such a powerful word hushed. However, I have chosen to create a five-alarm vocal fire that will eventually spread into future generations.
In 2003, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The diagnosis did not startle me. There was an increased probability of cancer due to my family’s high-risk nature. Part of my health maintenance plan had involved personal cancer surveillance since my early 20s. What I wasn’t prepared to hear were the words “You have metastatic breast cancer.” I had Stage IV cancer. Suddenly, the silence in my family had power. Those words were hard to say out loud. There was a deep screaming released inside of me. It was my time to choose. Would I wither under the power and pressure of cancer’s silence? The answer was emphatically “no.” I refused to shrink away. The silence had to be broken. I was determined to use my voice to reach other women. How would I proceed?
Would I wither under the power and pressure of cancer’s silence? The answer was emphatically 'no.' I refused to shrink away. The silence had to be broken. I was determined to use my voice to reach other women.
I had been receiving information from Living Beyond Breast Cancer via mail and emails. I read their pamphlets cover to cover each time I received them. Then there it was, information about a new program. It was called the Hear My Voice Program. The program was for people who wanted to share their story to help others. I needed to be a part of this. I immediately completed the application and waited to hear from them.
During the application process, I spoke with one of the coordinators on several occasions. She wanted to make sure I was the right match. The day I received my acceptance solidified my personal promise to break the silence of metastatic breast cancer. I marked my calendar and prepared for the training in April 2016.
When the weekend finally arrived, I did not know what to expect. I’m sitting in a room full of women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. What would be the ice breaker to warm up that meal? The facilitator started us off with the funniest game. Suddenly, the ladies had become a part of my special club. I was at ease. It was time to dig in.
From the moment the staff at LBBC began to cover the material, I was hanging on every word of instruction, suggestions and ideas. During that time, I would gain new friends and experience great moments of learning and fun. LBBC taught me ways in which I could take my story and share it with others affected by cancer. They gave me additional tools and resources I needed to meet the goals that I had set for myself during training. Before I knew it, time had elapsed. The weekend was over. I had gained rich material.
I knew that I could go out and impact the lives of others positively. I was ready. I moved forward. When I felt unsure, there was a closed Facebook page where I could share my concerns. My HMV buddies were always willing to give constructive advice and encouragement. If that wasn’t enough, I could also call the office and talk with one of the support staff for the HMV 2016 group. I had the best of both worlds.
I knew that I could go out and impact the lives of others positively. I was ready.
LBBC helped me break down the Jericho walls of metastatic breast cancer. I needed to spread information about metastatic breast cancer that would empower women and their families. I needed to reach communities of women that won’t attend a breast cancer event because of fear and uncertainty.
The silence is finally broken. I have been a voice in my community. You too can share your story in your own style and crash down the walls of breast cancer. So the next time you see a five-alarm fire, it’s just me, Felicia. It’s not my alias, cancer.
Thank you, Living Beyond Breast Cancer! I’m living. Yes, there is hope. And today I’m a voice being heard.
Learn more about Hear My Voice and apply for the 2017 program.