Health & Wellness

Fighting for her life

If there is one thing Nakara Miller is certain of – it is that she does not want her mother’s story to be hers. Miller and her mother were diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40; Miller’s mom Cheryl Williams died at age 48. Nakara has plans to live a long life with her husband Kai Miller and children Ashton Gray, 23; Kailey Miller, 22; and Kamdynn Miller, eight.

“I know what I have to do. Things have changed, technology has improved, so I will just do what they ask,” said Miller who was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer on January 2 after a routine wellness exam in 2018.

Miller had a lumpectomy on January 22, the results showed she was positive for the BRCA 1 gene, and the most aggressive form, triple negative. She was treated with four of the strongest doses of chemotherapy and recommended that she have a bilateral mastectomy as a preventative measure which she had done on May 7. It was also suggested that she have a hysterectomy as another preventative measure which she has scheduled for November 15.

“I want to do the hysterectomy simply because there are no signs of ovarian cancer, you only know when it’s there and in action, so that’s their recommendation,” said Miller.

“I have to do whatever it is to become cancer-free.”

She was at work when she got the call of the positive cancer diagnosis.

“Seeing that my doctor was away [in the United States], they wanted me to come over and I was like, ‘you might as well tell me because you want me to come over for a result that I basically already know’.”

“First of all, I was very afraid because I was the same age my mom was when she was diagnosed, and she’s no longer with us. And I saw the pain that she went through. She took off one breast, and [the cancer] came in the next [breast]; she took off [the second] breast, and it came back in the chest wall … same thing with my [maternal] grandmother [Esthermae Archer]. Both of them took off one breast and the cancer returned in the next breast, so I was like you know what – her story isn’t my story, so I will just do what they ask.”

Miller is no stranger to cancer. Her mother died in 1988 after an eight-year battle; her maternal grandmother died in 2016; and her paternal grandmother died from stomach cancer in 2006.

Miller said she had made up her mind on what had to be done the minute she was diagnosed.

The one person she was afraid to tell was her oldest son, who witnessed with her what her mother went through. Her pillar of strength she said is her eight-year-old.

“He said, ‘Mommy, when you take them off it gone? Okay, then.’ He keeps asking, ‘So, it’s gone right mommy?’ And I say, yes, it’s gone.”

It has been recommended that all of her mother’s offspring – she has three sisters and two brothers – be tested for the BRCA 1 gene and she says she really has to try to pull her brothers in to get them tested.

Even though males do not develop milk-producing breasts, a man’s breast cells and tissue can still develop cancer, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Considering her family history with both her mother and maternal grandmother having been diagnosed with breast cancer, Miller began her mammograms 10 years earlier than the recommended age of 40.

“Every year without fail I did the mammogram and ultrasound.”

She has not had reconstructive surgery as yet, but plans to. It was recommended she wait to do reconstruction, as well as wait six months for her hysterectomy, because her body had been put through so much, and they wanted to make sure she healed. Miller also has vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels.

She also just returned to work, after being released from the hospital on Friday due to complications with drainage which resulted in her catching an infection.

Despite everything she’s been through, she’s upbeat. She says she’s not one to dwell.

“I just love to smile, and that’s why I say as long as I’m smiling, know that I’m good, and God has me.”

Her advice to women and men is to not ignore their bodies.

“Every little sign – go and check out, because really and truthfully, that’s what happened to me. I realized something was wrong.”

She had noticed one of her breasts, having grown by three inches which she initially chalked up to weight gain.

“I never had an inverted nipple or anything, it was just one breast grew three inches longer than the next, and I learned that was a sign after not knowing that that was a sign. But you have to make sure that you get tested and you pay attention to your body.”

Because of her family’s history, she’s always been mindful in getting her checkups done.

Miller is one of 14 cancer survivors and fighters who will be honored during Gillian Curry-Williams’ fashion for a cause event under her Remilda Rose Designs brand. The one male and 13 females have all battled or are still battling various forms of cancer.

By participating in the event, honorees get to share their individual stories and what they went through, which allows others to see that cancer is survivable.

Curry-Williams’ upcoming show, in which Miller will be featured, is personal. The designer’s late father, Donald Curry was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. She took note of what he went through and how her mother, Letitia Curry – his main caregiver – dealt with him. Curry-Williams also took notice of how her father was at treatment sessions, which she would attend with him, which gave her the opportunity to take in how other people received treatment. What she witnessed made her wonder what she could do to assist as a designer.

She, at first, came up with a fabric she dubbed the “Fabric of Hope” – a print made up of some of the colors associated with various types of cancer. That was followed with the idea of staging a fashion show to honor individuals who were going through treatment or had battled cancer, during which Curry-Williams would debut designs in the “Hope Fabric” but at the same time, dress the cancer survivors/fighters in her original designs, giving them a turn in the spotlight on the runway.

“Dress them up and make them feel good … make them feel special,” said Curry-Williams. “And yes, you may not have any ovaries, you may not have a breast … you may not have breasts because you may have taken both off, you may have had cancer in the lungs or the rectum, but the fact is you are still handsome, you’re still beautiful, you’re still worthy.”

Miller said she was honored to be nominated.

To my friends, I’m known as the fashionista. I had just had my mastectomy when I found out [I was nominated], and when I went for interviews I could not wear a prosthetic as yet, and I was really conscious. Just to know that I was chosen kind of boosted my confidence because I really was hiding and I wasn’t going out anywhere. So, being nominated really put a smile on my face, boosted my confidence and uplifted my spirits. Someone took the time out to nominate me, and I have a chance to feel pretty. I’ve never modeled before, but I was always one who loved to dress up.”

During a person’s cancer fight, Miller said support from family and friends is crucial.

“Other than God giving you your strength, your support from family and friends carries you a long way. Down to my family, my friends, my coworkers who were here with me the day that I found out, they have all helped me get through this journey, and they’re still checking up on me. The calls, the prayers … all of that support, it helps you. So, my advice to all who know anyone who has cancer – pick up the phone, ask, go and visit, it helps a lot and keeps their spirit up.”

In Curry-Williams’ fourth show to honor cancer survivors and fighters scheduled for November 10 at the Atlantis, the designer said she knows her father would be proud of what she’s doing, and the fact that she has continued with the event even though he’s passed. Prior to his death, she said he had expressed his pride in her thinking of the idea of the fashion show for a cause, and she was able to host her first show before he died, even though he was too sick to attend.

Andrea Sweeting, Sister Sister (Breast) Cancer Support Group president serves as patron for this year’s show. Tickets are $70 general admission, $120 VIP.

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Shavaughn Moss

Shavaughn Moss joined The Nassau Guardian as a sports reporter in 1989. She was later promoted to sports editor. Shavaughn covered every major athletic championship from the CARIFTA to Central American and Caribbean Championships through to World Championships and Olympics. Shavaughn was appointed as the Lifestyles Editor a few years later.

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