On Sunday night, Dr. Alia Campbell was in a car wreck (no one was hurt thankfully) – yesterday morning she woke up happy and a friend questioned why she was already on “10” that early in the morning. Dr. Campbell’s response: “This car accident can’t even compete with what I’ve been through [these first seven months of 2019] and still going through with my mom.”
Campbell is a breast cancer survivor. Her mother Antoinette Patrice Campbell nee deGregory is battling stage four lung cancer.
Campbell was diagnosed with stage one malignant ductal carcinoma in December but she saw signs that suggested she may have had the disease from as early as October 2018. But her mom was sick and she was the mother to a toddler, Logan James Taylor – she said her focus was not on her, even though she noticed she had a retracted nipple.
In December, she felt a lump the size of a golf ball and knew she could no longer ignore the signs.
“As a person in the medical field, and you know what stuff is, you have to allow all the tests to run its course so you could know-know,” said the dentist. “I knew what it was when it came.”
“I sat down in Dr. Bloomfield’s office and when he told me what it was, one single tear rolled down my face. I wiped my face, got up and said ‘what next?’. He said he would refer me to Dr. Chea. I said, ‘get me in tomorrow’. I felt the lump on Sunday, I was in Fourth Terrace [Diagnostic Centre] on Monday morning for my mammogram and ultrasound. Body language says a lot, so the radiologist’s body language was telling me everything, so, I was like okay, they think it’s that too. Tuesday morning I had my biopsy – and by that following Thursday I knew what it was.”
She discussed her options with the doctor which included a unilateral mastectomy (removal of one breast either partially or completely), or a double mastectomy (removal of both breasts).
She knew that she didn’t want to have to go through what she faced again, especially as she was a mother, and made the decision to have both breasts removed to increase her chances of the cancer not coming back. The doctor asked if she was prepared to do the surgery a week later; she said no.
“I had to have my Christmas because I didn’t know if I’d be blessed with another Christmas with my mom. So, I said ‘no, we would do it in the new year’.”
At that point, Campbell and her mom were battling cancer simultaneously. Her mom had been diagnosed in November 2017.
Campbell first noticed something was wrong with her mom when she came to the hospital to visit the new mom who had given birth to Logan James.
“I said, ‘you’re really too small, what’s going on?’. Prior to that, the summer of 2017, she had a cold and I said, ‘why are you coughing?’ She said she just had a cold. I said, ‘you had this cold for a really long time now, you really need to go and get that checked out’. But as stubborn as she is, she didn’t go to the doctor, until I was like, ‘no, when you hit Freeport, you have to go to the doctor’. When she went to the doctor and did a chest x-ray, she had stage four lung cancer.”
The dentist’s surgery was performed on January 11. She took four rounds of chemotherapy from March through May with two chemo drugs, but did not have to do any radiation treatment because the cancer did not spread to her lymph nodes. But that treatment took a toll on her body. She lost 23 pounds from her already tiny frame. And she has to deal with the side effects of treatment.
“Getting used to the hot flashes … just feeling like a little old lady. I have to go through the whole pre-menopausal symptoms. You wake up one morning and you’re a vibrant young person until you get that news, or until you go through all the necessary steps to get you healed and cancer-free, and then you end up feeling like a little old lady,” Campbell said.
“I started at a size two, so I’m just starting to put my weight back on.”
She’s on the mend, but her mother is still going through it.
“So, my 2019 has been something else … my 2018 was something else – but 2019 just added to it,” said Campbell who describes herself as a dress-up, make-up kind of girl with hair OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) who had to watch her beautiful tresses fall out.
“And I always did fun stuff with my hair – I would shave my head, and that was always a choice. In this instance, that choice was taken away from me. And I had no eyebrows and no eyelashes.”
Campbell said she did not feel beautiful, even though people told her she was.
She and her mother comprise one half of a two mother-daughter combination that is among 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 man and 13 women have all battled or are still battling various cancers.
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.
Campbell never hesitates to share her story, and she says random people have walked up to her and told her they were praying for her, were proud of her, and that she was brave. The dentist admits to being confused as to why people referred to her as brave, and to asking friends why they were saying that, who told her that talking about cancer is still relatively taboo, despite strides in the opposite direction and to not make it a shameful topic and something to be hidden.
From her fight, Campbell said she hopes people learn to treat everybody with kindness, because you don’t know what they might be going through, regardless of what they exude on the outside.
“You have no idea of the storms that’s going on inside people,” she said.
As she fought her cancer, she said people around her were surprised she took it so well, but she said her personality is not one that includes a grey area; for her, everything is black and white.
“So, my battle is white, and my mother’s battle is black. My battle can’t even compare to what I see and know that her body is going through. So, I had no time to feel sorry for myself most days. I might have cried about this maybe about three times, but it was more of an ‘I need to get back to work, I need to provide for my son, I need to provide for my mom’, because she’s a little firecracker who goes and goes and goes, so the fact that she cannot go, that more so is having the emotional/mental effect on me, because you don’t ever plan to see your parent, especially your mom not be your mom, and my mother has always been a superwoman all my life – so now it’s me having to carry her.”
Campbell took off work on January 9 and returned on April 1. She works with a female colleague who she said was understanding of what she was going through as another female. When she returned, she said she operated in slow mode because she was still doing chemo which made her feel lethargic and fatigued, but because she likes what she does and has tunnel vision when she does it, she said once she’s working she’s working.
“I don’t allow anything else outside of what I’m doing to affect what I’m doing. So, most days I forget that I am who I am – as in the breast cancer person, I just go do my work.”
And she already has her new breasts as well. She was able to have her mastectomy and reconstructive surgery at the same time owing to the early stage she was caught at, as well as the fact that she had HER2-negative breast cancer.
Today, Campbell said she’s getting used to the person she is after beating breast cancer – a person who she said is different from who she was at the end of 2018.
“I turned 40 on December 1, 2018, so I was walking into my new season of the new ‘40 is the new 25’ kind of thing, and then this knocked me down. I was like ‘what the hell?’. I’ve never been a gentle person. Always been somewhat of a hard, exterior person, so this entire experience has made me more empathetic, really cognizant of others, softer, and to live life every day like it could be your last literally.”
Curry-Williams’ upcoming show, in which Campbell and her mom will be featured, is personal. Her 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.”
In her fourth show to honor cancer survivors and fighters, scheduled for November 10 at the Atlantis, Curry-Williams 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, the designer 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 for are $70 general admission, $120 VIP.