Wednesday, October 8, 2008
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We complete our interview with our main feature, the gorgeous Maimah Karmo, who overcame breast cancer and has since used what could have been a setback to inspire and help change the lives of many. Maimah Karmo’s story recently got her on Oprah alongside breast cancer survivors Actress Christina Applegate and Nancy Brinker of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation.
Read on and please encourage your mothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, nieces and friends to do their routine self breast examinations. This breast cancer month, we salute, cheer and applaud the many Ladybrille women worldwide who have overcome breast cancer. Also, many cheers and applauses to YOU, our reader, for possibly saving someone’s life by passing on Maimah’s story. THANK YOU. For Part I of this intimate and indepth interview, click here.
MAIMAH’S REACTION AFTER HER BREAST CANCER DIAGNOSIS
Maimah: [Maimah left off where she had just received a call from her doctor telling her she had breast cancer] Even though I was an educated woman, I thought breast cancer [meant] death. I did not even know who an oncologist was. [In the past] I would go to breast cancer events, enjoy it, go home and go on. I was part of the problem.
I put the phone down. I looked [across] at my boss’s office. She was in a meeting but she had known about my tests. I have one of those offices where people could see me and I [them]. I just looked at her and stood there and I could not talk and I walked away. She [dismissed] everyone and told them to get out of the office and then she came to me. I told her the doctor called. She said, “Oh my God!”
My co-workers wanted to drive me home and I said, “No I can drive myself.” I called my fiancé at the time and told him I have cancer and he said, “Well how do you know for sure?” I told him, “I have cancer! I have cancer. They told me. I know.” I then went to my mother’s job and told her. I called my dad. It was very surreal. I just went home and sat on my couch. My cousins came over and they asked me if I was fine. I told them I was fine but told them I was tired to make them leave because I just wanted to be alone. I just sat there the whole night I could not go to sleep.
MAIMAH LOSES CONTROL
LADYBRILLE: [empathizing and in an empathetic tone] Your mind was somewhere else.
Maimah:[Agreeing] I was in a different world. There was so much going on in my mind I could not even process.
LADYBRILLE.com:hmmmm . . .
Maimah: I was still like what? I don’t understand. I looked in the mirror. I looked healthy, ate my vegetables, exercised, drank a lot of water and took my vitamins. I thought to myself, "I [do] my regular checkups, how did this happen? Is this real?" So, [the] next morning, I called the doctor and I said, “Hi it’s Maimah Karmo. You told me yesterday that I had breast cancer. Is that true?” She said, “yeah sorry [with hesitation in her voice], you do.” It’s so interesting because for someone who has been in control my whole life, for the first time, I was out of control.
Maimah: I was unable to do anything. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t answer the phone. I just sat home [on my couch] and was numb. My friends were calling and calling. I would look at the phone and just wonder, “What do they want?” Nothing made sense to me anymore. It’s like someone telling you the sky is purple [she laughs].
LADYBRILLE.com: uh-huh [In a soft tone] Did you get a second opinion?
Maimah:I got two because when the doctor [her previous doctor who had to be pushed to even do a biopsy, six months after Maimah discovred a lump] told me, I immediately dropped her. [I] could have died if I listened to her. [I] found one other doctor and he said, “just take the breast off.” He had not even seen my x-rays and he wanted me to take my breast off. < LADYBRILLE.com: Whoa!
Maimah: I told one of my co-workers about it [who] had [had] breast cancer. She told me about her doctor and how compassionate she was. Now, I am so fearless about breast cancer but at the time, I was in the fetal position sitting like curled up, rocking and shaking.
LADYBRILLE.com: [empathetic tone] hmmm . . .
Maimah:[Maimah chose her co-worker’s doctor and visits her new doctor’s office] When she came in, I remember feeling so terrified! I’m telling you Uduak it was like you don’t know anything but you just feel and know there is nothing you can do.
LADYBRILLE.com: hmmm . . .
Maimah: The doctor closed her office and explained what the diagnosis was about, what it meant, what we could do and options for my chemotherapy. My oncologist would explain more details. My mind just went blank so it was good to have someone with me to be there to hear all that.
LADYBRILLE.com: Who did you have with you?
Maimah:My co-worker who had it before. She drove and I can’t remember anything on our way there and back. So, it is really important when women go through these to have someone to support them. I was scared and it was so much information.
MAIMAH FINDS THE RIGHT TREATMENT
LADYBRILLE.com: How did you determine the best treatment for you?
Maimah:Well, 1) you want to look at your family history. 2) You want to look at your diagnosis which is the most important thing because 80% of women that get breast cancer have no history.
LADYBRILLE: Interesting. . .
Maimah:So, you want to look at your diagnosis. What stage of cancer are you? Stage I? II?
LADYBRILLE.com:What stage where you at the time?
Maimah:Stage 2 just before it had gotten out of hand. Luckily I had pushed. If I had not pushed it would have been a whole other situation.
Maimah:They went in and did surgery and I knew that they would tell me whether it was in my lymph nodes. Basically, if it is in your lymph nodes, it means it has got out of the breast tissue which means you might want to explore a masectomy and you will have more aggressive chemotherapy.
LADYBRILLE.com: Interetsing . . .
Maimah: When I came out of surgery, my doctor said,“your nodes are clear.” I started crying.
Maimah:I cried because I didn’t have to take my breast off and I had this surge of relief. [Maimah’s daughter comes in and interrupts the interview. She kisses her daughter and says, “I love you. Go play I’ll be done soon.” [She continues] Cancer feeds off estrogen. But there are some cancers that are random and do not feed off estrogen and it makes it tough because: 1) you don’t know the cause and 2) there is no treatment for it. Also, even if they say you are free of cancer, you are never quite free.
LADYBRILLE.com: Is that when they say [ it is] in remission?
Maimah:Yes. "In remission" means there is no evidence of the disease. It doesn’t mean it is gone.
LADYBRILLE.com:Just so our readers understand. You have breast cancer, you go through chemotherapy and you are cancer free. But, that means it is remission and could possibly come back?
Maimah: Yes. It could.
LADYBRILLE.com: hmmmm . . . .How do you stop it from coming back if it is in remission or can you ever?
Maimah:[in a bit of a perplexed tone] I think getting early treatment is key. Some women it never comes back. The surgery is local but chemotherapy is systemic and affects the whole system. Radiation treats the whole system. So you have two localized treatment and one systemic treatment. If your estrogen receptor is positive, then you have to take a pill for a year or more to attack [the disease] so it does not come back.
MAIMAH MAKES SOME MAJOR CHANGES
LADYBRILLE.com: What was the defining moment that made you think you could beat breast cancer?
Maimah:I was 105 pounds, bald, I was exhausted, my grandmother had died while I was going through this, I was under tremendous stress, I had this child and I had lost who I was. My treatment ended and they said, “Come see us in three months.” I felt very very alone and almost raped by the cancer because it comes, messes you up and then it says "there you go. Figure your life now." Couple of months later, it came to me and I thought, "are you going to let cancer define who you are or are you going to define breast cancer?" I just had this thought. I then thought about who I was. I realized I didn’t have to be defined by it [She begins tearing up].
LADYBRILLE.com: [I also am tearing up at this point]
Maimah:[In a stronger tone] Oh! I always get emotional.
LADYBRILLE.com: Yeah. . .
Maimah:[Still emotional and tearing up] I thought about the woman who could not take care of herself, her child, feed herself after the chemo. So, I thought I have to do something. [Voice getting stronger and passionate] If each one of us take one thing we are passionate about and use it to make a difference, we can eradicate a lot of crap going on in the world.
LADYBRILLE.com:[More composed] That is true.
Maimah:I had to begin to accept responsibility for breast cancer and my life.
LADYBRILLE.com: What do you mean by that?
Maimah: I feel like I create my life. I am responsible for decisions I make in my life.
LADYBRILLE.com: [I chime in] the choices you make?
Maimah:Yes. Some of the choices were [good] and some were bad. I made a choice to eat processed foods, eat meat, eat foods that has hormones injected into them. I made a choice of living a lifestyle that was go, go, go!
LADYBRILLE.com: Okay I have to interrupt you real quick. “Eat meat?” Most of the world eats meat. What do you mean by that?
Maimah:Well because when you go through all these [chemotherapy] you go through complimentary treatment if you so choose. I learn[t] a lot about food and the role food plays in our cellular molecular makeup.
LADYBRILLE.com: hmmmm . . .
Maimah: For example, in Africa, we eat meat, chicken and for the most part, you kill them you bring them home and eat it. Foods are typically more organic. In industrialized nations like the USA, the foods they give animals to eat are full of pesticides. The way the animals are [fed and taken care of] is to make them bigger and fatter.
Maimah: They kill, package, put preservatives on them and put them on the shelves and now we have to eat them. Also, for me, the way the animals die cruel deaths and we are eating all that energy. Plus, we are the only ones that drink another animal’s milk. The milk has lots of pesticides, hormones and all kinds of stuff that are by products of the way they are harvested, grown and packaged. So, when you think about it, on so many levels, that is not good for your body.
LADYBRILLE.com:It is so hard though. Because even the most conscientious [persons] who eat vegetables [have pesticides] to contend with on those vegetables.
Maimah: I am not saying I don’t eat meat. But I eat a lot, lot less of it. I think it is more expensive to go through cancer. So, I just made an investment. I go to Whole Foods and I look at the labels to see where [the foods] [are] grown. If I see a banana that is [emphasizes with voice] HUGE . . . do you know a banana in Africa is not that huge?
LADYBRILLE.com: [I burst out laughing because it is so true!]
Maimah: Joins and we both start laughing] [She gets serious again] You kind of know what you are eating. You just get it because it is there or you don’t want to spend the money. Taking responsibility, for me, was that I was going to change my lifestyle. I also wanted to teach women how to take care of themselves and how they can do their own self breast exams. I think with prevention, we can reduce our mortality rates, eat right and manage our stress level. You know when you go through treatment, the first thing they tell you is “manage your stress level and change your diet.” That is incredible to me!
Maimah:Exercising, for example, is not just to be thin but also to be healthy. I thought it was important to share these information with others; and to tell them how to be their own best breast advocate. I am launching a mother-daughter event that will encourage women [including] African women/mothers to encourage their daughters to do self-breast examinations. I am also writing a book about using your challenge as a gift
MAIMAH MAKES AND KEEPS HER PROMISE TO GOD
LADYBRILLE.com: Tell us about your foundation www.tigerlilyfoundation.org.
Maimah: It is an empowerment tool for breast cancer and health in general and really helps women take care of themselves. I also have my company http://www.maimahkarmo.com/ which I see as a way to talk to people and help change their lives. You know, when God calls us, he sometimes has to stop us in our tracks because we have our own plans. He talks to us all the time. We just ignore him. For me, breast cancer saved my life. God kept knocking and knocking and asking for my attention and I refused. But, when I was going through these, I said, “God, if I survive this thing, I will use my life in service for you.” Once I got through it, I kept my promise. Tiger Lily was that promise and Maimah Karmo.com is me enhancing that promise to teach women how to overcome their self doubts.
LADYBRILLE.com: I thank you so much. It has been a phenomenal and [inspiring] time listening to you share your compelling, compelling story. Women, especially African women, need to be empowered. We need role models, leadership, sisterhood and love among ourselves and it takes a special kind of person to do it. So, I am so glad God has blessed you and healed you and you have shared your story with the world to help women prevent breast cancer.
Maimah:Thank you. I love what you are doing too. You are so strong and I can see it with [Ladybrille] and I can feel your energy and I think it is phenomenal.
LADYBRILLE.com: You are too kind. Thank you.