How I Found My Health, Then My Hair


By Dr. Phoenyx Austin

We often talk about hair and natural hair journeys on CurlyNikki. And since October is a very special month, today I wanted to share the special journey of a woman named Pamela Williams- a woman who found her way to natural hair though her own personal journey of courage and healing. Here’s her story…

Imagine for a minute that you are in your doctor’s office. You made this appointment because you’ve got a pesky infection on your thumb that won’t clear up from the antibiotics you’ve been taking. So this time the doctor offers a prescription for a different antibiotic. You thank hi, go to get the medication and head home.

When you get home, you head to the bathroom to tend to your thumb and while there you notice a small lump under your armpit. You figure it must be related to the thumb infection that won’t clear up, so you take your antibiotics and continue on about your day.

A few days later you get a letter in mail alerting you that it’s time for your annual mammogram. You make the appointment and head on in, certain that this checkup will be normal like the rest. You’ve been relatively healthy all your life. You’re a 42 year old woman with no other issues other than mild asthma. And OK, you do have a few extra pounds that you’re working to get rid of. But who doesn’t have a few pounds they’d also like to lose?

After your mammo appointment you go home, and then receive a call a couple days later to come back into the office. You’re confused as to why, but you head on in. When you get into the doctor’s office, he sits you down and tells you that they’ve found a few abnormalities on your mammogram and will need to do a biopsy. You don’t think much of it. Actually you had a similar incident a few years ago where a benign lump was removed from your left breast. So you schedule the biopsy, get it done, and go home.

Just like before you get another call to come back in. You head into the doctor’s office and he sit you down. He begins to speak in a soothing but serious tone. He tells you that you have cancer and that it has spread to 9 lymph nodes.

At that very moment it feels as if the room is becoming narrower and narrower. And while you are trying to listen to what the doctor’s saying, it seems as if you’ve gone spontaneously deaf. You can anything. The doctor’s mouth is moving, but no words seem to come out. Everything is in slow motion now and looks blurry. It feels like a dream. You struggle to grasp hold of reality but you can’t wake from the dream. This can’t be real. This cannot be real. People like you don’t get cancer.

The story above is the story of Pamela Williams, a 42 y/o black woman who was diagnosed in May 2009 with Stage 2 Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma of the right breast. I was very moved by Pamela’s story so I thought it would be something very inspiration and educational to share with you all- especially for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Here is the rest of Pamela’s story:

Dr. Phoenyx: How did you feel when the doctor first told you about your diagnosis?
Pamela: I was shocked. I didn’t want to believe it and I was scared. For weeks I was in denial about it. But my doctors kept talking to me and I finally realized how serious it was. Eventually something snapped in me and I went into survival mode. I knew I couldn’t stay in that place of shock and denial forever if I expect to get better.

Dr. Phoenyx: What did your treatment involve?
Pamela: I was immediately scheduled for 8 rounds of chemo- once every other week on Thursday. After chemo, I had to go back and get another mammo to see if cancer was still there. It did shrink some, but the oncologist recommended bilateral mastectomy. That’s when I lost it. I couldn’t wrap my mind around someone taking me into surgery to cut off my breasts. In fact I was just sick of surgeons cutting on me in general. I had already had a hysterectomy, and I didn’t want to go under the knife again. But my doctor explained how serious my cancer was. So I prayed about it and I finally decided to do it. And in Nov 2009 I had the bilateral mastectomy.

Dr. Phoenyx: What was the surgery like?

Pamela: Surgery wasn’t painful. And to be honest, by that point I was so desperate to be cured. I just didn’t want to have cancer. I desperately wanted to be healthy again.

Dr. Phoenyx: How did you feel after surgery?
Pamela: I was so happy to be cured of cancer. It was the best feeling and I felt so blessed to have such wonderful doctors and to finally be on the path to healing. But I would be lying if I said that there weren’t times that I looked in the mirror and felt unhappy with the way I looked. My breasts, my hair, and my eyebrows were gone. I felt like every bit of femininity was stripped from me. Now that the cancer was gone, and I was no longer focused on treatment, I was forced to deal with my looks. I was very worried that men would never be attracted to me again.

Dr. Phoenxy: How did you deal with those feelings?
Pamela: I’ve had my ups and downs. It’s a back and forth and I’m still working on some aspects of that. As far as my breasts, I’ve had a few reconstructive surgeries done. I now breasts again and in a few weeks I will have the last bit of reconstructive surgery performed. So that will be nice. And as far as my hair and eyebrows, they have also grown back.

Dr. Phoenyx: Tell me about your hair growing back. I know that’s a very big fear with women recovering from cancer and chemo. Did you ever worry it wouldn’t grow back?
Pamela: I did worry for a little bit. And when my hair started growing back, I was very excited. It was actually very soft and fine- nothing like the texture of my hair before. I was excited and thought, “I’m going to have that good hair!” I know. I know. But then after 8 months my real texture came in. I actually asked my doctor if I could get a relaxer. I must admit, I was kind of a slave to the creamy crack. He said OK. But interestingly enough, as my hair continued to grow in I really started to love my hair and my new curls. I was no longer hiding behind a weave or relaxed hair. I really liked the way I looked and I liked how having short hair brought out my features. So I vowed never to relax again. I started to work with my natural hair. I learned to play up my features more with jewelry and makeup. I also started to check out natural hair sites are articles like yours and CurlyNikki. The more and more I learned, the better I became at taking care of my hair. I’m a single mom with a son- my mother also lives with us. So I don’t have tons of money. I needed to find a way to take care of my hair economically because the natural salons were too expensive. So ultimately I learned how to do my hair myself. I paid less attention to styling and more attention to health of my hair. And the more and more I took care of my hair, the more and more it thrived. My hair started growing back Fed 2010 and it’s grown so much since then!

Dr. Phoenyx: What works best for your hair?
Pamela: I like the natural product like oils and essential oils. I also like to make my own deep conditioners with things like egg, avocado, evoo, and honey. I use Pantene’s Natural and Relaxed line, VO5 split ends anti-breakage formula, Herbal Essence Hello Hydration. I also love Donna Marie’s products because they are all natural.

Dr. Phoenyx: What are you doing now and how do you feel?
Pamela: As far as what I’m doing right now, I’m actually working and going to school for social work and counseling. After that I want to get training as a life coach. I really enjoy helping others. As far as how I feel, I can honestly say that I am the healthiest I have ever been in light over everything I’ve been through. Once I got better, I got rid of a lot of bad habits that I used to have. I’ve lost weight through exercise and eating right. My asthma has improved. My skin cleared after years of bad acne. And my hair is stronger and healthy too.

Dr. Phoenyx: I am so happy that you are healthy and happy. I have known many breast cancer survivors, as well as women who lost their battle to breast cancer. I always marvel at the courage and resilience of these women. And it is a constant reminder of how precious life truly is. It was such a pleasure getting to know you and thank you so much for sharing your story. And before we close out, feel free to share any last words of advice or inspiration about health, wellness or even hair with your fellow ladies and CurlyNikki readers?
Pamela: My experience with cancer and even my experience going natural taught me that I always need to be in charge of and responsible for my health. To be honest, having cancer pushed me face a lot of fears and it pushed me to be healthier overall. Often we women talk about men being in denial and being afraid of going to the doctor. But we certainly do it too. I was in denial about my health, even before breast cancer. I would say to CurlyNikki readers that we women need to pay attention to our bodies and be totally responsible for our health. That is the best advice I can give. Take responsibility for your life. That is the key to being truly being happy and healthy.


Have you or someone you loved ever been diagnosed with breast cancer?

If you’d like to send a comment/question to Dr. Phoenyx Austin, you can find her on Facebook and Twitter. Dr. Phoenyx is a writer, media personality, and physician.

12 Weigh in!:
Anonymous said...

You are so beautiful! I enjoyed reading about your triumph over your battle with cancer. Stay blessed!

Anonymous said...

My aunt is currently battling. She had a mastectomy in August and last week was her first chemo treatment. It's hard to see her not feeling well b/c she was the party girl of the family. But we're a strong, praying family and we will get through it. We told her the other day that if we could divide those chemo treatments up amongst us, we would. But through it all God is good b/c her doctors found it early. All we can be is grateful!

Anonymous said...

Such an inspiring story! Thank you for sharing some of your strength with us Pamela!

Anonymous said...

Wow,what a moving article i was getting emotional! :( Life is precious and i am glad that Pamela has shared her story with us.It is time to take responsibility and it seems, a lot of the article i stumble across are on improving health so i'm going to take the hint and do it one day at a time! I wish you all the best Pamela and pray you continue to inspire and help people with your story. Jo

KeetaRay said...

Wow! Very moving and inspiring. Thank you SO much for sharing your story. It's so important for us to do that. My cousin had breast cancer but she lost her battle. Raising awareness is key. Pamela, your strength is AMAZING. God bless you.

Anonymous said...

Pamela Williams, thank you a thousand times for sharing your courageous story with us. Congratulations on reclaiming your health and being a successful warrior against breast cancer!!! Job well done!! You and your story are very inspirational and helpful. I am sure that this challenge has deepened you in many ways and the fact that you are willing to share what you have been through is a blessing and a lesson to all who hear it.

I have 2 paternal aunts who have successfully battled breast cancer in recent years. Their challenges have encouraged me to seriously protect my health. I have tried to eliminate ALL animal products from my diet, do some form of vigorous exercise daily and surround myself with anything positive. I feel that I want to do all I can to fully enjoy life and limit the possibility of disease.

Alta Angel said...

Thank you for your story. You are an inspiration.

MrsDjRass said...

Thank you for sharing your story. I know I hide from the doctor and I'm working to change that.

TheRYL1 said...

Thank you for sharing! Hopefully, it'll move someone to go get checked instead of hoping "it'll just go away". We do that too many times, and by the time we do check, it's too late. SMH

I recently had my first mammogram...I was scared because I was led to believe it hurt so bad. Spread the word, y'all...IT WAS A PIECE OF CAKE! I'll say this...burning from a relaxer hurt worse! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Wow. Pamela, you are so beautiful and I love the short hair on you.

I would second your sentiment about taking charge of our health. Often times we get so busy with work and life that we don't take the time to keep up with our health. Over the past several years, I have been so busy that I didn't get my checkup. I recently went for routine exams and I am in excellent health. Here on out, I will make my health a priority.

@TheRYL1, you are right, mammograms are a piece of cake. When I went for my first mammogram last month, I was expecting the horrific, uncomfortable mammogram that I heard so much about, but it never happened. It was over in 10-15 minutes and minimal discomfort.

Anonymous said...

Pamela Williams, I am so glad you are well. Thanks for sharing. Stay healthy!

Anonymous said...

Thank you all for your kind comments and compliments. I am living proof that taking charge of your health keeps you alive. There are so many things that we can do to stay on this earth. I'm not saying it is easy (especially the eating right part), but it I am saying it's doable. Take charge of your health in every way possible. If you feel something nott right, insist that the doctor do more test and check it out throughly. Thank you Dr. Phoenyx and CurlyNikki for telling my story.

Pam Williams

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