Dr. Janet Kwami // Assistant Professor of Communication Studies Furman University // mother to Nicole (pictured, 3 y/o) & Natalie (6 y/o) // wife to Nathaniel Buah Kwofie // singer, artist & baker // acrophobe // currently surviving breast cancer (diagnosed April 28, 2012; one week after her 38th birthday)
Christmas is here in two sleeps! So on a special night this week, we bring you no truer, wondrous testimony than that of a living, breathing “miracle,” as this week’s survivor so aptly describes. ‘Tis the season, so let this serve us all a reminder of what it’s really about; & that the “season” does not – & should not – end.
“I was informed about two life-changing events at the same time: I was pregnant with my second child, & I had breast cancer. The results of the biopsy shocked us, as nothing prepared us for a stage III breast cancer diagnosis & a five-week pregnancy.
“We met with several specialists, & the options presented to us were grim; we couldn’t be assured of a positive outcome if we chose to keep the pregnancy. Because the cancer was HER2 positive, it was believed that the pregnancy was actually fueling the cancer. The doctors recommended I terminate the pregnancy & focus on my treatment. Actually, one doctor asked, ‘What’s the point of having a baby & not surviving cancer to take care of the child?’ My husband [Nathaniel] & I had been trying for [one], & we did some further research, & decided to keep the baby. It was a difficult decision, as we did not know how the chemo would affect the baby eventually. We are glad we did, as Nicole is perfect in every way – our little miracle.
“I was at a pivotal time in my academic career, & then with the diagnosis, everything changed…my life came to a screeching halt. I informed the Furman administration, & I went on medical & family leave. I had just received a NSF grant, had my research trip planned out & had two international conferences I had to cancel. The support from my colleagues at Furman was phenomenal & helped me through this difficult time.
“Treatment & pregnancy was difficult. It was not easy to comprehend how I could be nurturing – & loving a tiny living being in me – while aggressively killing a deadly disease at the same time. Many people wanted to know how it was possible to undergo chemo & grow a baby at the same time. It was nothing short of a miracle. When I was diagnosed, there was not much out there about pregnancy & cancer, so I felt really lonely & was not sure what to expect. There were days that I felt very sick & couldn’t eat, but the fact that I was pregnant actually gave me the extra determination to fight this.
“Fighting cancer has given me a new perspective about life. I really take each day at a time; I try to make memories with my family & not stress about little things. My husband & close family members have been supportive – I’m not sure how I would have made it without the support of my family. Through cancer, I have grown to connect with a close-knit group from my church family at Disciples United Methodist Church. They have become my family away from home; with my parents living in Ghana, West Africa, my network of friends has become my family.
“I think Natalie, my 6-year old, is pretty aware that I am dealing with some health issues & is, unfortunately, very conversant with terms like ‘chemo’ & ‘radiation.’ She is very empathetic, & knows when I am having a rough day after treatment. I have been journaling my experience, & hope to share it with [my girls] when they grow older. I have learnt through this journey that it’s not what happens to you that matters, but it’s how you respond. I tell my friends: This is my new normal.
“I love this saying: ‘Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.’