Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Breast Cancer Walk, Awareness and a Fearless Interview

Me and the Girls at the Breast Cancer Walk

Fall is in the air and I am excited for the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk this weekend. In year's past, I took a bigger role with the organization as an MC and a chair. I also started Project Pink in Daytona, where we would sell pink flamingos for $10, invite them to be dressed up and returned to a ball game with the Daytona Cubs who would wear Pink Jerseys. It was a lot of fun and raised a ton of money!You can read about it here.
We had a Great Day! 

My friends and I have always enjoyed the walk and this year I will be walking with my boyfriend's family who has made it a fun time indeed! They do a really fun party to kick it off and it is nice to be a part of it. If you are in the Volusia or Flagler County Area-information on the Put on Your Pink Bra is here

In celebration of Breast Cancer Awareness month, I had an opportunity to talk to Marimah Karmo. Maimah Karmo is a breast-cancer survivor and the founder of the Tigerlily Foundation, an organization that educates, empowers and advocates for young women affected by breast cancer. The idea was born after her second chemotherapy treatment, and when she appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show to tell her story, Oprah's advice was emphatic: Maimah must write a book.

So Maimah did. Fearless: Awakening to My Life's Purpose Through Breast Cancer (Brown Books, October 2012) is about her transformation, and how she learned that a challenge can be a gift.

Fearless is a stunning account of Maimah's upbringing in Liberia—which was uprooted when she was 15 years old, and her family was forced to flee to the U.S.—to living the American Dream, watching it all fall apart with a breast cancer diagnosis, and ultimately, bouncing back.

Today, Maimah has made her mark in the world of breast cancer, and her work has been celebrated everywhere from The Oprah Winfrey Show to Redbook Magazine to ­­­­Good Morning America.

Dedicated to changing the breast cancer landscape, Maimah's goal is to create a legacy of a world free of breast cancer. I had a chance to ask about her journey:

Tell us about your book.

Fearless is the story that my heart has carried around for many years, but that I had to
live out to this point, in order for me to share with others. It is me, being me, out in the
open, authentically, freely, uninhibitedly, unabashedly and for the first time – proudly
and unashamed or afraid to show all of me. It starts with my life in my native country
of Liberia, fleeing to America, as a refugee at 15, building my life, then watching it all
fall apart after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Initially angry, hurt and scared as
I watched my life fall apart, I grew to see that there was a blessing, a hidden gift in the
experience; through it all, I re-discovered my strength, myself, and my purpose.

What inspired you to write Fearless?

When you face your mortality in any way, it puts you at a crossroads – you either
become a victim of the thing or a victor of it.

You also have the opportunity, if you survive, to start over, re-create yourself and your
life, because you realize that you’re the artist and at your desire, you can draw anything
you want on that canvas. My breast cancer diagnosis devastated me, but even more so,
I know that many other things had to fall apart at once, for me to be pushed to the point
where I begged God to show me my purpose, because I had nowhere to look but up. I
had fallen so far so fast.

After my surgery, my fiancé walked away, unable to cope with my diagnosis. As my hair
fell out and I lost my eyebrows, eyelashes, I felt parts of myself falling away. As I saw
my career came to a standstill, I had to move in with my mother and give up my home,
saw the way some of my friends now looked at me and watched my body become weak
and frail, I learned that so much of what I had prioritized in life was unimportant. I had,
first of all put other people, my career and material things first, and me and my passion
last. I realized that so much of my life was a façade. Most of all, I realized that if I died,
I would not have given a fraction of what I wanted to the world, and no one would really
know me and the big, crazy love that I’d kept hidden so deeply inside, lest I be judged by
others in some way for being too open with my heart.

Losing “everything” that wasn’t important showed me that I had everything to lose by not
showing up. I began to live my life by giving all that I had away – my time, my love, my
passion – to help others, through my organization, Tigerlily Foundation, and as I gave,
God gave me more in return than I ever imagined. He gave me time with my daughter,
blessed me with the ability to service others through my “work”, which isn’t really work to
me, he gave me joy, faith, quadrupled all that I lost, and most of all, he gave me passion,
and he restored me to the person I had been seeking all along. I also learned that life is
not about wanting to take for oneself and garnering things, but about the moments we can commune with, affect and empower others.

You founded the Tigerlily Foundation. Tell us about that.

In 2006, I was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. I was 32 years old and had a
3-year old daughter. When I had initially gone to the doctor, I had been told I was too
young to have breast cancer. She performed an aspiration, which was unsuccessful,
but she insisted that I come back in six months, during which time the lump doubled in
size. I began experiencing overwhelming fatigue and night sweats. When I went back,
she insisted on a re-aspiration. I pushed for a biopsy. I was diagnosed the next day,
then found out I had aggressive breast cancer. While undergoing my second round of
chemotherapy, I would ask why this was happening to me; I was so afraid of the future.
I learned that approximately 11,000 young women get diagnosed and approximately
1,100 of those women die because they are misdiagnosed. I thought of how many
other young women were going through what I was experiencing. Then, I stopped
asking why and began thinking how, and then what could I do to make a difference,
instead of looking to someone else to make a change. I prayed about it and the next
day, the vision for Tigerlily Foundation was born, with a mission to educate, advocate
for, empower and provide hands-on support to young women – before, during and after
breast cancer. What started as a promise and a dream is now a nationwide organization
reaching thousands. Tigerlily Foundation provides education and empowerment to
young women and their families, we educate healthcare practitioners, provide peer
support to newly diagnosed young women, send young women in treatment breast
cancer buddy bags, meals, pay their bills, and provide support to young women living
with Stage 4 breast cancer.

I founded the organization while working a full-time job, and as a single mother. I did it
because if it were not for the grace of God and a mother who taught me to do my breast
exams at thirteen, I wouldn’t be here. I’m humbled to do this work, because I believe
that when one is blessed with life, in some way, we must be of service to others. There
is really no excuse to not give back or find the time to help others. There is so much
we each can do to impact someone else’s life. I founded Tigerlily because I promised
God that I would create something that would make a difference in the landscape of
young women and breast cancer, and I promised my daughter that I would live – and I
meant not just physically, but be truly alive, thereby giving her a legacy that would never
die – hopefully an example of the importance of creating the life you want, pursuing
your dreams, embracing life, loving the moment and walking along a path because you
believe in something deeply, even if you can’t clearly see the way ahead.

I do this work because young women are needlessly losing their lives to a disease that
many of them are not even aware of. Breast cancer floored me, but I made a decision to
pick myself up and be even better than before – and I want other young women who are
diagnosed to know that they have somewhere to turn, for support, love, empowerment
and services. I want them to know that they can survive and thrive. I want young women
who have not been diagnosed to know that they have a right to life and that they need to
exercise their personal power and become their own best advocates. I will do whatever
it takes to ensure that every young woman is aware of the issue of young women and
breast cancer and I’ve dedicated my life to ensure that this happens. It is important to
be living examples to our children. When my daughter was six, she woke me up one
morning and asked me what she could do to “help the women too”. She asked me if she
could have a fundraiser. The week she started first grade, she began planning, along
with several of her friends to have her first fundraiser. In December of this year, she
is holding a 100 person event at a local hotel. At six years old, she already knew she
could make a difference. Imagine what the world would be like if little children grew up
all wanting their lives to matter and wanting to give more than to get. That would be a
wonderful thing. I hope to give this gift to others through my work.

You've connected with some amazing, inspirational women along your
journey. What have you learned from them?

I have learned, as one of them said, “to eat life with a big spoon”. Life is so short, and
we are so powerful. The women who make a difference don’t live scared – they show
up and say what’s on their minds. They are passionate, purposeful, have faith and an
amazing personal strength that comes from a sense of knowing oneself. They live with
their heads held high and are never victims of this or that, but tend to see life with the
glass half full, learning from mistakes, living with grace and knowing that their actions
reverberate on a larger scale.

What was connecting with Oprah like? (Everyone always wants to know!)

She was amazing. She is a wonderful host – compassionate, kind and warm. You
almost forget she is there, you feel like you’ve known her forever and that you’ve sat on
that couch before with her in her living room. She has a way of focusing on each person
and making them feel special. She was amazing. I love her even more after meeting her.
She is 100% the real deal and is doing so much to help so many.

What's the one thing you'd want someone recently diagnosed with breast
cancer to know immediately?

That being diagnosed with breast cancer is not a death sentence; and that you are not
alone. Those two things are the most fearful feelings. There are so many women, more
than 250,000 diagnosed annually, who survive and thrive after breast cancer. That
means that you have thousands of other women who have walked the path before you
and who can support, empower and inspire you. What shifted me was the knowledge
that I was in charge, not breast cancer or anything else. Breast cancer sucks, but the
reality of life is that we all have to go sometime – from breast cancer or something else.
What breast cancer did for me was put my life in perspective. It gave me a wake-up call,
and helped me to see that I was and we are all here temporarily. So I needed to own my
life and find my purpose, so that I would live the rest of my life with meaning. With this in
mind, I focused my energy and fears into making my life count – that is what we all want
at the end of the day to make a difference, love a lot and life like there is no tomorrow.
What was interesting is that helping others healed me in so many ways. It taught me
compassion and gave me more wonderful friends than I could have imagined.

Finally, where can we find your book?

You can purchase it on Amazon or if you would like an autographed copy, visit my
website at www.maimahkarmo.com.
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