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Ashlee Nicole, Artistry Studios

I Survived Stage IV Cancer At Age 27

I just couldn't see why God would allow this to happen to me, but I knew I had to trust Him.

As Told To

As Told To is a recurring segment on xoNecole where real women are given a platform to tell their stories in first-person narrative as told to a writer.

This is Lindsey Walker's story, as told to Charmin Michelle.

Here I was, walking into the treatment center for the very first time. I was walking as slowly as I could.

The center was unlike anything I could've ever expected, and nothing like what we've seen in the movies. There were so many people there: young, old, some full of joy and hope, others in so much pain you could see it in their eyes. I wondered how everyone had gotten to this point and if it were anything similar to how I had gotten there.

Everything was a blur; I was terrified of what my life was. Or wasn't.

I remember how welcoming the nursing staff and my oncology team were. They were warm and kind, truly concerned about my well-being. They tried their best to prepare me for what was coming my way, but there was nothing they could've said to ease me into the experience to be honest. It all happened so fast...

The Arrival of Cancer

One random day I was on the phone with my friend when suddenly, my breathing was out of sync. I told her something was wrong and that I was having difficulty breathing at all. I hadn't been feeling my best up to this moment and I had been running fevers for an entire week, so she urged me to go the hospital. I immediately called my mom and asked her to take me to the emergency room.

While we were there, they did X-rays on my chest and found a mass sitting directly in front of my heart, which was why I was having trouble breathing. The doctors decided to admit me.

Huh? Admit me?

A mass?

What does that mean?

The next day, the doctors came in to my room and asked me a series of questions. They then decided to do a biopsy to determine a clearer understanding as to what the mass was. Before I knew it, I was being whisked away and prepped for surgery, scared out of my mind. I woke up with a chest tube in my side and I had to do breathing exercises. After about a week, they let me go home as we awaited the results of the biopsy. A few days later, I started running fevers again and had to go back to the hospital and one of the doctors demanded to see my tests. By this time, they had me on the "Unknown Floor"—meaning they didn't know what my diagnosis was.

I was laying in the hospital bed when one of the doctors came in to tell me that I'd been diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. The exact date was July 3, 2018. I later found out that it was in Stage IV.

Growing up, I could have never imagined this would be something I would have to battle through, although this wasn't the first experience with complications. Raised by my mother, grandmother and great aunts as an only child, I was born severely premature (my mother had me at 23 weeks), so my family was quite overprotective of me as a child.

So, when I was formally diagnosed, it took me a while to process any emotions, thoughts, and optimism—even with all that I had dealt with in the past.

Chemotherapy is...Hell.

My world transformed into a dream that I just couldn't seem to wake up from. I immediately thought about the fact that I was 27 years old, single, with no children. I wondered what was going to happen to me.

Would I ever be married? Would I have the opportunity to have children?

I thought about everything that I always wanted to do, but hadn't done yet. I thought about my family, my friends. I wondered why God allowed this to happen to me.

Where did I go wrong? Why me?

I wasn't angry at God. I was just hurt and confused. How could I allow my life to get to this point? I felt betrayed. I betrayed myself. I didn't take care of my health as much as I should have, and I allowed myself to be put on the back burner for the sake of my friends and family. I should have been more selfish. But even in the midst of this life-altering situation, I knew that if I was going to make it through, I needed Him by my side—now more than ever.

As I heard the doctor mention chemotherapy as a treatment option, that was the first time my diagnosis hit me, and the first time I cried because of it.

Mainly because I was so against chemotherapy from the start. The day I was diagnosed, my mother and I had a full-blown argument because I didn't want to do chemo, I wanted to heal naturally. She told me that it wasn't an option or up for discussion. She told me that I had to do it. I knew this was real and it wasn't going away on its own or just because I wanted it to.

So, I won't say that I chose chemotherapy—it was chosen for me.

But I am so grateful that my family loved me enough to fight for me when I didn't have the understanding and capacity to make the right decision for myself.

Anyway. Listen guys: to be completely honest, chemotherapy is pure hell. I was stuck with needles multiple times, I sat in pods for hours, uncomfortable and in so much pain. One of the meds that I had to take burned internally as soon as it entered the bloodstream. I experienced various side effects, including mouth sores and a blood clot that hit me so hard I could barely walk.

I learned to prepare my mind for each visit after a while. I would make sure I drank plenty of water so that I could avoid getting stuck more. I would listen to sermons for moral support—it was still tough. But not tougher than me. After twelve chemo rounds, my cancer disappeared.

Ladies, I was cancer-free!

Lindsey Walker

Image via Ashlee Nicole/Artistry Studios

Life as a Survivor

One day, while undergoing treatment, I decided to look up the definition of "cancer". The Greek version literally means "burden." At the time, I'm not sure that I knew that, but I knew that at the same time. I had been carrying the weight of perfection and trying to please other people so much to the point that my burden manifested itself. Even prior to my diagnosis, I was hurting from the pains of my past. And it took my diagnosis to wake me up to that so that I could finally release the things that tried to paralyze me spiritually, mentally and emotionally.

You see, before I had cancer, I didn't think to define it. To me, cancer was just a really bad thing that sometimes good people have to go through. But my diagnosis forced me to look at life in a deeper way; such as the way I treated myself, or how I allowed myself to be treated.

So, this particular “burden” taught me lessons that paralleled everything I ever thought I knew.

On another note, there's so much to be said about our healthcare system today, especially given the current climate. I think more patients need to learn to advocate for themselves concerning their treatment plans, how they are cared for in hospitals, etc. Hospitals must realize that patients are more than just a number, they are people with families and feelings.

Don't be afraid to speak up for yourself, if you feel that something is wrong, despite the doctors orders, say something. And say something yesterday. It can make all the difference in the world. It could save your life.

As for me, I learned to listen to myself and my body. I learned to put myself first and care less about what others had to say about me, my life and my decisions. I learned to love myself for who I am and be gracious to myself. I'd spent most of my life trying to fit into this box that I was never meant to fit in the first place. I learned to give myself permission to be whoever I needed to be for me.

And I learned that I, Lindsey Walker, can defeat all of my burdens. Even if it's cancer.

For more of Lindsey, follow her on Instagram.

Featured image courtesy of Lindsey Walker

Before she was Amira Unplugged, rapper, singer, and a Becoming a Popstar contestant on MTV, she was Amira Daughtery, a twenty-five year-old Georgian, with aspirations of becoming a lawyer. “I thought my career path was going to lead me to law because that’s the way I thought I would help people,” Amira tells xoNecole. “[But] I always came back to music.”

A music lover since childhood, Amira grew up in an artistic household where passion for music was emphasized. “My dad has always been my huge inspiration for music because he’s a musician himself and is so passionate about the history of music.” Amira’s also dealt with deafness in one ear since she was a toddler, a condition which she says only makes her more “intentional” about the music she makes, to ensure that what she hears inside her head can translate the way she wants it to for audiences.

“The loss of hearing means a person can’t experience music in the conventional way,” she says. “I’ve always responded to bigger, bolder anthemic songs because I can feel them [the vibrations] in my body, and I want to be sure my music does this for deaf/HOH people and everyone.”

A Black woman wearing a black hijab and black and gold dress stands in between two men who are both wearing black pants and colorful jackets and necklaces

Amira Unplugged and other contestants on Becoming a Popstar

Amira Unplugged / MTV

In order to lift people’s spirits at the beginning of the pandemic, Amira began posting videos on TikTok of herself singing and using sign language so her music could reach her deaf fans as well. She was surprised by how quickly she was able to amass a large audience. It was through her videos that she caught the attention of a talent scout for MTV’s new music competition show for rising TikTok singers, Becoming a Popstar. After a three-month process, Amira was one of those picked to be a contestant on the show.

Becoming a Popstar, as Amira describes, is different from other music competition shows we’ve all come to know over the years. “Well, first of all, it’s all original music. There’s not a single cover,” she says. “We have to write these songs in like a day or two and then meet with our producers, meet with our directors. Every week, we are producing a full project for people to vote on and decide if they’d listen to it on the radio.”

To make sure her deaf/HOH audiences can feel her songs, she makes sure to “add more bass, guitar, and violin in unique patterns.” She also incorporates “higher pitch sounds with like chimes, bells, and piccolo,” because, she says, they’re easier to feel. “But it’s less about the kind of instrument and more about how I arrange the pattern of the song. Everything I do is to create an atmosphere, a sensation, to make my music a multi-sensory experience.”

She says that working alongside the judges–pop stars Joe Jonas and Becky G, and choreographer Sean Bankhead – has helped expand her artistry. “Joe was really more about the vocal quality and the timber and Becky was really about the passion of [the song] and being convinced this was something you believed in,” she says. “And what was really great about [our choreographer] Sean is that obviously he’s a choreographer to the stars – Lil Nas X, Normani – but he didn’t only focus on choreo, he focused on stage presence, he focused on the overall message of the song. And I think all those critiques week to week helped us hone in on what we wanted to be saying with our next song.”

As her star rises, it’s been both her Muslim faith and her friends, whom she calls “The Glasses Gang” (“because none of us can see!”), that continue to ground her. “The Muslim and the Muslima community have really gone hard [supporting me] and all these people have come together and I truly appreciate them,” Amira says. “I have just been flooded with DMs and emails and texts from [young muslim kids] people who have just been so inspired,” she says. “People who have said they have never seen anything like this, that I embody a lot of the style that they wanted to see and that the message hit them, which is really the most important thing to me.”

A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

Throughout the show’s production, she was able to continue to uphold her faith practices with the help of the crew, such as making sure her food was halal, having time to pray, dressing modestly, and working with female choreographers. “If people can accept this, can learn, and can grow, and bring more people into the fold of this industry, then I’m making a real difference,” she says.

Though she didn’t win the competition, this is only the beginning for Amira. Whether it’s on Becoming a Popstar or her videos online, Amira has made it clear she has no plans on going anywhere but up. “I’m so excited that I’ve gotten this opportunity because this is really, truly what I think I’m meant to do.”

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