The Dallas Examiner
“Eight years ago … a lot of things happened in my life,”said motivational speaker Shameicka Middlebrooks, who was a single mother and at that time had just been laid off from her job.
With another chill on the way, a 30-year-old Middlebrooks didn’t need anymore stress added to her plate but, sadly, life didn’t see it that way.
Middlebrooks said she began to notice changes to her body over time such as bone pain, weight loss and difficulty breathing. She ultimately went to the hospital after experiencing shortness of breath walking down a flight of stairs at a children party her daughter attended.
Doctors initially diagnosed her with a sinus infection and congestive heart failure. But the diagnosis appeared to be symptoms to something more life-threatening.
“I went home that night [and] I gained 20 pounds in my lower extremities,” Middlebrooks said. “My legs were so big that I could barely walk.”
The following day, she went to a Fort Worth hospital where she was diagnosed with amyloidosis, a rare incurable dieseae that is often seen in elderly men and White men. And in cases like hers, occours with a bone marrow cancer of plasma cells called multiple myeloma.
With less than six months to live, the mother of three was met with silence and thoughts of all the ailments that led to her late discovery.
“I told myself, ‘Didn’t you notice the dark circles under your eyes? The shortness of breath? [Your] legs,’” she said. “I didn’t take heed to the signs. I was the walking dead.”
Middlebrooks’ story correlates with many Black women who are suffering from diseases. As Black women remaining the leading group in late diagnosis, according to The American Cancer Society, the conversation continues regarding the importance of healthcare in the Black community during the final series of the March 24 Women Empowerment Expo series.
Many factors contribute to the high percentage of African American women receiving late prognosis with one of the most prominent being accessibility. The American Cancer Society mentioned that uninsured women are the least likely to receive mammograms and most likely to have an aggressive stage cancer.
Hospital cost and proximity greatly affects the lives of African Americans, especially those in low-income areas, due to lack of access to charity insurance programs and time consumption.
“That was me,” Middlebrooks said. “I felt like I didn’t have time to go to the doctor. For one, I got laid off my job. I can’t accumulate any other bills. I’m a single mother of three. I didn’t have time to go to the doctor until it got worse.”
Another contributing factor is African Americans longstanding fear of hospitals. The fear of bad news and not making it out of the hospital adds to the high numbers of inadequate screenings and follows up and aggressive diagnosis of Black women, according to the ACS.
Despite fear, Middlebrooks encouraged all women to follow through with regular check ups and treatment to prevent the similar issues she faced.
“You have to be here to empower your children [and] your family,” she said.
Now, eight years later, Middlebrooks is in good standing – going from wheelchair bound and her daughter in fear of losing her to being able to walk and bonding with her children.
“For just a minute, I can say that I am thankful that I went through it. And I’m thankful that I went through it because I use to hear people say ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ I can say it now,” she expressed. “It was a struggle, but I made it. I’m here.”
Middlebrooks advised Black women to take their health seriously and follow her simple lifesaving acronym, C.L.E.A.R.: Check your body, look for changes and patterns, ease your mind, analyze your findings and red flags, and report those findings to a doctor.
“Be C.L.E.A.R,” she said. “Know your body. I don’t want anybody to end up the walking dead like I was. Cancer has no name. A lot of disease have no names. But they do have signs.”