Ursel is not the first friend I’ve lost this month. That would be Jamillah, and Norma too, actually. Both of these women I only knew via email, so I don’t feel like I should own any sadness, but somehow, weeks later, I still do. I’d like to take a few minutes here to talk about these friends, because their memory, like Ursel’s, will live on.
Jamillah Abdulbaaqiy passed on February 12. She had fought IBC for nearly 4 years, first as Stage IIIB and then after it metastasized. (Metastasis is when the cancer spreads from the original site to the bones, blood, liver, brain, or elsewhere in the body. Metastasized cancer can be fought but it is much harder to eradicate from the body.)
Jamillah, though, fought hard with both body and spirit. She took the treatments like a champion and became an advocate for women, urging everyone to learn the signs of IBC. She had a special heart for African American women, who are diagnosed with IBC at twice the rate of women of European descent. (In fact, she inspired my letter to the editor on this topic. She educated me, and I am forever grateful for that.) Jamillah got the word out through Ebony magazine, spoke at breast cancer events, and was embarking on even more advocacy this Fall, when she suffered a recurrence and lost her voice.
Jamillah, though very sick, went to Mecca for Hajj this year, and shared her experiences with her IBC sisters via long emails, typed by her adoring niece. She was the hit of her group. As the guide said, “We are blessed to have Sister Jamillah in our midst,” though he had just met her.
Her caring heart, willing voice, dedication to Allah, and support of other women on our list made her well-loved, even through the impersonal vehicle of email.
We were indeed blessed to have Sister Jamillah in our midst. I will miss her.
Norma Greer was a well-known advocate throughout the country. One of her pieces, in the Arizona Star, is often forwarded. Diagnosed in August 2006, she fought hard, opened herself up on the IBC email list, and supported newcomers whenever they popped up, and with whatever questions they had.
Norma was a staple of the list, a reassuring voice, and a listening ear. She fought hard, but the disease took her life as well.
I suppose in the end, we all succumb to something. I was not prepared to lose these women, though, nor for the other death notices that come across the list, women I’ve gotten to know to varying degrees, or women who joined the list for support and found it with a single post, or, sometimes, no post at all.
It’s been a hard day, as the full consequences of my cancer, and my networking with other women with cancer, really hit home today. I have been blessed to know these women. I have been enriched by knowing them. I have learned from them about cancer, about fighting, about keeping the will to survive, and about life.
We only have a few days on this Earth. Let us enjoy them with each other.