Episode 1: To Wake Up. To Heal. To Become This Person (with Shayla Martin)
Running time: 73:28
ShayIa: I was an oil and vinegar salad dressing with herbs on the bottom, living my best salad dressing life in the refrigerator. The best salad dressing, just sitting there waiting for special occasions. And then cancer came and shook that bottle and all those herbs fluttered to the top. And that’s what I felt when, I was like, “I feel something.” Now, thanks to therapy, I learned that those herbs are what people call feelings.
[Music fades in]
Jodi-Ann (as host): Welcome to the Black Cancer podcast. I’m your host, Jodi-Ann. Our guest today is Shayla Martin, whose journey surviving breast cancer and a mastectomy has completely changed the trajectory of her life. In this episode, we talk about the happenstance way Shayla found a lump in her chest and we go deep on a lot of what people just don’t understand about what happens to you mentally, physically and emotionally once the tumor is out. Like me, Shayla is about two years out from her treatment at the time of this recording. And I have to tell you, I felt differently about my own journey after speaking with her. It was important for me to see that lightness was possible after facing death, and that it’s there and available to you whenever you’re ready.
Speaking of ready, as soon as Shayla and I logged into Zoom, that we were. We jumped straight into a conversation about a recent cross country drive that took me through the Grand Canyon, which unexpectedly launched us into Shayla’s trip to the Grand Canyon right after she ended chemotherapy. This episode starts in the middle of that story. You’ll hear Shayla’s voice first.
[Music fades out]
ShayIa: It just blows me away that just in the middle of nowhere, there’s this massive crack. Pictures do it no justice. [Jodi-Ann: None!] Nothing. I was trying to take – it was like this – just screw it! Pictures do it no justice. [Jodi-Ann: None.] It was amazing. I went – I went the week after chemo. I went to Sedona and then we drove for a day to the Grand Canyon, and hiked down some. But like, very, very slowly. Cuz my body was super weak, but I was like, “Let’s go down some.”
Jodi-Ann: What possessed you to push yourself that much right after you finished chemo?
ShayIa: I, I didn’t know I was that weak. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] I didn’t know. Um, like here [New York], I was running. I was doing like rumble boxing, all these like classes. But the classes were intervals, and completely different than trying to hike up a-a thing in Sedona. And I just went because I was like, “Oh, I need to see some Zen.” My spirit loves to Sedona. And it wasn’t until I got there and like was trying to exert force, that I saw how weak my body was. Um, and also didn’t realize that I actually had no nose hairs. So all that dust, all that red dust from the Grand Canyon and Sedona, I had constant runny nose. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] Yeah. And I never thought of it. Never knew that before. It was definitely a humbling trip. My friend – she was very good when she noticed it, because I got a little frustrated. She said, “It’s okay. This is your trip, Shayla. You just finished chemo. Let’s go slow. We have all day. We’re doing nothing else.” [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] She’s a very competitive personality. But in this case, she’s just like, “No, it’s-it’s fine.” She noticed it pretty quick, I think. I was just like, “I don’t know what’s going on!” And she’s like, “Well, you just finished chemo.” [Jodi-Ann laughing]
Jodi-Ann: Remember that thing that you did? [Laughter]
ShayIa: Remember that? What are you talking about? [Jodi-Ann chuckles] Yeah, no hair, no nose hair. It was, it was different. It felt good to go back. Although, you know, it was after the police arrest. It felt good to go back and be there two years later with a head full of hair – and like some strength. Like it was, like pretty – like a – I felt that emotional feeling.
Jodi-Ann: Yeah, dude. When I kind of circle back on things that I tried to do right after my surgery and I’m like, “Okay, two years later, how do I feel doing it now?” Um, I don’t know. It just – like this other time travel thing too, within your own body. Like I had a workout this week and, for whatever reason, the night before… Sometimes, I go down – I don’t know if this happens to you. I got down on this rabbit hole of looking at old photos and videos from when I was in the hospital.
ShayIa: All the time! [Jodi-Ann chuckles] Girl, I got some letters people sent me that I go through when I really want to feel some feelings. I read their words. I’ve screenshot texts. Look, every couple of months, I’m on that same rabbit hole with you. I’m right there.
Jodi-Ann: Okay, okay. [Laughter] So that makes me feel super me affirmed.
ShayIa: I’m glad it’s not just me. I never thought anyone else did it.
Jodi-Ann: No, literally I have a whole bag of letters. [Shayla: Me too] I have this huge banner that everyone signed, including my surgeon. And every once in a while, I’ll put it up and I’ll read it. But yeah, I was down this rabbit hole, of like. So after my surgery, I couldn’t, um, use my hands. I couldn’t walk, any of that. [Shayla: Yeah you couldn’t walk.] So I saw this video of me trying to just cross my fingers. And I can see my fingers shaking, and I can see it just trying to get closer, and closer, and closer together and it is not happening.
Jodi-Ann: And then, so I was watching this video of me trying to walk, and then afterwards I went to sit and grab the chair, you know, to sit down afterwards – and I can see how contorted my hands were. Because I couldn’t like – open it…
ShayIa: Yeah. No control, right?
Jodi-Ann: I had no control, yeah. And so, then a couple hours later when I wake up, this was like a late night kind of rabbit hole thing [Both chuckle]
ShayIa: They always are.They don’t happen at 7pm. They happen at like 1am.
Jodi-Ann: It happens at 1am! Yes, it does not happen at 7, it happens at 1am! So a couple hours later, I find myself in the gym for a personal trainer session and I – we were doing deadlifts, and I asked my trainer like, “How, how heavy is it?” Because, like, I just, I wasn’t trying to monitor the weight that he’s putting on, but I wanted to see… he’s like, “It’s 135 pounds.” [Shayla: Wow.] And I’m like, I don’t believe I’m gripping this.
ShayIa: Doing this, yeah. And gripping it, yeah. And pulling it up.
Jodi-Ann: It’s like, it’s one thing of the weight of it and like, the actual motion of a deadlift… But like yo, I’m gripping this!? [Shayla: Yeah.] A few years ago, I couldn’t even grip a pencil.
ShayIa: It feels good. But it’s also emotional, right?
Jodi-Ann: Oh, it’s absolutely emotional. These are the things I cry about all the time. I don’t know – what happens to you when you kind of find your way time traveling? [Shayla: Down the rabbit hole?] Yeah.
ShayIa: Uh, that’s probably when I get to writing in my journal, right, like a lot of writing. Um, it’s definitely always sad. And like, sometimes feeling like, I still wish I never had to go through it. Like did I come out a beautiful ass butterfly? Yes. Great, but I still wish that I wouldn’t have had to go through that to get here. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] And that…and that usually, so it usually sets me in a reflective, and usually typically pretty sad. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] Yeah.
Jodi-Ann: Do you share that with other people?
ShayIa: Mmm, yeah, kinda kinda. Yeah. Or usually I’ll say something – I just had a conversation with a girl who messaged me on Sunday because Netflix has a ayahuasca, um, they have a new documentary [Jodi-Ann: I saw that.] called (Un)Well, [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] and one of them’s ayahuasca. And since she knows I did it, she’s like, “Oh my god, like, I never really knew much about it, ’til you said you were doing it. Now I just watched this documentary and I feel like I want to heal. Can you tell me about it?” And then she’s like, “Your birthday’s on Friday.” Like I don’t how do you know that? We’re not that close. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] She’s like, “Shayla, I just like celebrate you so much. I look at you and I can’t believe that you went through this and that you came out as this person you are and like, just like seeing it from afar and see…”
Yeah, she was like…I was reading it like, “Oh my god. Thank you. Wow, thank you.”
Jodi-Ann: Isn’t that weird.? Okay, we need – I’m recording, but we didn’t officially start the podcast. [Shayla: Oh yes, yes.] But I wanna just like keep going on this because I had a similar experience that people who weren’t as close with me…are like the most involved in terms of like, following me and drawing something out of my experience. [Shayla: Yeah.] What do you think that’s about?
ShayIa: Maybe because we’re young? Maybe because it’s like, it makes them feel more mortal? Or more like, if this could happen to them, these young people who are like healthy… I know for me, people put me in this healthy category and maybe like, that we’re nice? I mean, I feel like, “Shayla was so nice and so funny and like, she works out. And-and she’s always makes me laugh, but how does she have cancer?” And, and like, yes, they don’t correlate. But it’s like, well, “How did she have cancer?” And then maybe like going through it and seeing that, like – it didn’t break us? And that we owned that experience. I have some friends who went through breast cancer who do not talk about it. They don’t talk about it on social media. They don’t bring it up. Um, it has – I don’t know, if they don’t want it to define them, cuz I feel that. But I don’t know if they’ve allowed it, or if they haven’t gotten to the place where the impact has been probably our impact, perhaps? And I don’t know why.
Jodi-Ann: Yeah. It’s just like the sense of facing it. And I struggle sometimes like – am I centering this too much? Should I not talk about it as much? But I find talking about it and just acknowledging it and bringing it as part of my story, is part of how I can heal and grow and for, at least for me, draw something out of my own experience.
ShayIa: Yeah. It’s hard for me not to bring it up. It’s hard – I hate that. There’s a part of me that hates that it’s like – I don’t want it to define me, but I feel like it kind of defines me because of where I came now. [Jodi-Ann: Mmm.] Where I am, where I am now is only because of this one thing. If this one thing didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be here now.
Jodi-Ann: Yeah. So, okay, let’s officially start. Uh, Shayla, Welcome to Black Cancer. [Chuckle]
ShayIa: Happy to be here. [Chuckle]
Jodi-Ann: Okay, I want – you keep alluding to this “before and after Shayla”, right? [Shayla: Yeah.] So, talk to me a little bit about who you were before. Let’s time travel.
ShayIa: Let’s time travel! [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] Um, [Raspberry] But, so I feel like I was still me with less emotions, less heart open. But I’ve always been funny, outgoing, talk to people, friends – that has always been me. The change, I think is, I can feel it, and I think people see it and feel it, but they can’t…I don’t know, maybe they just feel this different vibration? Sounds so hippy. [Both chuckle] [Jodi-Ann: I know.] That’s what happened, cancer, brought out my inner flower child. I’m like, where are my crystals?
Jodi-Ann: It’s a full moon, I need to charge them! [Chuckle]
ShayIa: I’ve had more Palo Santo and sage than I ever did in my entire life, in like the last like nine months. I’m like, who have I become? But you know, a friend texted me the other day – he’s leaving New York. And, um, he’s going through his own epiphany. But dude, he’s a white man, going through his epiphany, through – to the Black Lives Matter. And he’s been very active. It’s made him want to go back to college and finish his degree in philosophy, like he’s on, he’s on it. And so he’s doing this and we were talking. He knew me before and he knows me now. And so he said, something that I was like, “Oh, wow. “He said, um, “It’s like you kept yourself swagger and gained something more like a higher strength. It’s hard to describe.” And I think that, I feel the same way like, I feel like there’s still me but there’s this – everyone knows that I’ve become way more emotional, more heart, heart open. And like, I connect deeper with people, quickly. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] Yeah.
Jodi-Ann: Every time I talk to you, and this is our second interaction, and we’ve had some email communications, but I can feel that from you. And I don’t know who you were before. I don’t know even that much about you, outside of, you know, our conversations around this podcast, but it radiates off of you and it feel – it hits me in a way that, it reminds me that… I could have chosen a different path in my own journey. There are these two paths, like there’s bitterness, resentment path of just like why me? Fuck this. You know? Cuz it was the cancer and then paralysis – that was really tough for me, right? [Shayla: Yeah. Of course.] And there’s this other path around, there’s all this psychological growth and this, this opportunity to reinvent myself and centering my life in gratitude and positivity. And I saw both paths. And even when I would chat with people, I was like, okay, there’s one version of me that thinks this. And there’s another version of me that thinks that. And it was me trying to straddle these paths. And, I found myself like walking in the middle of these paths and spending a lot of time in bitterness and resentment. [Shayla: Okay.] Knowing that this other path was there and choosing not to be on it. And…recently, I think in the past six months, I’m in this hard turn [Chuckle] [Shayla: Okay. U-turn.] towards [Making sounds of tires screeching in a hard turn.] towards like gratitude and like really trying to leverage this trauma around this like psychological growth and creating new opportunities for myself. And then, I meet you and I’m like, man, could I have been Shayla if I just chosen the other path? And so like I’m curious of your own experience. Did you see options for you or this was just kind of how things rolled out and what – what was the trigger for that? [Shayla: Oof.] Was that deep? [Chuckle]
ShayIa: That’s deep. But I feel you. But I think that, and I think that sometimes maybe, when I get a little hesitant…okay, I’m a Leo, I’m never hesitant on sharing anything about myself. Let’s just put that out there. But sometimes I think that I want to be hesitant because I know that the path I chose isn’t most people’s. But I didn’t choose it. I got thrown here. Like when treatment for me ended, I was happy. I threw a party, I went on a vacation. People came in and, people came from out of town and celebrated me – I threw like 100 and something person party in the city at a restaurant. I mean, it was fun. Um, and then after that settled, that was Nov-, that was October. November came, December came and it was just like, I didn’t feel all the way happy. I felt a little like something was bubbling on the inside. There was something bubbling and I couldn’t put a word to it. And I just knew that I felt different. And I knew that people viewed me as different. And I said, I need to go to therapy. I’ve never been to therapy a day in my life. I was like, something’s happening, but I don’t know what it is. And I don’t want to become angry, because I can’t figure this out. Um, and what I realized is that for me, if the universe preordains all this shit – it preordained me for cancer to wake up to heal to become this person I have. There was no other way to get on this path, but via cancer, and I-I hate that sometimes. But for me, that-that thing that was bubbling up, and I told you on our first talk was the herbs like my life, I was a little salad dressing. I was an oil and vinegar salad dressing with herbs on the bottom, living my best salad dressing life in the refrigerator. The best salad dressing just sitting there waiting for special occasions. And then cancer came and shook that bottle and all those herbs fluttered to the top. And that’s what I felt, when I was like, “I feel something.” Now, thanks to therapy, I learned that those herbs are what people call feelings.
Jodi-Ann: Oof. That scares me. [Chuckle]
ShayIa: I didn’t have so many feelings before. I had a lot of empathy and I had a lot of logic, but I didn’t have, like, feelings. And that’s, that’s what it did, it broke up those brought up those feelings. And then I now know and do more therapy and and all the other healing things I’ve done, is that those feelings were what cancer brought to the surface that I could have ignored, but I think then I would have been more angry and it wasn’t cancer, it was that it brought up these feelings of a sadness from childhood that I had never felt from like young childhood, maybe infancy. Baby. And that was related to, like not having a mother. And my mother deciding to not be a mom. And she gave me to my dad and we never saw her again. I had an amazing life, but that feeling, those feelings were buried. And I never allowed myself, or I never thought really except like, maybe my dad putting me on punishment when I was a teenager, I never thought like, “I wish I had a mom.” And, I don’t necessarily think that now, but what I can say is that day when I left, when I left my mammogram, and I – they hadn’t said it, but they definitely were like, you need to come for the biopsy and I left my mammogram, and I walked 60 blocks home…I know that in the back of my head, I wish I had a mother to call at that moment and say, “Mom, I think I have breast cancer.” And I wish I would have had a mom sometimes in chemo. And that those are those feelings that bubble that I had never even, that word I had never said before. And cancer brought that up. So I don’t think I had a way to ignore it, unless that would hit some other time in life for what it brought up, and then the only way to be attached to those feelings, I think is more sadness. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] So that, I think that opened everything up, if that all makes sense.
Jodi-Ann: No, that – that completely resonates. Yeah, I didn’t get into therapy until recently. And it’s been almost two and a half years. [Shayla: Okay.] And just like listening to your story, kind of having a way to process it, having that type of support. You know, trying to find a place to put everything I think is-is so important. Um, and I totally see like, with all of this sadness and wanting to put it somewhere and then, I don’t know, just trying to like embody your experience of not having the mother bucket to put it in.
Shayla: Yes. Or even the word to put it in. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] I would say I went into therapy, last year, anniversary of my mastectomy, not on purpose, but this is how it lined up. And I walked in her door and I said, “I’m here to process cancer.” On our third session, she said something like, “This is a hard question.” And she put on her soft voice, you know how therapists do, [Jodi-Ann: groans in agreement] She put on this soft voice you’re like, Okay, here it goes. [Jodi-Ann: Here we go. Let me prepare myself.] (Shayla impersonating Therapist tone) “Shayla. It’s a hard question. Do you think your cancer has anything to do with your mother? The feelings that you’ve been feeling?” I said, “Absolutely not. That’s not…why would that be linked? What are you talking about? Like my feelings and this bubbling is like due to my mother that I never knew? No, that’s absolutely no, the feelings are related to cancer.” She’s like, “Oh okay good. Okay, all right.” Fast forward nine months. And I say, “You were right.” [Jodi-Ann: Remember that thing we talked about?] [Laughs]
Jodi-Ann: Yeah, it’s-it’s interesting, like my therapist now, I spent many, many, many, many weeks just talking about cancer, just talking about coming to terms with being disabled, the impact that that had on my life. And I think last week, she’s like, “Jodi-Ann, you have a deep seeded feeling of worthlessness.” And I’m like, “Yeah, you right.” [Laughs]
Shayla: So what you’re saying is that I don’t need to cancel my appointment for next week. Okay, fine. I’ll be here.
Jodi-Ann: Can we move up? Can we move that next appointment up? [Laughs] I don’t know for you – and I love to hear your opinion on this – but there’s a sense that you are facing death potentially. [Shayla: Absolutely.] And when you have to face death, not in the metaphorical sense, but in a way that you have to start planning, essentially. [Shayla: MmMmm]
What is that – like – what that does to you psychologically is you start cleaning house, like you go to the depths of yourself, because all of that you’re coming to terms with ending. And so, [Shayla: Yeah.] you know, like, I randomly bumped into this guy in an airport and I don’t like talking to strange white people because it makes me anxious. But [Shayla laughs] I got into this conversation about my dog, which people like,
“Oh, his name’s Bilsky.”
“Where’s Bilsky come from?”
“What happened to you?”
“I had spinal cancer.”
And what he says is, he says, “Oh, I’m five years out, colon cancer, stage four.” [Shayla: Wow.] And I was like, Okay, now I’m in a community. I’m in community with this guy, right? [Shayla: Yes.] And he said, “How are you doing?” And I said, “You know, I’m doing better, I can walk and all of that stuff, but, you know, the emotions and whatever,” is literally what I said. And he followed with, “Other people don’t understand what it means to accept your own death. [Shayla: Yes.] He hit it, right. [Shayla: I just got chills, full body chills.] And just like, what does that do to you in your mind? Right? I don’t even know how to…
Shayla: I think it changes everything. Maybe that’s for me. I definitely feel it ripped away my safety. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] I remember I told someone once that… And they said, “Well, Shayla, you can’t think of it like that. Like you could get hit by a bus tomorrow.” I said, “Do you know anyone who’s got hit by a bus tomorrow? Because I actually had cancer.” So they’re-they’re different. I’m not getting hit by a bus tomorrow and neither are you. So that saying became A: super aggravating. You hear the upness in my voice! It’s like, no, those are, those are, “what ifs.” Once you have cancer, that “what if” is not out the door, that what if is like, there’s this little seed that is like, “What if it comes back?” [Jodi-Ann: Yep.] One of my friends, hers came back at year two. One of my other friends that I met just through cancer, via Instagram, and somehow she saw a hashtag, it was with me, and she reached out to me and like, gave me her notes on trying to keep hair, which didn’t work for me. All these things.
She was like a year. And she is like, I’m gonna say a nicer person than me. I’m nice, but she’s like a person you see on the street, and you’re like, “Oh, she’s so nice.” [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] You know, nobody says that when they see me on the street, [Jodi-Ann: Nobody says that about me.] She’s very nice and she’s healthy and she does all these things. She probably doesn’t drink nearly as much vodka or wine as I do. [Jodi-Ann laughs] And hers came back. And it came back, and it’s back with a vengeance. [Jodi-Ann: Mmmmm] And that is like when, when I, every time I hear someone’s story that has come back, I feel like, oh shit. It could be my time. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] And so I don’t have, I don’t have this luxury of, like, we don’t have, or we don’t have this luxury of like, of the unknowns. “Oh, the airplane could crash!” They don’t really crash though, stop it. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] The universe took away our safety [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] and like what do you do with that? I can see people being angry. And I can see people having a spiritual awakening, which is the way I went. Um, because you feel mortal. I don’t, I don’t know what-what could happen.
Jodi-Ann: That’s real. That is real. I think about, you know, getting cancer back again, too and living with that. And in my mind, cuz I have a Master’s in Public Health, and so I take a real analytical approach to all of this…and I’m like, well, I already know that my body could make cancer cells, right. [Shayla: MmMmm] And I’m more monitored by the healthcare system had I not had that experience. And so the way I rationalize in my head is that I will probably get cancer again, because they’ll probably find it. Or, now when I say that something hurts, like, I have seen the power of the healthcare system when it believes people, [Shayla: MmMmm] right? And so the fact that I’ve had this experience, I could get any, any MRI, I can see any doctor, [Shayla: Yep.] like the whole system’s open to me now. And so I feel like if I say, oh, something hurts, boom, MRI, CAT scan, this – dadada. I’ll get that. And so it’s not that maybe I have a quote unquote, “higher likelihood of getting cancer,” but maybe I have a higher likelihood of something being caught because I’m always in doctors offices.
Shayla: Yes. Do you find that part a little, a little lonely, that we’re still in doctor’s offices and people don’t think about that anymore? They don’t think about what we’re going through now. I go every three months for a shot.
Jodi-Ann: Yeah, I, it is lonely. Cuz what we talked about is you know, like pop culture cancer and real cancer. [Shayla: MmMmm] Pop culture cancer is – and there are ways that we perpetuate that too of like, “Here are the photos! Yeah! Two years out! Woop! Woop! Cancer free!” But we’re still going to doctors all the time, [Shayla: Yep.] We’re still taking medication every day. Like, there’s the grind of it that, you know, people don’t see. Right? And so I mean in, in having some visibility on that, I’m curious like what is your grind post-chemo? What does your life look like now in a way that has like this real cancer experience versus this pop-culture-pink-ribbon-type cancer?
Shayla: I hate those pink ribbons but whatever. Um, well I take a pill every day. I’m 41 years old, 42 in four days and my body is in full fledged menopause. If I was to meet a guy and fall in love, and he’s like, let’s make a baby. I’m like, well, we need to go talk to my oncologist about that. Um, I have to get this drug out of my system which then puts me at 43 or 44, that’s if we meet tomorrow. [Jodi-Ann: Yep.] Um, so I could get hit by a bus tomorrow, but I could also find the love of my life tomorrow, right? [Laughs] [Jodi-Ann: Everything happens tomorrow.] That’s probably not going to happen though, let’s be very honest. It’s like if I was to date someone, that’s like something that’s quick, like this now that I’m in my 40s, but if I meet someone in their 40s also, and they say, “Well, I would like to start a family although we’re both late.” Well, mine is actually later. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] and that’s something that I have to confide in someone in. Um, yeah, I get a shot every three months. It hurts. I get hot flashes, like I’m, like menopause and my body is still definitely weaker than it was, uh “BC,” what I call “before cancer”. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] Um, yeah, so there’s definitely, like, the differences, and then all the emotional stuff. All the emotional stuff, like I told you last time, the journey really starts after the treatments. This is when it gets real and it’s definitely more alone, people don’t realize it. Um, my last shot, I get a Lupron shot, um, and it’s like the higher part of your buttocks, and then, you can’t really, for me it-it hurts. It’s like, um, it hurts to walk, it hurts to stand up. Anything that would like jiggle that muscle, and I found myself in my apartment – absolutely angry. And I was like, What the fuck!” This is what people don’t realize, like, I am hurting right now. And nobody knows. Nobody knows that I was at Sloan Kettering today. No one knows that I have a follow up with breast surgeon on September this, and then I still have these five – every two months I’m still at Sloan Kettering. [Jodi-Ann: Yep.] And people think that you’re just, you’re fine. You’re okay. And I found myself upset about that.
Jodi-Ann: Yeah. Yeah speaking of Sloan, I got my virtual appointment with Sloan tomorrow. [Both laugh]
Shayla: Oh yeah, I think my next one is September 3rd.
Jodi-Ann: You know it was wild, like, for you as well…that for two and a half years I have never not had an appointment with Sloan on my calendar.
Shayla: Absolutely. Yeah. [Jodi-Ann: Laughs] It’s like, yeah, going to Sloan, waving at people when you walk in, “Hey!” I have my favorite nurses I see sometimes when I’m like randomly walking in. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] Yeah.
Jodi-Ann: All right let’s get on the time travel machine. I want to go back. How did you even get to the tumor? How did that happen?
Shayla: How did we get here? So I went to the beach, um end of September, in September 2017. It was this beautiful day and we went to the beach because it was the last – it was like 90 degrees, it was some freak day. 90 degrees on a Saturday, went with some friends, got bit by sand bugs. The sand mosquitoes. When I get bit by mosquitoes, I get like huge bumps – it’s almost like a little reaction. [Jodi-Ann: Mmm] That week I was scratching the bump right here on my upper chest. I was scratching a bump in it like, felt deeper, harder? harder. It felt like a lump, as I was scratching the mosquito bite, and I was like no, that’s the mosquito bite. Long story short, it was not the mosquito bite. Um, yeah, so initially I wasn’t – I was not afraid. I was like, Oh, this is a mosquito bite. And then maybe two weeks later, I was like, let me check that area. Oh, that is still there. And I convinced myself that it was from working out. From doing push ups and bench presses like that is clearly where, what it’s from. Everyone gets a knot in the top of their chest when they do bench presses [sarcastically]. Yeah, clearly was denial. [Jodi-Ann: mmm I don’t know about that but sure, yep, mmhmm.] That’s denial. [Jodi-Ann: Well, you start making up science in your head – oh yeah yeah yeah.] Yeah, I’m not gonna Google it like no, it is everyone knows this. Because Yeah. [Jodi-Ann Laughs] Everyone, this doesn’t happen to you? No? Okay. Um so yeah, then just fast forward to the…I probably did not go though, I did not go to the doctor until I found out September – end of October, early November. And I went because I was taking a professional presentation class and one of the women in there, you have to do like a presentation at the end of like learning, presentation, is a whole day thing. And she did hers – she was a doctor – and she did hers on breast cancer [Jodi-Ann: Oooof!] And it made me remember that I had this lump. And I put my hand here and I was like, it’s still there. And at that moment, I logged on my computer and set the appointment for my general practitioner, which started the ball. But I was like, no, and then she, that, like, oh, it is still there, and set that appointment.
Jodi-Ann: That’s scary. That’s scary. [Shayla: Yeah. Yeah.] Like, the universe was like, I’m talking to you right now.
Shayla: Yes, the universe was like it’s not from working out, I don’t know what we have to tell you. [Both laughing]
Jodi-Ann: Let me lay out a whole presentation.
Shayla: Why have you convinced yourself of this?
Jodi-Ann: I’m gonna have someone come and present to you.
Shayla: My spirit guides are like, “Oh my God!” [Both laughing]
Jodi-Ann: [Deep breath] How did they tell you what it was?
Shayla: So mine started with the general practitioner, like I said, she gave me a referral for Weill Cornell, which is where I started my stuff. Um, my – never forget, the appointment was on a Wednesday, December 6 – and I still felt no kind of way. I was never really worried, until I was headed to Weill Cornell in Upper East Side [New York City] and someone bumped into me on the train and I was, got defensive and I was like, “Y’all, watch out. Why are you on me?” And I was like, what is that? [Jodi-Ann: Mmm] And I was like, oh, you’re nervous. And I – when I walked into that door and everything was in there was pink, robes were pink, the Weill Cornell Women’s Breast Cancer Center, and I was like, I thought I was just going for a mammogram. Why am I here? Because I had gotten a mammogram, actually the year before, and nothing was there. And it was a different, different place. And so why am I here? And as I sat there and saw people in the pink robes and as they were so serious on my mammogram and sonogram and the doctor at the end, the radiologist she said, “I want you to see what I see.” She brought me into her office. And she started showing me everything, and I looked at her and I said, with all my little humor, “But this isn’t what I asked Santa for for Christmas.” [Jodi-Ann: Laughs] And she did not laugh. And I was like, oh, this is serious. And she looked and she said, “Oh, Shayla.” And I was like, Oh, boy…this is…whoa. And then they, she was, she said, “We need you in here as soon as possible for, um biopsies,” and it was Wednesday. She’s like, “You need to be here by the end of the week. So we’ll probably find something on Friday. They’re going to make appointments for you.” So their urgency let me know that this was, it’s just not a game. It was not a cyst. It wasn’t a buildup of any muscle tissue. She – they knew.
And when I walked out of there – um, prior to like, now knowing that I probably wish I had a mother to call [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] – I called my aunt, who I’m very close with. My aunt Rosalie. Then I called my dad and my Aunt Bertha. And I was, they answered the phone. No one knew I was going to this appointment. And they say, “Hey!” You know, just regular Wednesday, Shayla’s calling. And I said, “Hey, I think I have breast cancer.” And everyone’s just silent. I’ll never forget, like, those moments. And I was like, uh, hello? [Jodi-Ann: Uh, uh, you still there?] Hello? and then yeah, so my aunts definitely were more emotional than my dad. My dad, I think just had no idea what to say or do with this, like, his firstborn child, the child that he raised by himself coming in saying I have breast cancer. And I walked, yeah I walked like 30, 40 blocks home and um stopped at the wine store, got two bottles. [Jodi-Ann: Ay, ay] Yes I did. And I drank them. Yes, I did. I’m going to be fully transparent. I was up that night till about 4am. Sad, angry, empty. Um, and like I knew in my gut, I knew that I have breast cancer. We’re just gonna have to wait. So then Friday, call on Thursday, Friday morning was where the biopsies. They hurt. Um, those things hurt, the biopsies. Um. And then on Monday afternoon that Monday, December 11. I was walking out of the house around 5:30 to go take a run, my phone rings, I see that it’s One Medical, Doctor Winfred. And I heard from her voice and she said, “Hi, Shayla.” I was like, oh God. And she was like, “It came back. You have invasive, duct…IDC I don’t even know what it’s called now. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. And I said, “Is that also known as breast cancer?” And she’s like, “Yes.” [Jodi-Ann laughs] And I didn’t go for that run. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] Yeah, I did not go. I sat down, poured a drink. I sat down on my couch and I was pissed. I was like, I cannot believe this. Like, what the – can I curse on this show? [Jodi-Ann: Yeah, go for it.]
What the fuck? What the fucking fuck? Like, I am healthy. I don’t have, like, I don’t know any of my family that’s had cancer like unless maybe my mother’s family had it but I don’t even know her. So all these thoughts, like, rushed in and I was angry. And I probably was up that night to like, I didn’t work that whole week. No one knew, I work from home. Oh, hope my managers don’t listen to this. [Both laugh] But I didn’t really work that, I didn’t work that whole week. Like I just sat in front of my computer – out of it. I didn’t work. I didn’t run. I barely ate and I didn’t leave the house. And that was like the whole first week after. And it was, that was not fun.
Shayla: And then your life gets overtaken by doctor’s appointments and like telling people, [Jodi-Ann: Yup] and I told people – I told closest friends um pretty quick but not more or less like someone would call or say, hey, let’s go get drinks. It was it was December everyone’s doing stuff because of the holidays. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah]. And some-somewhere towards the end of a hang. I would be like, “Hey, I have something to show you before we leave”. And they are like “Ooh what you met someone?” like, yeah no, umm I have breast cancer. And like, every time I said those words, it was like made it more real for me. I can remember every single person’s reaction on when I told them. And it was like disbelief and sadness and like, very quick like,” I don’t know what to say to her”. And it was always just like this brief – in like disbelief. “There’s no way that she just said that”. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] all within like two minutes. I’ll never forget the people that I immediately told within like a 30 day span.
Jodi-Ann: [Exhales] Dude, I-I hear you [Shayla: Yeah]. Everything you’re saying – I can map my onto own experience. I remember calling a friend who I was a little disconnected with and I was like, “Hey Matt, remember when we were in Cuba and we were doing those like 36 questions of how to fall in love”, right? manipulate him into loving me. [Shayla laughs] And one of the questions is, how do you think you’re gonna die? And I said, “Remember when I said that? I’ll probably die some lady cancer, you know, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, whatever.” And he’s like, “Yeah.” And I was like, “I got the cancer part, right, but not where it was.” Another strategy that I use, and I’m curious how you handle this as well, I posted it on social media like the day that I found out. [Shayla: Nope]. How did you manage social media and your cancer disclosure?
Shayla: First let’s just start with that, um, I named my tumor: Tumie [Jodi-Ann: Tumie?]. Tumie the tumor. Very creative. I know [Jodi-Ann laughs] Tumie the tumor was my toxic boyfriend, and we were going to break up, also known as: mastectomy. And so my first way of telling the people who I hadn’t told in person – but I told a good amount of like, close friends, that probably was about 10-12 people – but then I’m sitting on New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day talking to a friend, some other friends at the table who weren’t like close, but I knew them. And she kind of made a comment about it. And someone said, “What?”, and then someone else – so told this group of people I wasn’t that close when someone said, “Shayla you should have a party”. And I was like, “Huh, I should have a party”. So I threw a um pre-surgery “Goodbye Tumie Party”. And that’s where I told, still just via invitation, maybe 25 people 30 people – meet me here. I’m having a party. This is-it’s for this reason. Those people were of course devastated and sad. They came out to the party, they brought – some people brought they knew, that I hadn’t told, that I wouldn’t mind them knowing and coming to this party. And for the first time ever, no one posted a picture from this party. Not one person posted picture – like everyone knew, like this is big there were no like “At celebrating Shayla!” [Jodi-Ann: Take a selfie! No no no] Yay! no one posted a picture the only and I posted pictures that said um, “when life throws you lemons, make sure you have good friends”. [Jodi-Ann: Mmm.] One person called me and said “Shayla, what do you mean by that? Something’s hap-something’s going on”. And I told this girl. Um, I didn’t tell anyone until the day before the surgery. I posted a picture on Facebook and Instagram. And it was a dancing emoji. And I posted it. I had a doctor’s appointment at Sloan. So I took a dancing emoji thing in front of the Sloan Kettering Cancer sign. And so it was like a little bitmoji of Shayla dancing up on this sign and I said, “I probably won’t be dancing tomorrow, I’ll be having a mastectomy,” and said that “One out of eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer. And today, I’m one of those – I’m one of those people”. And that is probably the first time-that is the first time that A: that I told everyone, but that I saw the outpouring of the love, the care…my phone started blowing up immediately. Phone, dms, emails, people – I had changed my number like five months before, and people were like, emailing like, “I’m not getting a response from you”. “Oh, I changed my number”. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah], All these things. And it was like, Whoa, this many people care. [Jodi-Ann: Mmm] They didn’t just like it? They wrote these messages? And sometimes when I’m umm in the tailspin of the, of the hole of emotions, I go back and I read that post. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah], I go back and read the post. I read the comments that were under it. I do I do that probably like, twice a year and on my cancerversaries, I find myself looking at that post on the day that I announced it but also like how I felt um, knowing that that next day I was having a mastectomy and like losing a breast and like those feelings that I felt, but then the support it-it’s a lot. It’s a lot.
Jodi-Ann: Yeah, yeah can we chat a little bit about your mastectomy?
Shayla: Yeah, that sucked.
Jodi-Ann: I want to put you in conversation with the great Audre Lorde. Okay, she writes a lot about mastectomy and this is back in the 80s. And so she had a breast removed but they had prosthetics. They didn’t do reconstruction the way they’re doing it now. So can I-I’m going to read a little bit from it and I want to get your thoughts on it. [Shayla: Okay.] She says:
“Prosthesis offers the empty comfort of “nobody will know the difference”, but it is that very different, which I wish to affirm. Because I have lived it, and survived it, and wish to share that strength with other women. If we are to translate the silence surrounding breast cancer into language in action against the scourge, then the first step is that women with mastectomies must become visible to each other, surrounded by other women day by day, all of whom appear to have two breasts. It is very difficult sometimes to remember that I’m not alone.” – Audre Lorde
Shayla: Wow, but I think you feel alone. That you feel…so there’s this thing with the mastectomy that people immediately say, “Oh, but now you get a new breast”. Like it’s a boob job. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah], It’s not a boob job. It does not look like – it’s – a boob job is like you have a breast and they make it bigger. This is they take everything away and then they create this thing that you should identify with as the breast. I don’t think most of us see it as a breast. I think we see it as the thing that makes us look normal and and feel normal to society. And that’s, and that probably I became – and when people would say that I usually wouldn’t say anything back, but I’ve become more vocal of like, “It’s not – it’s not a boob job.” I don’t have any breast tissue. This is my, my pec muscle that they put something underneath and stretch it out. I don’t have a nipple. I have a scar that goes all the way across. I see this every single day when I look in the mirror. Which means that it’s another thing that you can’t forget what you went through like you can’t. It’s so hard to put it behind you. Forget the spiritual awakening that I’m in. But even without that, I mean I still could never forget what’s happened. What happens. Your hair grows back. But this never will look the same.
Jodi-Ann: [Exhales] Can I read another piece?
Jodi-Ann: She says:
“For me, the primary challenge at the core of mastectomy, was a stark look at my own mortality, hinged upon the fear of a life threatening cancer. This event called upon me to re-examine the quality and texture of my entire life, its priorities and commitments, as well as the possible alterations that might be required in light of that re-examination. I had already faced my own death, whether or not I acknowledged it, and then needed now to develop that strength which survival had given me.”- Audre Lorde
Shayla: I feel that. That’s…what we were just talking about, we faced death in that thing. That-that’s the scary part. And that’s the part that either puts you at that fork of the road for the spiritual awakening or the anger. Because you-you, we don’t want to face it. And most of our friends haven’t faced it. Maybe our parents are thinking about it now as they get older, but they haven’t faced it. And so then – who do you even talk about these feelings with? And like, how do you go to bed every day and wake up with this, like, just a little feeling in the back of your head? It is there. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah]. Especially if you get an ailment. You’re like, “Oh, I oh, what’s that? What do I feel?” [Jodi-Ann: Mmhmm]. I don’t know. For me, I don’t know if it was the mastectomy part or the chemo part though. [Jodi-Ann: Mmm] Like the mastectomy was definitely – it was hard. And I feel more emotion about it today than I did then…since I’m more open but – yeah, I guess they both suck. I don’t know, um maybe equally. But for me, like, definitely – like the – I had never had surgery in my entire life. I never even had a cavity. I haven’t had a cavity. So I’ve never had surgery and my first surgery is a mastectomy. When I told the surgeon that, she was like, “Wow, you’ve never broken a bone nothing?”, “No, never”. And so I get this big shibang that I have to like wake up in the morning with like something missing. That – waking up and everything was fine – that first time I had to take a shower was the first time that I like broke, that I broke down. And that was the first time that I felt like, maybe not angry and maybe like this sucks. Like this sucks. I look like this. I can’t believe it. I’m never going to look the way I did before. And I never had any body issues or body thoughts before..that has remained a body thought a body thing. I’ve had reconstruction twice and I’m having reconstruction again in October because I don’t like the way it looks. I don’t like the way it feels. And there’s a part that’s like I have to settle in like, convince myself also and settle myself on the fact that like, Shayla, it’s never going to be what it was. And I’m saying this to you, but I really haven’t accepted it in my head. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] It’s never going to be the way it was, this is what it’s going to be and you’re going to have to make peace with this. I may be making peace with a mother wound and a spiritual awakening. But I can say that I haven’t fully made peace with this left side of my body. That I don’t know how.
Jodi-Ann: [Exhales] Yeah. Yeah, I mean, how you look has changed because of this. And to even hear that you’re still going through reconstruction is also part of the piece that people don’t realize that you’re still in it. [Shayla: I’m still in it] You’re still facing it every day. It’s something that you have to still grapple with in your most private moments. Taking a shower, right? Getting dressed, putting-putting lotion on, right? It’s a part of you. Um, but you’ve also changed in other ways in your appearance too with your natural hair. [Shayla: Yes].Do you, what’s your orientation around the changes in your hair?
Shayla: Um, well, I like it. It rocks. Yeah, this is like the post chemo evitable fro Hawk thing going on. Um, we don’t really touch the top. So this is actually post chemo. I look at it all the time. [Jodi-Ann: Mhmm] Um…it is different. And I had a relaxer before and I wore a very similar hairstyle for many years. So this is a drastic change for me. I embrace it and I love it and I kind of, like, made a bargain with the universe that if you-if you grow my hair back, I won’t wear a wig and I’ll stay natural. That was my-my bargain with the universe. Still took two and a half months to get here but I feel like it helped. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] Um, I feel that if-if it was not at this point 2018, 2019 when my hair started growing back and it was 2002, I don’t know if I would’ve stayed a natural Black woman. [Jodi-Ann: Mmm. Yeah] It’s acceptable now. It’s um, owning your Blackness, owning your womanhood, owning the strength of being a short haired natural haired girl and I like that. But I can def – sometimes I miss my hair, sometimes I wonder like do I – would I go back to like a sleek, shorter, relaxed haircut? Um, sometimes I don’t know what to do with this cuz I’m so new. I’m like, two years in with natural hair, but it’s like growing from scratch. Yeah, so it’s – I feel like I’ve accepted that part probably the most quickly, cuz I like – at least I like the way it looks. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah]. Yeah, I like the way it looks. Um, I do feel though that, I would say that the perception of me is a little bit different. People see you as maybe stronger or more like, maybe – I hate, I don’t like the word “more Black”, but it’s more like more owning your Blackness [Jodi-Ann: Mmm], owning your brown skin down to your natural hair and that’s the – that’s been a movement for the last, like, decade which has been an amazing movement that I never thought I was, um, bold enough or brave enough to enter cuz it like change like how to you even do it? Do you cut everything? Well, it happened for me. [Jodi-Ann: Mmm] And um, here I am. And – but sometimes I feel like an imposter when people say like, “Oh, that’s so bold of you, so brave of you to – you know, be the next short natural girl” I’m like “Well, I didn’t really have a choice”. [Laughs] [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] Um, but I can’t say I think so some of my non-Black friends – they hated their short hair. They hated it. So at least-at least I entered short hair in a time when it was okay to be short and natural. But the other ones, they don’t like it. All they want is their hair back. They want it long and flowy. They don’t like the growth stage. They don’t feel beautiful. I do feel beautiful. I do feel like this rocks for me. So I guess that’s, like, lucky? In a sense.
Jodi-Ann: Yeah, I mean everyone has their thing that they hold on to, right? That’s their, like, constant marker of difference. [Shayla: Yes]. You know, like, I’m still carrying around 40 pounds since my surgery. And even, like, we were talking about plants when we first started like, I have all these plants now I have a dog I have, like, living things in my apartment. And before my surgery, I didn’t have space for living things. I was doin too much. I was traveling all over the place [Shayla: Mhmm] like – I was surfing on the weekends and like my life was so full with activities and movement right?
Shayla: I don’t have time to be watering no plants!
Jodi-Ann: I don’t have time to water no plants [Laughs] and I don’t even know how to take care of them in the first place, you know, and now I have a dog? And so even things that like, rock, even things that like, bring you joy like your hair, it-it’s still a marker that your life is different. And that just has to fit somewhere in your head. You know? Like –
Shayla: Like it wasn’t my choice but um sometimes like I said imposter of like people thinking it was my choice. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] And they see you like, I remember when it first started growing in, in this like, girl – I was at a bar – and it just started growing in and definitely wasn’t full at all, but maybe I had six weeks worth of hair and it still was even like, less hair, like not every pore was full. And she just kept looking at me and kept looking at me and when I went to the bathroom down some stairs – she went to the bathroom too. And when I was down there she literally was like, “I have been looking at you all night”.“No, I know. I’ve noticed.” And she’s like, “You are so beautiful. And I think it’s so – like, like you’re – like did you just cut your hair? Like-like it just looks so bold and brave and beautiful and -” She went on this thing I was like, “That is so amazing of you to say but no, no, I didn’t just cut it. It’s just growing back.” [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] Um, and then she hugged me [Jodi-Ann: Yeah], you know, before when you’re able to hug people. [Jodi-Ann: I know (laughs)] In the end, but yeah, that view that people have is-is like another reason and when they do say it, I can like let them keep that view or then I can say, “Well actually, it was cancer.” And then that’s me bringing up the cancer again. So sometimes I don’t know how to, like I said, like it kind of is-is kind of is me. I am Shayla the breast cancer survivor. This is my story. And that was – I never had that title before. It was just Shayla, this is my story.
Jodi-Ann: Yeah. So for those who are listening who are going through something similar to you, do you have any advice or just kind of, just anything you want to say, say to them?
Shayla: Um, yeah, I would say allow yourself to feel the feelings. Um, everyone wants to make you feel okay. Everyone wants to make you feel good: “It’s okay. You’re going to be okay. We’ll be here for you. It’s okay. You gotta be okay, the breast will be replaced.” All these things. Uh – there were periods, you know, before therapy when I did not have all my feelings in touch with me that I went with that – I just want to feel okay. I want to go for the run. Now, I would say feel those feelings. Don’t block them. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] And let them flow. Because there are some days that aren’t good days. And when people – when you push that to the back and say, “Well, at least I’m alive” or “At least I made it” – No, no, it’s okay. Yeah, you did make but it’s also okay to be like, “I’m fucking sad. This fucking sucks and I wish I wasn’t going through it.” It’s okay to feel that. Feel it. Sit on those feelings, as my therapist will say, “Shayla want you to sit on that feeling.” (Laughter in background) In her soft voice. I love her. She’s awesome. (More laughs).
Jodi-Ann: I love that thank you so much for being here. Um, just sharing the space with you has meant so much to me like – it, I feel seen. You know, (exhales), just to be in connection with other Black women, other women of color and their own journeys with cancer…it’s healing.
Shayla: Yeah, thank you. I agree this is that – when you said, when I heard about this from our friend Erin, it made, it just made sense like – even down to trying to keep my hair in the cold cap. All the examples of keeping your hair in cold cap were on white women. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] There wasn’t much to say. Well, how does that work on thicker hair? How does it work when you can’t comb your hair for a couple of days, you know, when you’re using the cold cap, to try to prevent your hair? So even just from the whole hair, to the vasectomy, to like our feelings. I remember, I have many breast cancer sisters that I became close with that are not Black, but I think like, it would, it’s…gives some different perspective to be like, “Oh, you look like me, and you went through this.” And so we have a similar struggle with all our other struggles on top.
Jodi-Ann: Yeah, like a whole other language that you get access to.
Jodi-Ann: You know, when I was reading Audre Lorde’s books, she was talking about this support group that they told her to go to after her mastectomy. And she was just like, “Um, are there any, uh, Black lesbian feminists in this group?” (Laughter) [Shayla: No-] You know, like, and like kind of straddling, like the different parts of you that need to be seen, and where we need to kind of overlap some of those communities. And so, just to be in conversation with other women of color who’ve faced cancer, who have a similar life experience, um, who’re also battling these ideas of being strong and the labels that we get, you know, it’s just really important to – I don’t know, I just always get something out of, of chatting with people who-who share part.
Shayla: Oh,yeah, definitely. I wish I knew more. Cuz like you said with the hair, I can definitely say when I walk in a walk or work conference now, I am five foot eight, I’m athletically slender with short hair – natural. People look – they absolutely, look. And it’s like: who is that? That’s flattering in one sense, but in the other sense it’s like, now I’m-yeah the other sense you’re like standing next to…you’re usually the only minority in the room. And I’m five, eight with heels. I’m already taller than some of the men. It adds another I think, hidden intimidation that they would never even know is bothering them. And I-I feel that, or rather, I interpret that., [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] Um, that it’s like, oh wow, that’s a lot going on right here, Tom. [Jodi-Ann laughs in the background] Yet, they don’t know how to take me – that it’s more, opposed to seeing like, I don’t know, some flowy hairs swaying through the room. It’s more like all face now – you’re looking at me here, um, and there’s probably more, kind of – what’s the word? Preconceptions about? [Jodi-Ann: Yeah, yeah.] Of – and yeah, it would be nice to know some other Black women who went through it and like, “Oh yeah, this is my journey too. I know exactly what you’re talking about when I was short and natural girl. It will look like this.” And like, “Oh, okay, so I’m not just thinking this – it’s, it’s real. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah, yeah.]
Jodi-Ann: You know, as we think about cancer as we think about our lives, we’re still full people. And um, I’m always looking for opportunities to amplify good work and direct people towards things that could bring them joy or understanding or healing and-and some enlightenment in some way. And so I want to go through three recommendations that you might have for folks: someone you think people should know, something they should read and something they should listen to.
Shayla: For my someone to know someone is Brene Brown. For me, when I, when I finished all – I received all these gifts in treatment. Including books. I didn’t have the brain capacity to pick up a book and read a book. [Jodi-Ann: I know (laughs).] But after everything was done. I had stumbled upon these books. And I love to read, and I picked up one – did not know who it was – it was Brene Brown’s Rising Strong. Started reading it, it’s all about vulnerability. And I was like,
that’s what I’m feeling. There’s a word for this? This is before I started therapy, like, “Oh I’m feeling vulnerable. Oh…whoah…” Now I’m – most days I’m like – what would Brene Brown do in this situation? [Jodi-Ann: So funny.] She put words to the things that I didn’t know I was feeling. I didn’t know what those herbs that bubbled to the top that I spoke about – those are feelings and vulnerability. Didn’t know that. Um, what was the other question? Something someone should do?
Jodi-Ann: Something to read.
Shayla: Well, yeah. Brene Brown – all of her vulnerability books about – on, on her vulnerability. She makes it okay to be vulnerable. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] Years ago. It was like don’t be vulnerable, be strong. You power through life – you power through everything. No, no, let’s pause. It’s okay to feel. It’s okay to be vulnerable. And she provided that ‘okay’ for me.
Jodi-Ann: Yeah. Especially as Black women, this idea that you could be vulnerable, feels so risky. [Shayla: Yeah.] But, what’s also risky is trying to be strong all the time.
Shayla: All the time. In every-every capacity. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] Yeah, like always trying to not be run over. Always, yeah, always the voice of reason. And I feel like the decision maker…or if you’re at work and you disagree with something then you’re angry. Like it’s all these things. And it’s like, “No, no, you read Brene Brown. She says this is vulnerability and she says you are supposed to use your voice.” [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] We’re supposed to use our voice and it’s okay. And she teaches ways to like, say things in relationships, friendships, to love relationships that will be vulnerable and express your true feeling but without it being like, the mask of like defensiveness and things like that.
Jodi-Ann: Yeah. Alright, how about something to listen to?
Shayla: Mm. I dunno. Music. All of it. Happy music. Throw a dance party for yourself. I am a big party for one girl. I will put on some music. I will dance in my apartment. Um, I will have some wine. Like move your energy, move your energy around. And it-it really does help to lift the spirit when you move the energy.
Jodi-Ann: Oh my gosh, that’s a good one. I want to throw a dance party right now.
Jodi-Ann (as host): Black Cancer was created, produced and edited by me: Jodi-Ann Burey. Thank you so much, Shayla Martin, for sharing your story with us to make sure that this and other Black cancer stories become center to how we talk about cancer. You can like subscribe, rate and leave a review wherever you find your podcast.
Follow us online at https://blackcancer.co/ and on Instagram @_black_cancer.
Trauma comes with endless wisdom for ourselves and for those around us tell someone you know about Black Cancer.
[Music fades to snaps and drum beats]
Shayla: That was fun. And tt’s also cool like hearing that – like you have some of the same feelings or like that-that you’ve gone, that you go down the um, blast to the past let me read all these emotional things people sent me hole which I do on every cancerversary. Um, even when I don’t want to do it’s like by 1 AM I’m like, “Well, let me just read one.” [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] And then I have them all laid out on the floor. [Jodi-Ann: Yup.]
Jodi-Ann: I have my special bag. Yep.
Shayla: Yeah. And when I just moved apartments, I was like, what do I do with these? And I was like, “You keep these Shayla. You keep these.” Cuz I don’t really keep cards and stuff. I don’t keep birthday cards. But like, I was like, “ No, I’m not ready. Not ready at all.”
Jodi-Ann: I think I’m – I have to figure, yeah I have to figure out a way to keep them. Because right now they’re just in this little tote bag that I keep in my closet and like –
Shayla: Mine was-were in a bag, um, next to the couch, and now they are in a bag in-in underneath the TV.
Jodi-Ann: Yeah. It just gets like – over time gets further and further away. Like they used to be on my table, and then they’re under my coffee table. And I like put them in the closet-like it travels further out of my sight, but I go and get them.
Shayla: Maybe that’s something symbolic for us – that like we’re able to put ‘em up.
Jodi-Ann: Yeah, maybe. And like what triggers it and like wanting to go back besides-besides the like cancerversaries. Well what’s interesting about your story, too, is like, as soon as I got to the doctor’s office, they called me in after the MRI like I – the first thing I said to my doctor was a joke. And I was like, “Yo, Dr. Singh – what you got me your office for at 3:30 – am I dying or what’s going on?” And you know? And he looks at me very seriously and he’s like, “You’re not dying... but you do have a tumor in your spine.” [Shayla: Wow.] And I’m like, okay, and he should be like – he’s – like normally I’m like-like you, like jokey jokey…dadadada, and even with the doctors, you know? And he’s like, yeah, very serious. And he throws up the thing. I’m like, looking at the tumor on the screen. I’m like, okay, you know, very just matter of fact. And then he goes, “I have a consultation with a surgeon scheduled for you tomorrow at 8 AM.” And the first thing that went in my mind, I’m like, okay, what’s on my schedule? And I was like, whoa whoa whoa, wait –
Shayla: Right? I can’t make 8 AM!
Jodi-Ann: Yeah. And I was like, I haven’t left this room..meaning that y’all made that appointment before I got here. Meaning what the hell I have at 8 AM doesn’t fucking matter. [Shayla: Yes.] The only thing that matters right now is this tumor in my fucking spinal cord. And when that-that, like what you were talking about, like that sense of urgency, when that hit me…I will (makes sound of something exploding) Like, at best, I sat- oh my god, I sat in the room for an hour and I cried. I cried. I cried. I cried into my soul. [Shayla: Wow.] Because I was – and then you get angry, right? Like – [Shayle: Yes.] literally I –
Shayla: I don’t- I don’t have time for this.
Shayla: Like it’s the holidays blah blah blah, like so then I’m gonna have to be in chemo – like through the spring, like to the – almost to the summer. So then like, so I’m gonna be bald until the- I don’t have time. This is not on my schedule. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah, yeah.] I’m not trying to be bald in the summer. My birthday’s in the summer. (Jodi-Ann laughs in background) This is my best month time. I don’t have time for this. Can we push it back?
Jodi-Ann: Yeah. And that literally, was like, Okay, when do I have to get– like you start bargaining [Shayla: Yes] and then there’s this whole process where you realize that the things that were important to you [Shayla: Are not important] are not fucking important. And that is a harsh reality to face. [Shayla: Yeah.] That – that all of that – all of that stuff your worried about, literally Does. Not. Matter. [Shayla: It doesn’t matter.] And there’s almost a sense of freedom in that too. Cuz things were coming my way and people were talking to me about this stuff. And I’m like, (sarcastic laugh), I’m sorry. I’m bout to be paralyzed, soooo I don’t care. (Laughs).
Shayla: Yeah. It also changes like, even like urgency for like work, or I remember like, I had just, I got the mastectomy, but I couldn’t, um, I couldn’t go to – I couldn’t go to sleep or something. You know, sleep is all off. So I responded to some emails. And I’m in corporate sales, so I responded to someone’s email, and then they responded back, and then I stopped responding. But my out of office was-was on. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] And so then the guy like, uh, called our headquarter office was like, “I’m not getting a response from Shayla.” And he basically had a response like on pricing – something – and my manager, clearly, knew everything’s going on and he’s like, “She’ll get to you but here’s the price in the meantime.” CC’d me on the email. When I responded to that guy, I said, uh, “My out of office was on,” and I put it in the email – I was like, “My out of office was on. I was out. I was responding to you because I couldn’t go to sleep past a surgery. I was not just out of office. I was out recovering from a mastectomy, meaning breast cancer.” And I had replied all – everyone that he had on that email from his office and everything and my manager, reply all. “The prices I see you’ve already received. If you have any more questions, please let me know.” My manager didn’t say anything. Cuz this guy was like it – this is not that important. And it – it did that a lot of things for me. Like, oh, that rush – those things aren’t important. Like people, their life can change in an instant. Your life can change. And that little email – that little let’s have a pow wow over for the 10th time or something – not important. [Jodi-Ann: Yep.] The colleague that hurts your little feelings. Ah! Who cares? Get over it. Just talk about it. It’s not important. [Jodi-Ann: Nope.] Like us. Us. We’re-we’re important. [Jodi-Ann: Exactly.] And I think that, like, yeah, YOU are important. You have to like – it made me, yeah, like I had to like, I don’t know. Like it just changes everything, right? Just changes everything. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] Everything. All the bullshit. Not important. What’s important is like, my friends, my family and like, love. Love for my friends and family. Um. being more present, like I’m so much more present now than I was. Like, all that on the phone at dinner. No, like are we at dinner? Or are we on the phone?
Jodi-Ann: Yep. What’s-what’s going on? (Laughs)
Shayla: I- wha-what’s going on? Cuz I’m here with you. [Jodi-Ann: Yup.] And um, and yeah way more present. And way more open – like I went from like moments, I went from like things being like, “Oh, that was a really good weekend.” to like, (exhales) “That was such a beautiful weekend with my friends. Oh, that was just so nice when we were walking down the street together. I love riding the train with my friends. Mother was so nice when so and so…and they did that – that was such a beautiful moment.” Yeah it’s-it’s- (Laughs)
Jodi-Ann: Where’s the sage, y’all? (Laughs)
Shayla: Everything. Everything. I went to a wedding this weekend.[Jodi-Ann: Mmhmm.] And it’s on Saturday, wedding was on Friday, it was on Saturday everyone got back together cuz no one has anything to do. And I stopped – there was like the parents, and it was like 20 people – all the people just from the wedding. We’re on a balcony at the hotel that they had rented a room with a balcony and I said, “Hey, everybody, I want to give a speech.” (Laughter in background)
Jodi-Ann: Here we go again.
Shayla: Here we go. (Laughs)
Jodi-Ann: Shayla and her feelings. (Laughs)
Shayla: “And so I just want everyone to pause now and-and look at this. Look how we’re all out here together. The day after the wedding, we came back. And we’re here together laughing and smiling and loving. And this is a beautiful moment.” (Laughs and clapping in background) And everyone looked at me like…but I knew – I knew it was coming. Like I knew for me I was like, yes, Shayla, you can’t hold this in, you better tell these people it’s a beautiful moment.
Jodi-Ann: You know what – because – okay. When you’re on the, like the BC side – before cancer, it’s just platitude is nonsense. (in facetious tone) “Oh, the only thing that matters is love and your family. Oh, don’t sweat the small stuff.” Like you hear all the time. You just like yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Then after cancer – you like, (in exaggerated tone) “Oh my goshh. All you need is love.” [Shayla: All you need is love.] (Laughs) “Don’t sweat, don’t sweat the small stuff.Just keep your loved ones close.” You just find yourself like what the fuck am I saying? (Laughs)
Shayla: Why am I feeling all these feelings??
Jodi-Ann: You don’t – I have this whole essay, cuz like, similar to you, I was writing a lot, and I was just like, “When you’re on this side of knowing you just (laughs) – it’s not the same. You don’t know unless you go through it.” Like, you know, it’s like you feel that – you almost feel like this ambassador, like you just want to tell people, like listen, I have looked death. I have looked at my own mortality. I’m trying to tell you. I’m trying to like – you know?
Shayla: It is real. Love is real. Love is all you need. Make sure you live in the moment. Be present.
Jodi-Ann: Yeah. Be present!!
Shayla: Tell people you love them.
Jodi-Ann: Tell them. Exactly, exactly. And then they’re like, “Whatever.” God forbid. I mean, everyone deals with the trauma, right? So then someone goes through a trauma and they’re just like, “Oh my gosh, Shayle, Shayla you were right.” (Laughs) “It was a beautiful moment. Remember that time when you gave a speech. You were right.That was beautiful.”
Shayla: It was a beautiful moment. It’s not just a day after the wedding. Look, we chose to be here. Everyone’s here for a reason. Oh yeah, I mean, I couldn’t help it though. I joke with my-my therapist a-a lot. We’re so close, I love this woman. And I’m like, “Man,” her name is Sheri, “Man, Sheri, I’m so close to like, wearing a flowy dress and holding crystals and walking in flip flops everywhere. I’m so close.” (Laughs in background) I was like, “You know what my Shockers are pulling in this direction.
[End of recording.]