|Battling The Beast|
I was born in Imo State on October 2, 1973, but I grew up in the North- Niger State. Dad passed away when I was 7 years old so I was raised by my mother. I attended FGGC. Owerri for 3 years and then I transferred to FGGC Bida, where I finished in 1991.
After Secondary school, I studied theatre arts at the University of Portharcourt, Nigeria, West Africa. After graduation, I pursued acting for a while, appearing in several TV series and Talk Shows on NTA, Lagos, including drama series, Twist Away and Memorial Hospital.
I also served and worked with the NTA, Lagos under the Management of Mallam Danladi Bako and Mr Frank Olize till Sept. 1996, when I migrated to the USA to further my studies. Now, I am an American Citizen living in Wisconsin.
Two weeks before I found a lump in my left breast, my husband Stan and I had gone for our yearly physical exams at a Hospital in Michigan where we lived with our two beautiful daughters, Chigozie andChisom. Everything turned out normal for both of us. Two weeks later, I noticed the lump.
I thought it was leftover breast milk, because I had just stopped breastfeeding my younger daughter. So I went back to the Hospital, and after a series of tests, I was told to go for a biopsy where tissue from the breast is removed and examined for signs of breast cancer.
By the time my husband and I went back for the biopsy results, I had already done the crying, the anger, and the denial. I was young. How could I have cancer? I didn’t have any family history of the disease. And I just had about a few months left to graduate with a degree in Medical Case Management.
When we got in to see the doctor, I watched her. She seemed nervous, like she didn’t want to tell me what they had found. So even before she said the words, I knew I had breast cancer. I was only 34.
I was diagnosed with Stage 3 aggressive breast cancer Sept. of 2008 within 2 months of my routine medical check. I can’t tell you the shock and the disbelief of how my world spiraled out of control. The moment I heard the word ‘CANCER’, everything else went blank!
The only thing I remembered saying to my doctor was ‘’I want to raise my kids because nobody can love them better than I can’’. And she responded, ‘’Oh, yes, you are going to’’ But that was all she could tell me at that point.
I thought and acted like it was a death sentence, thoughts of my little angels-my daughters and my dear husband of five years , flooded my mind and I thought I’d drown in my tears!
I ran a few more tests at the Hospital to confirm the extent of damage and was advised the best treatment was to have a surgery, as the only way forward. It was the hardest decision of my life at such
a young age, when I had so much plans for the future which included getting back into the movie world eventually, a passion that I had long left behind due to marriage and family but was constantly taunted by it!
Telling my older daughter who was three and half years old at the time was hard because she did not understand. We said, ‘’the bad guys attacked mummy’s boobs, and we are trying to fight them’’. Well I braved up to it and broke the news to my family, my mother was in Nigeria at the time, and when I called her, I could tell she was in a great mood.
She started to tell me about how she had just cooked this soup. So I said, ‘’I have something to tell you’’. She asked, ‘’Are you pregnant again? ‘’I spoke slowly.’’ Well, mum, I went to see my doctor, and they found a tumor’’ There was silence and then she said, ‘’No, this can’t happen. While am alive, my daughter is going to die?’’
Then, she boarded the next flight to the U.S. that the chemo had not caught. My twin sister, Julia and other members of my family were such pillars of strength and support.
I never knew how much of a financial load I was going to be going through with this disease, b. I had few months of school before graduation.
My being unable to work due to my surgery and ongoing chemotherapy and radiation became so hard for me to care for my lovely daughters, who were then, 3yrs and 18months kids as much as I would have loved to, like putting them into daycare to keep them away from partaking in my pain.
I felt that they were too young to grasp the whole ordeal and wanted them to enjoy the leisure of being around other kids of their age especially, the days my chemotherapy weighed me down. My medical facility (Froedtert Medical College of Wisconsin) was very resourceful and excellent in assisting me with some of my needs and made me feel hopeful towards the future.
The surgery is done, chemotherapy and radiation over, though my body doesn’t quite feel like it’s mine, sometimes due to the healing process but am positive and strong on the fact that life holds so much more after these.
So it was a mixed and warming feeling when I heard those words ‘’CANCER FREE’’, tears rolled down my eyes knowing that I was given another chance of life to walk through the stages of life together with my kids. I can only say that I am proud to be standing today.
After I got better, I started an Organization called COURAGE TO DARE FOUNDATION. Having gone through all the stages of cancer treatment and emerging a survivor, I knew I had to do something for the thousands of people all over the world who can’t access information and treatment.
I came to Lagos Nigeria to do research on cancer patients, I talked to an oncologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba, and she said that a lot of cancer patients come in after the disease has reached an advanced stage. There, I was trying to talk with cancer patients there and many didn’t want to talk to me. It seemed that they were embarrassed about the fact that they had cancer.
Some of them said their families didn’t know, and they didn’t want them to know. My Organization plans to go all over West Africa empowering women to speak up about their condition and to seek help. Our lives are stories we must tell to inspire the world and leave a legacy.
My legacy, I hope will be to inspire millions of people, African women who seem to have lost hope that there could be life after the diagnosis of cancer, and women in general, who like me, will change their death sentences to a ‘’life worth living to the fullest’’.
In honor of all the work, I was invited as a guest on the Nov 16, 2010 Oprah Winfrey Show, among an audience of individuals honored for making a difference in their communities. As a surprise to the audience and the invited guests, the Show ended up being Oprah Winfrey’s final ‘’Oprah’s Favorite Things Show’’.
This not only was overwhelming, but it gave a voice to all the effort in trying to help Africans. Oprah’s Show has made me want to work hard in partnering with other Organizations on the fight to ending the breast cancer death rate in Africa, which is mostly due to neglect, abandonment, lack of finances and awareness.
Through Courage to Dare Foundation, Juliet is determined to ensure that individuals of African descent have access to information about breast cancer and also have access to preventive mammogram screenings.
These days, I feel as though breast cancer gave me a new life. Before I had breast cancer, I worked hard on being a mother and a wife, and I think one of the things I neglected most was me! So after cancer, I decided that you only have one time to live your life. I want to go back to the film industry. I am pursuing a master’s degree in public health in Wisconsin where we live now.
I am also going to keep talking about breast cancer because people have to know that being diagnosed with the disease doesn’t mean that they are going to die, that with early detection and quick action, they can survive breast cancer.
One of my biggest wish with my second chance to life will be to re-visit the acting world again. This was a world were nothing mattered when I was either on stage or in front of the camera