Black Mothers Get Less Treatment For Postpartum Depression

Black Mothers Get Less Treatment For Postpartum Depression

Video Courtesy of Thriving With Baby


Portia Smith’s most vivid memories of her daughter’s first year are of tears. Not the baby’s. Her own.

“I would just hold her and cry all day,” Smith said.

At 18, Smith was caring for two children, 4-year-old Kelaiah and newborn Nelly, with little help from the partner in her abusive relationship. The circumstances were difficult, but she knew the tears were more than that.

“I really didn’t have a connection for her,” said Smith, now a motivational speaker and mother of three living in Philadelphia. “I didn’t even want to breastfeed because I didn’t want that closeness with her.”

The emotions were overwhelming, but Smith couldn’t bring herself to ask for help.

“You’re afraid to say it because you think the next step is [for the authorities] to take your children away from you,” she said. “You’re young and you’re African American, so it’s like [people are thinking], ‘She’s going to be a bad mom.’”

Smith’s concern was echoed by several black women interviewed for this story. Maternal health experts said some black women choose to struggle on their own rather than seek care and risk having their families torn apart by child welfare services.

Nationally, postpartum depression affects 1 in 7 mothers. Medical guidelines recommend counseling for all women experiencing postpartum depression, and many women also find relief by taking general antidepressants, such as fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft).

In March, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug specifically for the treatment of postpartum depression, which can include extreme sadness, anxiety  and exhaustion that may interfere with a woman’s ability to care for herself or her family. The mood disorder can begin in pregnancy and last for months after childbirth.

But those advances help only if women’s needs are identified in the first place — a particular challenge for women of color and low-income mothers, as they are several times more likely to suffer from postpartum mental illness but less likely to receive treatment than other mothers.

The consequences of untreated postpartum depression can be serious. A report from nine maternal mortality review committees in the United States found that mental health problems, ranging from depression to substance use or trauma, went unidentified in many cases and were a contributing factor in pregnancy-related deaths. Although rare, deaths of new mothers by suicide have also been reported across the country.

Babies can suffer too, struggling to form a secure attachment with their mothers and increasing their risk of developing behavioral issues and cognitive impairments.

‘I Was Lying To You’

For many women of color, the fear of child welfare services comes from seeing real incidents in their community, said Ayesha Uqdah, a community health worker who conducts home visits for pregnant and postpartum women in Philadelphia through the nonprofit Maternity Care Coalition.

News reports in several states and studies at the national level have found that child welfare workers deem black mothers unfit at a higher rate than they do white mothers, even when controlling for factors like education and poverty.

During home visits, Uqdah asks clients the 10 questions on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale survey, one of the most commonly used tools to identify women at risk. The survey asks women to rate things like how often they’ve laughed or whether they had trouble sleeping in the past week. The answers are tallied for a score out of 30, and anyone who scores above 10 is referred for a formal clinical assessment.

Uqdah remembered conducting the survey with one pregnant client, who scored a 22. The woman decided not to go for the mental health services Uqdah recommended.

A week after having her baby, the same woman’s answers netted her a score of zero: perfect mental health.

“I knew there was something going on,” Uqdah said. “But our job isn’t to push our clients to do something they’re not comfortable doing.”

About a month later, the woman broke down and told Uqdah, “I was lying to you. I really did need services, but I didn’t want to admit it to you or myself.”

The woman’s first child had been taken into child welfare custody and ended up with her grandfather, Uqdah said. The young mother didn’t want that to happen again.

Screening Tools Don’t Serve Everyone Well

Another hurdle for women of color comes from the tools clinicians use to screen for postpartum depression.

The tools were developed based on mostly white research participants, said Alfiee Breland-Noble, an associate professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical Center. Often those screening tools are less relevant for women of color.

Research shows that different cultures talk about mental illness in different ways. African Americans are less likely to use the term depression, but they may say they don’t feel like themselves, Breland-Noble said.

It’s also more common for people in minority communities to experience mental illness as physical symptoms. Depression can show up as headaches, for example, or anxiety as gastrointestinal issues.

Studies evaluating screening tools used with low-income, African American mothers found they don’t catch as many women as they should. Researchers recommend lower cutoff scores for certain African American women in order to better identify women who needs help but may not be scoring high enough to trigger a follow-up under current guidelines.

Bringing Treatment Home

It took Smith six months after daughter Nelly’s birth to work up the courage to see a doctor about her postpartum depression.

Even then, she encountered the typical barriers faced by new mothers: Therapy is expensive, wait times are long, and coordinating transportation and child care can be difficult, especially for someone struggling with depression.

But Smith was determined. She visited two different clinics until she found a good fit. After several months of therapy and medication, she began feeling better. Today, Smith and her three daughters go to weekly $5 movies and do their makeup together before big outings.

Other mothers never receive care. A recent study from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found that only 1 in 10 women who screened positive for postpartum depression at the hospital’s urban medical practice sites sought any treatment within the following six months. A study examining three years’ worth of New Jersey Medicaid claims found white women were nearly twice as likely to receive treatment as were women of color.

Noticing that gap, the Maternity Care Coalition in Philadelphia tried something new.

In 2018, the nonprofit started a pilot program that pairs mothers with Drexel University graduate students training to be marriage and family counselors. The student counselors visit the women an hour a week and provide free in-home counseling for as many weeks as the women need. Last year, the program served 30 clients. This year, the organization plans to expand the program to multiple counties in the region and hire professional therapists.

It was a game-changer for Stephanie Lee, a 39-year-old who had postpartum depression after the birth of her second child in 2017.

“It was so rough like I was a mess, I was crying,” Lee said. “I just felt like nobody understood me.”

She felt shame asking for help and thought it made her look weak. Lee’s mother had already helped her raise her older son when Lee was a teenager, and many members of her family had raised multiple kids close in age.

“The black community don’t know postpartum,” Lee said. “There’s this expectation on us as women of color that we have to be … superhero strong, that we’re not allowed to be vulnerable.”

But with in-home therapy, no one had to know Lee was seeking treatment.

The counselors helped Lee get back to work and learn how to make time for herself — even just a few minutes in the morning to say a prayer or do some positive affirmations.

“If this is the only time I have,” Lee said, “from the time I get the shower, the time to do my hair, quiet time to myself — use it. Just use it.”

This story was reported as a partnership that includes The Philadelphia Inquirer, WHYY, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

AIDS Awareness Month: The Black Church & HIV

AIDS Awareness Month: The Black Church & HIV


HIV primarily affects white gay men. You can contract HIV by getting tested for the virus that causes AIDS. Active church members aren’t at risk for HIV.

When NAACP researchers spent a year talking with black faith leaders in 11 cities, they found myths like these continue to circulate among their pews and pulpits. Those findings led the nation’s oldest civil rights organization to mount a campaign calling on black churches to speak out about the disease that disproportionately affects African-Americans.

In “The Black Church & HIV: The Social Justice Imperative,” the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People acknowledges that pastors may have reservations about addressing AIDS from the pulpit.

“However, this issue is too great to ignore,” reads a warning in a 24-page “pastoral brief” that accompanies the manual.

“The only way for us to help our congregations is to understand all aspects of HIV, so that we can help our community rebound from the impact of this epidemic.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that one in 16 black men and one in 32 black women will be infected by HIV.

The pastoral brief, sprinkled with Bible verses, includes a “modern-day parable’’ of a minister who tried to “pray the gay” out of a heterosexual man after he received his HIV diagnosis. It later quotes a Houston minister who feared being in the same room with relatives with HIV/AIDS.

The NAACP recommends partnering with health organizations on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. The group compares the church’s need to address HIV to Jesus’ ministry healing the sick and advocating for the oppressed.

“As we make efforts to address the HIV crisis, the Black Church should not be a place where people experience HIV stigma and discrimination, but rather a place of healing, support, and acceptance,” the brief says.

The 66-page manual asks churches to dispel HIV myths and spread the truth. For instance, most black women get HIV through heterosexual sex, and there is no risk for transmission of HIV through testing.

“Regardless of our church activity or engagement, as long as we are having unprotected sex or sharing needles in our communities, we are at risk for contracting HIV,” the manual notes.

The NAACP urges churches to be a “safe space” for HIV prevention and treatment, even if they have to start small: “We understand that incorporating HIV activism into a spiritual setting may be perceived as a difficult process, but it is possible to begin with small steps even in the most conservative environments.”


Webinar: Taking Action This National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Take Your Christmas Celebrations from “Ho Hum” to Happy and Healthy

Take Your Christmas Celebrations from “Ho Hum” to Happy and Healthy

This holiday season, spice up your parties, gatherings and get-togethers with a few delicious recipes from acclaimed chef, Huda Mu’min. Video Courtesy of Roland S. Martin


For many, the holiday season comes with family, friends and lots of food. As part of the Healthy for Life 20 by 20 initiative, to improve the health of Americans, Aramark and the American Heart Association tapped into their experts to assemble a list of healthy tips and tricks to help navigate the holiday season, without sacrificing the flavor or fun of celebrating.

Aramark, the largest food service provider in the United States and one of the largest employers of registered dietitians in the world, and the American Heart Association, the leading voluntary health organization devoted to a world of longer, healthier lives, have teamed up to empower and inspire individuals and families to make better food choices every day, including the holiday season.

Whether it’s cooking for a crowd, or making smart kitchen swaps, Aramark and the American Heart Association will help you put together a winning holiday game plan.

COOKING FOR A CROWD

Aramark chefs serve two billion meals a year, so they’re used to cooking for a crowd every day of the week. Whether for a cocktail party, weekend brunch or holiday dinner, these easy tips will make cooking for a crowd a lot less daunting.

  • Ask around. Before you get too far with your planning, note anyone who has a food preference, allergy, intolerance, or any other dietary needs or restrictions. While some guests may follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, plenty of people are thinking more plant-forward in general. Come up with a mix of meat, poultry, seafood, and plant-forward offerings so every guest has a selection of dishes to enjoy. It’s a good idea to have at least one meatless main dish for guests who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet.
  • Plan ahead. Think about what you can take care of in the days leading up to your event. Shopping is a no-brainer. Review all your recipes and check your pantry to compile one master shopping list before you even set foot in the grocery store. Again, buying in-season produce will help you save money, as will buying in bulk, which large parties often require anyway. Once home, take stock of your cookware and serving dishes, laying them out with sticky notes so you know which food will go in which dish.
  • Welcome helping hands (big and small). If someone offers to help in the kitchen or contribute something, take them up on it! Even kids can get in on the game: Let them toss a salad, set the table, or handle washing the pots and pans. It’s one less thing for you to do as the host, and one more way to inspire their love of healthy home cooking.

SMART KITCHEN SWAPS

There are plenty of healthy baking swaps to lighten up your favorite Holiday treats. Considering swapping out some of the items high in calories, sodium or saturated fat, for a healthier alternative.

  • One cup of unsweetened apple sauce can be swapped out for one cup of sugar
  • One cup of mashed bananas can be used to replace one cup of melted butter or oil
  • Greek yogurt can be used to swap out for different ingredients such as sour cream, butter, oil and heavy cream, but the ratios can vary
  • Instead of a fruit pie try making a fruit crisp for the holidays, it has fewer calories
  • Try replacing cream in recipes with regular or low-fat milk
  • Use herbs and spices, like rosemary and cloves, to flavor dishes, instead of salt or butter

EAT WELL, BE WELL TIPS

You can eat well and be well this holiday season, with these tasty treats, party tricks and simple strategies from the experts at the American Heart Association.

  • Include lots of seasonal, colorful fruits and vegetables. Do you decorate for the holidays with a lot of color? Treat your plate the same way. Fruits and vegetables will add flavor, color and nutrients to holiday favorites. And they help you feel fuller longer so you can avoid the temptation to overeat.
  • Navigate holiday parties like a boss. From the obligatory workplace parties to family get-togethers, your calendar may be bursting with opportunities to eat and drink outside of your regular routine. Make a plan that will help you resist plowing through the buffet table, like having a healthy snack beforehand.
  • Sprinkle in opportunities to be active. Keep the inevitable indulgences in check by staying active. Enjoy some winter sports, for a change of pace, or schedule in a quick walk or workout before you head to the next party. Remember, every little bit helps you get closer to the recommended amount of physical activity.

HOLIDAY HEALTH AND SAFETY

These tips from Aramark’s safety experts will keep safety top of mind when preparing a holiday feast.

  • Wash your hands. Hands must be washed AFTER using the restroom, coughing, sneezing and handling raw foods and garbage. Always wash your hands BEFORE starting to prepare food and in between tasks. Handwashing is critical to preparing safe food.
  • Thaw frozen food properly. It is recommended that a refrigerator is used to thaw frozen food, so plan ahead. For every 5 pounds (2kg 270g) of large frozen food, allow 24 hours of refrigerator thawing time. Place the food in a tray or container deep enough to collect any draining fluids to prevent contamination of other foods in the refrigerator.
  • Use proper cooking temperatures. Cook raw meat products to the minimum internal temperatures as stated on the product packaging. Insert a thermometer (digital is preferred) at several spots including the thickest part of the meat. Achieving the proper internal minimum cooking temperature is critical to preparing safe food.
  • Store and reheat leftovers safely. Leftovers must be cooled to below 70°F (21°C) within 2 hours, and then to 41°F (5°C) or below within 4 hours. Large items should be broken down into smaller items by either physically breaking items apart or placing the item in multiple small shallow containers. Keep refrigerated leftovers for 3 days from initial cooking or freeze for longer storage and reheat leftover food once to 165°F (74°C) for 15 seconds.

HEALTHY MENU IDEAS

It’s possible to eat healthy during the holidays without FOMO, or a lot of effort. Here are some favorite recipes from Aramark and the American Heart Association that will bring new flavors and twists on holiday favorites to your table.

Visit www.fyp365.com for more holiday tips and healthy recipes.

Stories of Suicide and the Faith Community

Stories of Suicide and the Faith Community

Video Courtesy of NBC Nightly News


The idea of suicide is absolutely unthinkable to most. However, if you look at it through the eyes of someone in the darkness of depression, the anxiety of schizophrenia, the confusion of bi-polar disorder and so many others, many people may consider ending it all to have peace.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among Americans. However, mental health is nothing new in the black community, and those who are suffering silently may not always feel that they have a welcoming seat at the table to be comforted or healed.

Mental health is sometimes undermined in the Black community because those who have suicidal thoughts feel that they may be considered “insane” or too weak to withstand life’s circumstances. And then, there are those within the faith community who may say that dealing with suicidal thoughts is as simple as giving it to God or “pray it away.”

But what happens when you’re a Christian and still suffer from mental illness and suicidal thoughts? And what is the church’s role in helping these people?

Josceleyne’s Story

Josceleyne, 28, had a late diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Amidst the diagnosis she injured her back, lost her job, and lost her insurance; however, she continued to pursue her Master’s degree while being loved by her loyal husband and children.

Due to her sudden loss of income, Josceleyne accrued more student loan debt and extremely was anxious about her financial stability. As a result of all she was going through, Joscelyne, a devout Christian, turned to her pastor for assistance and didn’t receive the response she was expecting. She also felt a lack of emotional support from her church family after her diagnosis, due to what she believed was a lack of understanding, according to family members.

And like others before her, Josceleyne was told to “pray harder,” instead of seeking professional help on how to cope with her current situation.

As time went on, Josceleyne began to take a combination of pain medication to subdue the wrenching back pain and sleeping pills because of her insomnia. Then, one night she accidentally overdosed on her medications and ended her life.

Josceleyne’s family says there was an overwhelmingly negative response to her accidental death that included gossip on her mental state, speculation on why she did not hand her issues to God, and limited support from the community.

Often, the stigma of mental illness in the Black community is that it is a personal issue, not a result of chemical imbalance. However, when people have cancer or other incurable diseases the community may offer sympathy and prayer. There is nothing immoral about seeking medical attention for those ailments, so why would there be criticism for incurable, mental illness?

As Christians, we cannot place the burden on those who suffer. According to Ephesians 6:18, we are told to “be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.”

“Don’t Give Up Like Me.”

Often, members of the black community are raised to avoid cracking under pressure and staying strong even in the midst of chaos. So, mood disorders, such as depression, are viewed as a weakness instead of an illness, which often leads to thoughts of suicide.

Angie, an educated woman in her 20’s, knows this story all too well.

Just a few years ago, her budding, post-recession career was falling apart repeatedly, along with her long-term relationship. And although she appeared to have it all together, she lived just above the poverty line.

As a result of all that was going on, and despite her prayer and praise, Angie finally gave up hope. She made peace with ending her life because she got tired of repeatedly failing, being poor, and felt like a waste of God’s time. Upon making her decision she called her best friend, Elle, and said, “Don’t give up like me. I can’t do it anymore, but you can make it. Just don’t give up.”

On that day, Elle immediately became one of God’s vessels by crying with Angie, discussing her decision, offering encouragement and pushing her to get back up. Then, Angie received additional support from her cousin, Dylan, who sat up with her well into the night to bring her to the source of pain so she could begin to heal.

Soon after, Angie reluctantly went to her pastor and feared condemnation, but instead her concerned pastor simply asked, “Why.” And, even after she explained all of her reasons for wanting to end her life, Angie’s pastor offered both scripture and words of encouragement during her time of need.

Angie says that having Elle, Dylan, and her pastor allowed her to know that nothing was greater than love, especially self-love, which is an extension of God’s love.

How many of us have already written our mental obituaries with the headline, “Don’t Give Up Like Me,” because it was assumed that no one would be there to help us? Is it truly better to suffer alone when we are all a part of God’s family?

By bringing the issue to the forefront, it will help to erase the stigma, recognize the signs/symptoms, and create an avenue of help for those who are suffering.

Ways to Help Those Suffering from Mental Illness

  • Establish an understanding of what mental illness and mood disorders really are
  • Consider establishing resources right there in your church, including in-house training for staff, informational videos and pamphlets for parishioners.
  • Invite speakers who have survived mental illness to come in and speak to members of the congregation.
  • Consider preaching sermons on mental illness and mood disorders.
  • Organize events centered around mental health
  • Provide resources that will connect those in need with the right programs and medical professionals.

Available resources and support for people with mental illness

Sit, Heal: Dog Teaches Military Med Students The Merits Of Service Animals

Sit, Heal: Dog Teaches Military Med Students The Merits Of Service Animals

Brelahn Wyatt, a second-year medical student, hugs Shetland, a half-golden retriever, half-Labrador retriever who also happens to be a lieutenant commander in the Navy and a clinical instructor in the Department of Medical and Clinical Psychology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. (Julie Rovner/KHN)


The newest faculty member at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences has a great smile — and a wagging tail.

Shetland, not quite 2 years old, is half golden retriever, half Labrador retriever. As of this fall, he is also a lieutenant commander in the Navy and a clinical instructor in the Department of Medical and Clinical Psychology at USUHS.

Among Shetland’s skills are “hugging” on command, picking up a fallen object as small as a cellphone and carrying around a small basket filled with candy for harried medical and graduate students who study at the military’s medical school campus in Bethesda, Md.

But Shetland’s job is to provide much more than smiles and a head to pat.

“He is here to teach, not just to lift people’s spirits and provide a little stress relief after exams,” said USUHS Dean Arthur Kellermann. He said students interacting with Shetland are learning “the value of animal-assisted therapy.”

The use of dogs trained to help their human partners has ballooned since studies in the 1980s and 1990s started to show how animals can benefit human health.

But helper dogs come in many varieties. Service dogs, like guide dogs for the blind, help people with disabilities live more independently. Therapy dogs can be household pets who visit people in hospitals, schools and nursing homes. And then there are highly trained working dogs, like the Belgian Malinois that recently helped run down Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Shetland is technically a “military facility dog,” trained to provide physical and mental assistance to patients as well as interact with a wide variety of people. His military commission does not entitle him to salutes from his human counterparts.

Although service dogs are commonly seen at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Shetland, a retriever mix, is a clinical instructor in the Department of Medical and Clinical Psychology.

Although service dogs are commonly seen at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Shetland, a retriever mix, is a clinical instructor in the Department of Medical and Clinical Psychology.(JULIE ROVNER/KHN)

“The ranks are a way of honoring the services [of the dogs] as well as strengthening the bond between the staff, patients and dogs here,” said Mary Constantino, deputy public affairs officer at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

USUHS, which trains doctors, dentists, nurses and other health professionals for the military, is on the same campus in suburban Washington, D.C., as Walter Reed. Two of the seven Walter Reed facility dogs — Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Sully (the former service dog for President George H.W. Bush) and Marine Sgt. Dillon — attended Shetland’s formal commissioning ceremony in September as guests.

The Walter Reed dogs, on campus since 2007, earn commissions in the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines. They wear special vests designating their service and rank. The dogs visit and interact with patients in several medical units, as well as in physical and occupational therapy, and help boost morale for patients’ family members.

But Shetland’s role is very different, said retired Col. Lisa Moores, USUHS associate dean for assessment and professional development.

“Our students are going to work with therapy dogs in their careers, and they need to understand what [the dogs] can do and what they can’t do,” she said.

As in civilian life, the military has made significant use of animal-assisted therapy. “When you walk through pretty much any military treatment facility, you see therapy dogs walking around in clinics, in the hospitals, even in the ICUs,” said Moores. Dogs also play a key role in helping returning service members with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Students need to learn who “the right patient is for a dog, or some other therapy animal,” she said. “And by having Shetland here, we can incorporate that into the curriculum so it’s another tool the students know they have for their patients someday.”

The students, not surprisingly, are thrilled by their newest teacher.

Brelahn Wyatt, a second-year medical student, said the Walter Reed dogs used to visit the school’s 1,500 students and faculty fairly regularly, but “having Shetland here all the time is optimal.” And not just because of the hugs and candy.

Wyatt said the only thing she knew about service dogs before “is that you’re not supposed to pet them.” But Shetland acts as both a service dog and a therapy dog, so he can be petted.

That helps medical students see “there’s a difference. What does that difference look like in the health care setting?” said Wyatt.

Like his colleagues Sully and Dillon, Shetland was bred and trained by America’s VetDogs. The New York nonprofit provides dogs for “stress control” for active-duty military missions overseas, as well as service dogs for disabled veterans and civilian first responders. Many of the puppies are raised by a combination of prison inmates (during the week) and families (on the weekends), before returning to New York for formal service dog training. National Hockey League teams such as the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders also raise puppies for the organization.

Dogs can be particularly helpful in treating service members, said Valerie Cramer, manager of America’s VetDogs service dog program. “The military is thinking about resiliency. They’re thinking about well-being, about decompression in the combat zone.” Often people in pain won’t talk to another person but will open up in front of a dog. “It’s an opportunity to start a conversation as a behavioral health specialist,” she said.

While service dogs for individuals are trained to perform both physical tasks like picking up dropped items and emotional ones like waking a veteran having a nightmare, facility dogs like Shetland are special, Cramer said. “That dog has to work in all different environments with people who are under pressure. It can work for multiple handlers, it can go and visit people, can go visit hospital patients, can knock over bowling pins to entertain or spend time in bed with a child.”

The military rank for the dogs is no joke. They can be promoted ― as Dillon was from Army specialist to sergeant in 2018 ― or demoted for bad behavior.

Said Kellermann, “So far, Shetland has a perfect conduct record.”

Through the Eyes of a Survivor: A Glimpse of Faith, Hope and Healing

Through the Eyes of a Survivor: A Glimpse of Faith, Hope and Healing

Jasmine Nichol Tate

While enjoying a date night with my spouse at the Orpheum Theatre to see “Tyler Perry’s Medea’s Farewell Play Tour,” I met Jasmine Nichol Tate, a young lady with a beautiful smile who was seated next to me. We exchanged pleasantries and chatted a bit before the performance began. She mentioned that she had traveled to this event to celebrate with her mother, who was quietly seated next to her. During the intermission, we continued our conversation. She further shared with me her life-long challenge with Sickle Cell Anemia, but her reason for celebrating this particular occasion was for another issue. Jasmine was recovering from a mastectomy and had just recently completed a series of chemotherapy.

Jasmine was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 23 years old. But on this occasion, she was excited about feeling good enough to take this trip to have fun with her mom. My immediate feeling of sadness had no time to settle in as her engaging smile and excitement charged our personal space. Perhaps she had explained her circumstances too many times before that it resembled a sermonette. I listened to her story with my heart, and this compelled me to seek meaning in her truth. Not only did I realize that any test in life can accompany a blessing, I now know that life’s challenges can renew our spirit bringing lessons and new beginnings. Hopefully, I can share this beautiful miracle and inspiring message in a little neatly wrapped package, as Jasmine managed to do.

Discovery: The Storm 

Simply preparing for what Jasmine describes as an ordinary day, she remembered to do breast self-examination. She mentioned her awareness of the importance of this routine. However, on this specific day, she felt something odd that seemed to be a lump. During a follow-up visit to her doctor who normally treats her for Sickle Cell disease, further inquiries were conducted, but ultimately, she was sent home with no answers. Later as the pain worsened in that area of her body, she knew that what she was experiencing was certainly not normal. It’s as if she developed a sixth sense to visit another doctor, her OB-GYN, as soon as possible.

She recalled having to insist that this medical staff listen and give their full attention to her complaints and concerns. A referral was issued to continue more testing at the Breast Center Clinic, where both an ultrasound and a mammogram were performed. To her surprise, the results were labeled “undetermined.” Unsettled with these findings, she was offered a third option. A biopsy procedure was done. This exam revealed that indeed, there was cancer detected in her left breast. Jasmine explained that on Tuesday, August 1, 2017, the day that she was given her diagnosis, became “the day her life changed forever.” This news was devastating, especially to a Sickle Cell Anemia patient. What else could happen? Where was God in all this?

Treatment: A Turbulent Eye-Opening Experience

There were many decisions to be made regarding the methods for her treatment. Included in her many choices, were the willingness to have faith or fear what was happening to her. One ray of hope which emerged was early detection. Jasmine’s saving grace as a survivor was God’s guiding hands in the ordeal. Critical to surviving was “finding her cancer in its early stages.” She knows that this really does save lives; therefore, routine exams are essential. Even having taken these precautions, she was not spared from the physical and mental agony of a mastectomy and chemotherapy in addition to a flu virus. Her fear of uncertainty lingered with hair loss, recurring bouts with her Sickle Cell disease, and lengthy hospital stays. As if this was not enough, the situation progressed. Her weakened immune system invited a staph infection. According to Jasmine, this was indeed in the “deathbed” category. It invaded her body for some time and caused a tsunami of medical complications. It was the perfect storm that placed her odds for survival unconscionably bleak. Yes, there was a great support system and its benefits, but the battle was personal.

Some storms come with more turbulence than others. At times it may seem that the mayhem within a storm captures our attention even more than the rain or lightning. Likewise, it just may be the havoc that occurs in our minds that causes us to seek shelter — this was Jasmine’s reality. What was totally out of her control had to rest within the shadow of the almighty God (Psalms 91:1). She found herself seeking that secret place in her soul. Realizing that her human reactions to her situation were only human instincts, they voided her thoughts about her purpose in this storm. It took some reflection time, but gradually, she began to embrace a new truth related to her life. As her body was changing, so were her mind’s eyes. Instead of only focusing on her pain and suffering, she felt the need to develop a more positive mindset. Maybe her current crisis was allowing her to learn how to redefine and discover herself as not just sick and vulnerable, but human. Eventually, she could see that her thoughts were helping her to transform purposefully. Perhaps she was not the victim as she had thought, but victorious. Every new day was another miracle of surviving and a reason to be hopeful. From what appeared to be a difficult experience with cancer and its unforeseen twists emerged a path to show her who she really could become and how she could best contribute to humanity. She practiced gaining a clearer focus, which contributed to her will to help others accept and respect the change in life as well. Could it be that through both prayer and praise, God had granted her a gift via her cancer ordeal?

The pain and the uncomfortable treatments continued, and there were many watershed moments, yet she learned that these moments were her body’s mechanisms for mental, physical, and spiritual cleansing. Throughout this healing process, there were revelations of how she could help others with her advocacy. No matter how uncertain things looked on some days, what was certain was that each passing day, she grew in her faith and hoped for a cure. During the discovery of her cancer, she felt that something was wrong. Now at this point, she saw that there was something right happening. By harnessing the realization that healing both from the outside with medicines to inside her mind was rejuvenating. The power of her mind shift was as necessary as the medical treatment that she was receiving.

Recovery: A Glimpse of Sunshine

Today, Jasmine lives cancer-free. Her acceptance of what exists in her life, along with lessons learned to fuel intimate gratefulness to God. The wisdom gained from her experience has become an unexpected welcomed blessing. As a breast cancer survivor, hope in her purpose to encourage others is limitless. Her journey remains a real eye-opening experience proving that everything in life possesses unique meanings. Seeing the world through new lenses helps to appreciate days that are no longer consumed by “what ifs” regarding cancer, but her “what is” concerning her life. For Jasmine, learning to differentiate grief from grace is a continuous part of healing. Somewhere in the middle, she has found purpose in ways that encourage us all to learn to trust our journey and its processes. She urges us to seek wisdom to manage all parts of life through our faith, especially things that we cannot control.

Negativity is its own disease. Therefore, attitude plays a significant role in rising above any challenge, because you can then begin to recognize that in life, everything seems to be a miracle. Jasmine strongly affirms that “I know that I’ve beat breast cancer” as she prepares to complete the next phase of breast surgery to replace a tissue expander with the actual breast implant. Enthusiastically, she says, “being challenged and pushed to my limit developed new perspectives of what is less fatal, but more important.” Her perspective on faith and hope is staying positive and to smile through storms. There is profound meaning in the portion of the Lord’s prayer, which requests God to “give us our daily bread (Matthew 6:11).” This bread for Jasmine represented the gift of empathy in that it is her understanding to see people, things, and circumstances from different points of view. Avoid worrying about issues that rob you of your peace. Teach yourself to let go of stuff not significant enough to hold in your mind-space. It’s only stuff, the extra baggage that may have kept you stressed in the first place. It tends to bring you “peace that passes all understanding” that believers often speak of in (Philippians 4:6-7).

Second, only to trust that God holds the first and last words over our lives, it is necessary to know that education is the key to surviving. Take time to learn about your body, for no one knows its changes, pain, or discomfort better than you. Trust your gut feeling, for it can be God’s message to you. Use both your physical and common senses by remaining persistent, asking questions, and becoming proactive. Remain curious about that which concerns you and learn how to interact with medical professionals effectively. One opinion from a single individual may not be the absolute answer for you. Celebrate you!

This was her reason for traveling to celebrate on the evening we met. At that time, I did not immediately see the scope of the grandness in her bright smile when we encountered each other. Upon reflection, her eyes were like a ray of sunshine, showing me a glimpse into her soul. Her story may seem fairly typical to many, but to me, the richness of meeting her was in divine order. It was a wake-up call filled with life’s truths to ponder from this day forward. As directed in Proverbs 3:5-6, we must remind ourselves to “trust in the Lord and lean not to our own understanding, but acknowledge Him in all things, and He shall direct our paths.”