From May (when I was first diagnosed) until early August (when I was discharged from the hospital), I was handling the challenges of being a laryngectomee or at least that was my self-assessment.
In fact, I was anxious to start the next phase, which was radiation and chemotherapy, and expressed those thoughts to my doctors. I figured I had made it this far with success, so I could easily conquer the next level.
What an optimistic knucklehead I was - lol! Easy and conquer were not words to describe my behavior. Instead, I acted like a spoiled brat because I had underestimated how dramatic my reaction would be to the procedures.
Actually, the chemo wasn’t bad for me. I was able to handle the needle poking and the 2-hour infusion time without a problem. I used it to respond to emails, write encouraging text messages to others and take highly restful naps.
But radiation was an ordeal for me. Perhaps because I’m claustrophobic, I just couldn’t adjust to the form-fitting facemask that patients are required to wear during the procedure. Also, I just couldn’t seem to relax before the process despite taking anti-anxiety medicine. It often took the technicians several tries before they could complete what should have been a 5-10 minutes process.
Further confounding me was that other patients - from young adults to sexy seniors - were breezing through the process without a glitch or displaying any of my dramatic behavior.
Anyway, I finally got through it after 6 weeks and only had to reschedule one appointment. So, I finished both treatments on October 22, instead of the originally planned date of October 21.
To celebrate the milestone, my family coordinated a “Ringing the Bell” gathering and invited my friends and colleagues. Using the City of Hope parking lot as the venue, 31 people attended to enjoy cupcakes and witness me ringing the bell that signified the completion of the treatments.
Having such wonderful support was so inspiring and uplifting and introduced me to people that I’ve known for years but had no clue that either they or a family member had been through a similar experience and survived!
I also learned an important lesson, which is: Don’t be afraid to share my experiences with others, including my fears, challenges and happy surprises. You never know who has words to help you deal with what you’re going through.
I don’t know anyone who planned to have a total laryngectomy. I certainly didn’t. In fact, it all happened rather quickly. I was diagnosed in late June, had a biopsy and surgery in July, had a subsequent “cleanup” surgery on August 5 and was released from the hospital on August 8.Fortunately, everything moved so rapidly that I didn’t have a lot of time to freak out at first, that is, until I got home and spent time alone. Then the doubts, fears, disappointments and “what if’s” attacked.
I was only able to survive due to my strong faith in God, my incredibly supportive family, a great network of friends and church members, the wonderful team of medical professionals at USC Keck and the laryngectomees and caregivers support group that I recently joined. Together, they kept me focused on preparing for this new phase of my life, which greatly helped me in fighting depression and embracing my future with enthusiasm.
Recently, my son took me to pick up new glasses and we saw this mural. He suggested posing for photos and since I had on yellow and the lion mural included yellow, the resulting image was a great match! I tried to portray the upbeat, optimistic feeling that I was feeling at the time. I think I conveyed that because many people have shared such kind comments after seeing the photo.
I’m so thankful for all of the support and encouragement that I continue to receive. I highly recommend to anyone who is undergoing a similar experience to seek out positive people who will share uplifting, yet honest, words with you, especially on those “downer” days when you really need a pick-me-up.
If you are a person of faith, hold fast to your beliefs and use this journey to grow closer to your God. Commit to surviving and thriving in this new phase of your life and even if you have a setback, take a day or two to feel sorry for yourself, then resume your positive journey. You’ll be glad that you did and you’ll likely encourage others who are watching you and being inspired by the way you are approaching and overcoming adversity in this situation.
Here is the photo of me in front on the lion mural taken by my son last week:
Cora Jackson-Fossett is the religion editor and a staff writer for the Los Angeles Sentinel Newspaper. In this capacity, she won Merit Awards in 2014, 2017, 2018 and 2019 from the National Newspaper Publishers Association, which is comprised of 215 Black newspapers in the United States.
Previously, she served 15 years as the public affairs director for the Los Angeles Department of Public Works where she developed and implemented strategic communications programs. Also, she directed several award-winning projects and earned five L.A. Emmy nominations for producing public works DVDs. Jackson-Fossett also worked as a principal public relations representative for Los Angeles International Airport and public affairs specialist at the Chicago and Long Beach postal facilities. Jackson-Fossett retired in 2014 after 36 years of government service.
Currently, she is a member of the L.A. County 211 Board of Directors, SEIU 721 Retirees Leadership Council, National Association of Black Journalists, Black Public Relations Society, NAACP Beverly Hills/Hollywood Chapter Theatre Committee and Crenshaw Manor Neighborhood Association. She united with Brookins-Kirkland Community A.M.E. Church in 1987 and currently serves as a Sunday School teacher, Public Relations Commission chair and on the Board of Stewards under Pastor Mary S. Minor. Jackson-Fossett earned a bachelor’s degree at Indiana University, completed graduate courses at Columbia College in Chicago, IL, and received an honorary doctorate from California University of Theology. Her guiding principles are: Have faith in God, approach life with enthusiasm, treat others with respect, and never stop learning.