'At 35, I Thought The Lump In My Breast Was A Mosquito Bite. Then I Was Diagnosed With Cancer'

Tamara’s journey inspired her to write books that help diverse families talk about cancer.

10/29/2020 3:15:00 PM

Tamara’s journey inspired her to write books that help diverse families talk about cancer.

Tamara’s journey inspired her to write books that help diverse families talk about cancer.

Tamara with her oncologist, Dr. Carcas.CourtesyAs I went through treatment, I looked for books that would help my husband and I talk to our girls about cancer. But the characters never looked like me or my family.I bought books from all over, but most of them were outdated with dull characters. My family is very diverse, but none of the characters looked like us. I knew nothing about writing a book, but I started to think that maybe I should.

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A pivotal moment came when I began to lose my hair from chemotherapy in January 2015. Just a week and a half after my first chemotherapy infusion and three days before my youngest daughter’s 5th birthday, I started. My daughter’s birthday was princess-themed, so she was going to dress up as a princess with a beautiful dress and long, flowing hair.

CourtesyShortly before her party, I had to tell her, “Baby, I’m really sorry, but Mommy is losing her hair. I took meds for the boo-boo, and I don’t want to go to the party like this, so I’m going to wear a wig.”She looked at me with such deep disappointment and said, “I can’t believe you’re going to look like this.” It broke my heart, but I realized she was just a kid. What she was saying wasn’t coming from a bad place. I thought,

This is a moment where you can share a lesson.I wanted my daughter to understand that hair does not define a person. I’m no less of a mom because I lost my hair and have to wear a wig. I’m no less of a mom because I have cancer.This became the central theme for my first children’s book,

Hair to the Queen!. Over the next several months, my daughters became instrumental in the writing of the story. It became a family project for us.In April 2015, I completed chemotherapy and one year later, I had a hysterectomy to reduce the risk of my cancer coming back. In September 2016, my first book was published. It’s currently available in English, French, Haitian Creole, and Spanish.

Today, I’m an author and advocate for breast cancer awareness, and my little girls have become advocates too.As of October 2020, it’s been six years since mybreast cancer diagnosis, and I show no signs of recurrence. I’ve written two children’s books that empower parents, families, hospitals, and teachers to start the conversation with kids about cancer.

I remember when I was shopping around my book idea, some people told me it wouldn’t take because it wasn’t mainstream to have a Black character, let alone a bald Black woman on the cover of a book. But at the end of the day, I am a Black woman, I had cancer, and I was bald. It was important for me to decide that I wasn’t doing this for mainstream acceptance. Of course, I’d love for my story to be"mainstream," but that wasn’t my story, my truth, or what I wanted my girls to see.

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Tamara at an event to discuss her book, Hair to the Queen!Josue AzorMy daughters had to deal with the realities of cancer at a young age, but I feel confident that the lessons I hoped to impart to them have reached them in a powerful way. Now, they love to wear their pink bows and shirts and spread the word about the importance of breast cancer screenings.

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Thank you for sharing Tamara’s story. Her care team at Miami Cancer Institute is proud to be part of her journey. So inspirational. Terrific read!! Thank you for sharing your story. So glad you are free of this brutal disease. Sadly, there will likely always be someone who says something distasteful, disrespectful, or hurtful. Smile, pray for them, keep writing and be your best you!

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