Cancer + Mental Health Advocacy
Trust your intuition. Question everything. Be your own advocate.
At the age of 19, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a disease which years later still only has a 10% survival rate. That revelation subsequently lead to two surgeries (a distal pancreatectomy and partial gastric bypass), a blood transfusion, 25-pound weight loss and deep, emotional turmoil.
I first suspected something was alarmingly wrong when I began experiencing severe lower back pain and a constant, throbbing in my right side. The throbbing felt like a swift kick; almost like someone was continuously punching me in the ribcage. At first, the pain would only occur when I would stand for long periods of time, and then it decreased to shorter stints. Soon, even standing in line at the grocery store became painful.
The full story of my cancer diagnosis, treatment, recovery and redemption was written (and shared) by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, as well as recorded by "Amplifying Black Voices Across Cancer," a digital initiative aimed at lifting, and shedding ligh,t on the lived experiences of Black patients, loved ones/caregivers, and advocates across all of cancer.
"Amplifying Black Voices Across Cancer" was produced by the Count Me In-Cancer Program and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard - and you can watch my video interview by clicking on the image below.
However, the most important aspect of my cancer experience, and what I want to communicate to others, was HOW I was diagnosed.
After my first doctor's visit, I instinctively knew that it was more serious than what my doctor (at the time) encouraged me to believe. I requested an MRI soon afterwards, but was denied due to my young age. However, six months later, after repeated doctors’ visits, requests for more tests and pushing hard for real answers, I firmly put my foot down. I demanded an MRI, and when my doctor called to give me the results, all she said was: "Turns out, there was something wrong with you."
Now, I use my voice and my experience to educate, motivate and inspire others — especially BIPOC and the LBGTQIA community — to be their own advocates, and take responsibility and control over their lives (and their health).
As someone who is also on the path to grad school and becoming a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), I'm also a strong supporter of prioritizing mental health.
One of my goals, as both an artist and mental health professional, is to develop a protocol or direct pipeline to mental health services at record labels, management companies, talent agencies, and film production studios. I also plan to offer art and equine-assisted therapy.
If you would like to get in touch with me regarding interviews, public speaking or other advocacy-related endeavors, please email me at Hello@MissBellaGraham.com.