When my energy returned after cancer treatment earlier this year, I had a desire to do things, to interact with people. I wanted to spend time with my grandchildren and my family, and I knew I wanted to take tai chi.
That’s because, some years ago, I used to go to Bay Ridge in Brooklyn to have my car serviced. While I’d wait, I would watch seniors nearby doing slow, focused movements — what I later learned was tai chi. And I just thought, “That’s so beautiful, I wish I could learn that.”
I started to take classes in July. Wednesday evenings and Friday mornings I’m at tai chi, come what may. After class, I feel like I’m walking 10 feet off the ground. I walk faster, and I have more energy. It’s good for balance and for memory, because you need to remember the movements. It enhances my spiritual well-being, and makes me feel connected to the other people in the room. Our instructor, Sensei Derrick Shareef, tells us to use our peripheral vision to watch everyone else. The class is doing the slow movements in unity, and it makes you feel like you’re bonded spiritually. It’s like singing in a choir — everybody is a part of the whole chorus and all the melodies merge to make beautiful music.
Before I’d found tai chi and started going to Rochdale Village Community Center in Queens for classes, I’d lost my energy to cancer. When I found a lump on my breast in July of 2014, I had already lost two friends and two first cousins to breast cancer, and I decided to seek alternative means of treatment — I had my doubts about traditional therapy. The tumor eventually grew bigger, and I knew I needed to find out what I was dealing with. A friend recommended her primary care physician, Dr. Jeffrey Vieira at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, who I went to see in 2017. He arranged for me to see oncologist Dr. Alan Astrow, who asked me, like other doctors, why I wasn’t doing traditional treatment, and I told him it was because of those I had lost. Though he wanted me to begin treatment, I was not ready, and we agreed I would come back in two months. In the interim, my family was putting pressure on me because I had lost a lot of weight. I had no energy. I would just sit on the couch and turn the TV on. I wasn’t opening mail; I wasn’t functioning. I prayed about it and something told me to go to my appointment, and that I would know what to do after that.
At the appointment, Dr. Astrow said to me, “Ms. Williams, we are going to …” and then he stopped, and he said, “Ms. Williams, what do you want to do?” What doctor does that? I told him I wanted to see a radiologist and have a PET scan. He got on his cellphone and called Dr. Hani Ashamalla, a radiation oncologist, and he agreed to see me that same day. Dr. Astrow’s nurse walked me across the street to Dr. Ashamalla’s office. He examined me on a Thursday and said of the tumor, “This has to come out by Saturday.” Well, that got my attention. I agreed to see a surgeon, Dr. Raffaele Borriello, and he got on his cellphone and they admitted me. I had triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive type. At that point my cancer had spread to form a mass under my right armpit.
I went through with the surgery in January, and my appetite immediately came back. The nurses were incredible. I never had to ring a buzzer and wonder about where my food or medication was. They were superb. I went through chemotherapy and radiation, and am currently free of disease. I’m also grateful to my plastic surgeon, who did a phenomenal job with my breast reconstruction.
I traveled to my family reunion in Williamsburg, Virginia, this year, and to my cousin’s 30th anniversary celebration, where he and his wife recommitted to their vows. I visited friends in North Carolina. I love to travel nationally and internationally, and intend to plan some trips going forward.
I believe that there is more God has in store for me to do, that he is not ready to call me yet. I am trying very hard to live life as fully as I can as a tribute to my friends and relatives who were trying to do the same thing, who wanted very much to survive, and didn’t. So I talk to them all the time and say, “This is for us.”