My Biggest Life Lesson: How Having Cancer Changed My Life: The Diagnosis
"Before you begin reading, this post is divided into sections and updated by me as I enter each phase of healing." - Anesha Collins THE DIAGNOSIS I'd be lying if I said that I debated heavily whether or not I wanted to write about this and share it on my blog. This journey has not been easy, and the hardest part of it has been keeping my emotions off of social media -- which I failed at once already. I never expected to be dealing with an illness like Cancer. I've seen what it can do to one's body and I've taken care of many Cancer patients; who knew I'd be one. Let me just put this out there now before you continue reading, I may ramble in this blog post as I'm not really focused on making it a well structured piece of writing, but simply a window for you to see inside this journey of mine with Cancer.
So, where do I begin? It all started while at a Speaking Engagement in Connecticut. I was full of energy, excited to be there, had a scary flight (the turbulence was crazy), but I arrived safe and sound to JFK. I drove from JFK to the event location, checked in and was super excited to be at the conference. I had already established some online connections with some of the attendees, so I felt right at home. Fast forward three days and one fun night of karaoke, I found myself waking up in a pool of blood and freaking out. I ended up calling 911 because of the amount of blood that was present, called my Mother (who was home in Florida), and finally reached out to another speaker that was present at the conference that I knew I could trust. I was completely embarrassed while scared for my life (all at the same time) because I had no clue what was going on and why I was bleeding so much. By the time the paramedics arrived I was hypotensive (had low blood pressure) and headed to the emergency room: my father Facetimed me to see what was going on.
After multiple diagnostic tests and exams, the emergency room doctor said, "this looks like Cancer." I remember thinking it can't be. I've had no symptoms prior to other than being fatigued and low appetite -- which later on I found out were symptoms. I didn't pay much attention to these symptoms because I'm always working and pushing myself beyond my limits so I associated it with working hard and not resting. By the time I was sent back to the emergency room from the last diagnostic test, my mother was helping me to push my flight back home to an earlier time. I made it back to my hotel room and I simply rested all day. It tormented me that I couldn't speak at the Conference after preparing for several months and having content for each attendee that was specific to their niche. I continued to offer a digital version of my session, but the host (bless her heart) wanted me to rest and take care of myself. I cried in my room because I hate failing and although I had a legit health scare-- I still felt like I let a lot of people down.
My bags were packed and with my car partially covered in snow, I started the rental and prepared myself for a two-hour drive back to JFK from Connecticut. I was tired, but I had to make it. My mother and a few friends that knew what happened checked in on me, but I was starting to feel the fatigue again. By the time I made it to the rental return location, I was ready to get on my flight and head home. When I landed in Orlando, my mother picked me up and we spent the first three minutes riding together in silence. Neither one of us knew what to say because we were both scared, but the silence broke and we began talking. I was scheduled to see my Doctor in two days so I prepared myself for that once I got home.
The Day Everything Changed— Life Pivoted
A biopsy of the area was scheduled and all I knew is that there would be some bleeding and pain soon after -- it hurt a lot post-recovery. My Doctor kept saying it didn't look like anything cancerous, but we still went ahead and did the biopsy anyway. I cried on the table during the procedure as my mother held my hand. I can't tell you in one sentence what ran through my mind in that moment, but I knew that something was wrong and I had to be strong so we could figure it out. A few days later, after calling for test results, my Doctor called and stated that he wanted me to come in immediately. I knew that it had to be something serious and so I called my mother to let her know that I was headed to my physician. Before I could call her back she had left the hair salon and beat me there. We both walked inside and waited until they called me back. I could hear my physician talking in the hallway, but I couldn't fully make out what he was saying. I knew I had something but didn't know how serious it was.
They finally called me back, I sat on the exam table and my Doctor walked in with words I would never forget. He said, "I have some bad news", and closed the door behind him. My whole demeanor changed in that moment. He said, "You have Cancer." I remember feeling like my soul left my body. My mother was sitting to the right of me in a chair. All I could do was sit there and be quiet. He went over what they found and how they know it's Cancer and not a misdiagnosis. I didn't cry in that moment-- I did my very best to listen so I could understand. I did my best to hear everything that he said, but I was also upset. The first question that came to mind was, "Why did this happen to me?" No answer from the universe of course.
As my Doctor shared more details, he himself was shocked because I had been seeing him for some time now and had no evidence of cancerous cells anywhere. I remember him giving me his number and offering to be there for me whenever I needed him, and he also said, "This journey ahead is going to be hard, but you can beat this. Ugh, I f*cking hate Cancer." He then shared a story with me of someone younger that had the same diagnosis. In the moment none of that mattered. I was still in disbelief.
My Doctor left the room to order some STAT diagnostic imaging that I'd need for future treatment. As soon as he left I cried. My mother hugged me and she cried. We both were thinking the same thoughts, but couldn't exchange words. It was as if we were being punked except my diagnosis was real and he had multiple test to back up it's accuracy. The one factor that did make a difference in my treatment and curable ratio is that it was squamous-cell cancer and not adenoma. My mom was on top of things and found a way for me to have the MRI & CT Scan done that same day. She said, “Anesha, we are going to fight. You’re going to hate me but we are going to beat this!” For a brief moment I felt like there wasn’t a reason to fight for my life. How can this be “the end” when I had so much more to do. Then it hit me, I had a wedding to shoot in less than 24 hours. Yup, the next day, but if you know me, Cancer wasn’t going to stop me from what I’ve already committed to.
“Either feed the wolf or be the wolf.”
Still-Shot Captured by AbstractVisuals
So here I was, cameras strapped to my Holdfast Moneymaker and a heated pad (that regulates the heat based on my body temperature), and a determination to rock this wedding like I normally do! No one knew that I was suffering. No one knew that I was in severe pain, but I kept my head up and stayed focused on the mission. Oh and let’s not forget the night before where I had severe pain and bleeding-- I’m grateful for my mother who gave me the meds I needed and laid in bed with me until my pain subsided and I fell asleep.
I arrived at the getting ready location with my game face on, and shot the wedding as if I wasn’t given the scariest diagnosis the day before. My Bride had beautiful bridal details and I was determined to capture them in the most precious way I could. There was laughter in the air and music playing. Normally I don’t find myself singing along to the music in the Bridal suite, but this day was different. It actually helped me to focus even more. By the time I was done shooting Bridal details I went back to my vehicle and made my way to the main venue. What no one knew (except for my mother) was that I cried halfway there. My pain had gotten worse and I felt like crap. But once again, I was determined to override my pain and shoot this wedding in excellence. It also helped that my mom was my cheerleader and reminded me that, “Despite what you were told less than 24 hours ago, here you are committed to your couple. That says a lot.”
To sum this day up, everything went as planned as far as Unashamed Imaging was concerned and I ended the night capturing my couple’s sparkler-exit. That's right-- I was on my feet for over 12 hours with Stage 3 Cancer. I looked over to my right and there was my mother— waiting in the car to take me home. We had a long talk on the way home, but I also received more news about my Cancer that night. What I didn’t mention earlier is that my doctor called me in the middle of heading to the shoot location for wedding party portraits. He wanted to share the good news of, “Yes, it is still cancer, but it’s encapsulated and not spread.”
Hearing this gave me hope, but I knew I still had a treatment journey ahead of me and that I needed to be strong.
“I look nothing like what I’m going through.”
PART II: PAIN & PATIENCE
PART III: I RISE...THE PHENIX
THERE’S FAITH, POWER OF PRAYER, AND SUPPORT! When they all work together that’s when miracles happen!
I know for a fact these three things are the reason why I beat Cancer! Yes, you heard me right! After months and months of aggressive treatment, sweat, tears, and laughter I did it! Right now, I’m a little emotional writing this so pardon me, but I’ve been holding it in (waiting for test results). I could go on for hours on end with how I feel right now, but we all know scrolling is easy so I’m going to keep it as short as possible.
First and foremost, thank you Lord. The many nights I spent crying myself to sleep and waking up crying from fear and uncertainty, you were the only reason I didn’t give up; despite the many many times I wanted to.
Dad - You were more than my rock! You took me to EVERY treatment. Rain or Shine! When I threw up my second day of chemo and you held me up as I kept throwing up, you never turned your back on me. When I didn’t want to take the medications they put me on, you encouraged me and reminded me that I could do this. YOU sacrificed your time for my life. There’s SO much more that you have done that I’m leaving off social media, but if it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t be here! Thomas A. Collins
Mom - Thank you for being my nurse when I needed it and my Mom when I didn’t need a nurse. I know this was hard! I know you cried many nights asking some of the same questions I asked. (I’m crying writing this). I know we had our days when I wanted to tell you to, and told you to, “leave me alone” because I wasn’t feeling well, but you stood your ground and said, “You’re going to hate me. I’m going to push you, but we are beating this!” And WE DID! Together. Paula B Collins
Annys E Fontanez - If God could have given me a blood sister, I would’ve prayed for you. You have shown me what real friendship is, what love is, and how much of a warrior I am! Thank you for coming to EVERY chemo treatment. Even when I was knocked out from the heavy drugs and dehydration, you stayed there the entire time. I have never in my lifetime met a friend like you, EVER! I don’t even know what I did to deserve you, but I am beyond grateful!
To everyone that donated, THANK YOU! I can’t tag all of you, but you know who you are and you blessed me during one of the hardest times of my life.
Carissa Mosley - Makeup Artist, Melissa Cotton, Ruby Justiniano, Natasha Davis, & Datin Berrios- Thank you for being my prayer sisters/brother through this! You guys were my undercover cheerleaders.
Thank you to my brother David T Collins, Delia Collins, & Michelle Spivey (you know why). Yaritza Schneider, Rosie Ramos & Ileana Rivera(my Latin mamas who put fire in my bones to stay head strong)💕
To the people in the wedding industry that reached out or helped me without asking thank you so much - Amanda Schmidt, Tali Gallo, Sarah Leung, Kristen Weaver, Natalie Franke Hayes, Kait Masters, Kit Gray, Rebekah Albaugh, Laura DeCarlo, Nana Annan, Rebekkah Joy Rosado, SeanJoy Alemán & SOOOO many more! I’m limited on tagging people (this sucks) ❤️! P LEASE NO ONE TAKE OFFENSE IF YOU AREN’T TAGGED! No one was intentionally left out!! There were so many of you that kept me lifted up. I can’t tag everyone.
Thank you dear friend Elle Baez for capturing this moment for me and to Jamaica Jacobson for my custom bracelet (see first comment).💕
CALL ME PHENIX, THIS IS MY RISE!!