Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Guest Post: Maimah Karmo is "Fearless"

Maimah Karmo is a breast-cancer survivor and the founder of the Tigerlily Foundation, an organization that educates, empowers and advocates for young women affected by breast cancer. The idea was born after her second chemotherapy treatment, and when she appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show to tell her story, Oprah's advice was emphatic: Maimah must write a book.

So Maimah did. "Fearless: Awakening to My Life's Purpose Through Breast Cancer" (Brown Books, October 2012) is about her transformation, and how she learned that a challenge can be a gift.

"Fearless" is a stunning account of Maimah's upbringing in Liberia—which was uprooted when she was 15 years old, and her family was forced to flee to the U.S.—to living the American Dream, watching it all fall apart with a breast cancer diagnosis, and ultimately, bouncing back.

Today, Maimah has made her mark in the world of breast cancer, and her work has been celebrated everywhere from The Oprah Winfrey Show to Redbook Magazine to ­­­­Good Morning America.

Dedicated to changing the breast cancer landscape, Maimah's goal is to create a legacy of a world free of breast cancer.

You can find out more about Maimah by visiting her at her website, Twitter and  Facebook.

In 2006, I was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. I was 32 years old and had a 3-year old daughter. When I had initially gone to the doctor, I had been told I was too young to have breast cancer. She performed an aspiration, which was unsuccessful, but she insisted that I come back in six months, during which time the lump doubled in size. I began experiencing overwhelming fatigue and night sweats. When I went back, she insisted on a re-aspiration. I pushed for a biopsy. I was diagnosed the next day, then found out I had aggressive breast cancer. While undergoing my second round of chemotherapy, I kept asking God why this was happening to me; I was so afraid of the future. I learned that approximately 11,000 young women get diagnosed and approximately 1,100 of those women die because they are mis-diagnosed. I thought of how many other young women were going through what I was experiencing. One day, I began thinking of what I could do to make a difference, instead of looking to someone else to make a change. I prayed about it and the next day, the vision for Tigerlily Foundation was born, with a mission to educate, advocate for, empower and provide hands-on support to young women – before, during and after breast cancer. What started as a promise and a dream is now a nationwide organization reaching thousands. Tigerlily Foundation provides education and empowerment to young women and their families, we educate healthcare practitioners, provide peer support to newly diagnosed young women, send young women in treatment breast cancer buddy bags, meals, pay their bills, and provide support to young women living with Stage 4 breast cancer.

When I founded Tigerlily Foundation, I had no funding, I worked a full-time job, and was a single mother – I still am, but I do it because if it were not for the grace of God and a mother who taught me to do my breast exams at thirteen, I wouldn’t be here. I’m humbled to do this work, because I believe that when one is blessed with life, in some way, we must be of service to others. I do it because I promised God that I would create something that would make a difference in the landscape of young women and breast cancer, and I promised my daughter that I would live – and I meant not just physically, but be truly alive, thereby giving her a legacy that would never die – hopefully an example of the importance of creating the life you want, pursuing your dreams , embracing life, loving the moment and walking along a path because you believe in something deeply, even if you can’t clearly see the way ahead.

Breast cancer floored me, but I made a decision to pick myself up and be even better than before – and I want other young women who are diagnosed to know that they have somewhere to turn, for support, love, and empowerment. I want them to know that they can survive and thrive. I want young women who have not been diagnosed to know that they have a right to life and that they need to exercise their personal power and live their best life today. After breast cancer, I couldn’t just go back to life as usual because, through it all, I found my purpose. It is amazing what can happen when you follow your passion and God-given purpose. I used to tell my friends that I wanted to meet Oprah Winfrey and be on her show. I said it for years – in the way that I do when I want something – I will it to be true. So, in 2008, when the show called and asked me to come on, when I told my friends, they didn’t believe me! A week later, I found myself on the chair next to Oprah and it was amazing. She is so authentic and has a gift of interviewing that makes you feel as if you are the only one in the room. While I was there, everyone kept asking if I had a book. I knew then I had to do it, but my focus on Tigerlily kept me busy.

Years after the show, whenever I spoke at events, people kept telling me to write a book, but I never had the time. I realized this year, that I would never have the time – I would just have to make it, so I took what had once been my journal in treatment, and countless notes, and over three months, finished Fearless: Awakening to My Life’s Purpose Through Breast Cancer. I named the book Fearless because one of the gifts that breast cancer gave me is a knowingness that I can and will conquer anything. I used to think that I was scared of this or that, but I realized that life is made up of beautiful, precious moments and that I need to move into anything that makes me afraid. After I do, I usually find that I’m not afraid of it anymore. I realized after writing Fearless, that I was more unafraid than I thought and for the first time, I could take a look at myself, since I had in a long time, maybe as far back as being a child, untainted by judgment and pre-conceived notions and really love all of me. I hope my book, "Fearless: Awakening to My Life’s Purpose Through Breast Cancer" inspires you too, to be all you can be. You can learn more on my website.

Thanks to PR by the Book for the opportunity to feature Maimah at Chick Lit Central.


hipaa email compliance said...

Nice article. Thank you for sharing. I am looking forward to meeting her.

Shannen Hargrove said...

Fearless is the word I admire. It was a slogan word for the Breast cancer awareness alliance in 2008. My clinic, breast enlargement sydney joined up with other groups. As for Maimah, she does look fierce and could be a champion.