An Interview with Cancer Survivor & HIV/AIDS Awareness Activist, Kecia J.
I am so happy to reconnect with you again! It has been a year since our initial interview in April of 2021 for The Q-Chat Podcast, entitled: “Geaux Warrior!” Since I first learned of your story, I instantly developed a deep admiration for your advocacy and transparency. Instead of fighting your battles privately, you have been a brave force using your journey to reach others. As a cancer survivor while living with AIDS for over a decade, what inspired you to create a platform to educate and empower other women?
Oh wow! Thank you so much for those kind words! It was great connecting with you on your podcast a year ago! Boy how time flies, lol but to be honest I do not know any other way to be than open and transparent. Upon being diagnosed with AIDS, I immediately knew that I had to put myself in the forefront as a voice for others who might be battling the stigma behind the disease or who just simply feel like life is over because of a diagnosis! I literally felt like I had the whole world against me when I was diagnosed just within the city I was in and amongst my inner circle, so I was constantly in a whirlwind in my mind that was going to become unhealthy if I did not adopt the mindset that I know that my story is meant to change the lives of others globally!
With your mission, you are saving lives. I recently learned that 1 in 8 Black women will be diagnosed with HIV. In your experience, what are some of the biggest myths and stigmas within our community that we all should educate ourselves on?
Throughout my advocacy work, especially within the HIV/AIDS realm one would be surprised by the many stigmas that I have encountered over the years. From the myths that I can simply breathe on a person and they can come infected; all the way down to there is no way I can have a healthy baby because I am a woman living with AIDS. Once I became a full-fledged educator, it truly blew my mind how individuals think when it comes down to the basics about HIV/AIDS.
What concerned me the most over the years has been the myths and stigmas that are heavily prominent within the black community. The statement that always blows my mind the most is, “Well Magic Johnson paid to get rid of it, so you just gotta have money in order to get the cure!” I mean the craziness that I have come across in terms of comments being made within the culture is bananas! Once I realized that the statements had mostly to do with the lack of education globally, not just within the community, I understood that my willingness to utilize my truth as an educational tool could potentially change the game and the narrative! I have done a lot of research as a living testament to the facts behind HIV/AIDS and partnering with some of the world's top brands in an effort to help educate in an unorthodox way!
Aside from me advocating to help shift the culture, there are many platforms like “U Equals U” that helps educate the masses the simple understanding of an undetectable individual who carries HIV/AIDS CANNOT transmit the virus to a partner or unborn child if they in fact, are in care, taking their antiretrovirals daily and again, UNDETECTABLE! To be honest, I am not the only one who educates and speaks on the facts behind the virus, but I will go on to say that I AM the only one that speaks and educates on the facts, real, raw, uncut with no filter and could care less on any stigma or negative connotations that may come my way in my efforts to do so!
I’m so proud of how much you’ve grown in your recent appearances and events. I know right now your mission is “Cancer Could Neva!” As I mentioned during our initial interview, you are such a warrior. Can you tell the audience more about your cancer battle and what you have learned about your strength and endurance?
Thank you so much for that because honey that cancer battle was NO JOKE! I thought I was a tough chick mentally being in the industry and navigating AIDS, but I had no idea just how powerful I was or the calling over my life until being diagnosed with Stage 4 Colorectal Cancer. Once diagnosed I knew that I had to still keep fighting to shift the culture forward and educate others now on the importance of getting screened for Colorectal Cancer before the age of 55. Prior to being told that I had rectal/anal cancer, I was misdiagnosed multiple times. I was told I had a hemorrhoid, an anal fistula or that I was just having rare side effects from having Covid-19. The pain that I was in, navigating the unknown was excruciating to say the least!
Had I known what I know now, I would have been more prone to ask better questions. Also, I truly believe that as a black woman my voice for saying constantly that I was in pain had been watered down a whole lot. Now, what I will say is that being in the middle of a pandemic did not assist my chances in getting the best healthcare, but nonetheless, my pain was definitely short changed for at least a month of going back and forth to seek out an answer of what exactly was going on with me. The best thing that I could do was rely completely on my relationship with God and my faith in order to get the tenacity to keep it moving through one of the toughest times in my life. On August 6, 2020 I was diagnosed, and September 6th I went straight into Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy in order to stop the cancer right in its tracks and prevent any more tumors from forming. The whole process went so fast that it seemed as if I had no way of even gathering my thoughts through the whole life changing ordeal. The treatment was so vigorous and aggressive that it caused second-degree burns below my waist and the pain was so profound that there was not one form of drug that they tried to give me in the hospital that would work. I had a whole palliative care team and they all were at a stopping point to prescribe me anything due to the level of pain I was navigating. After everything that I battled during my time with cancer it showed me just how much my relationship with God has truly called me to do a serious thing in this life and I must oblige and fall in line accordingly.
What has been your proudest moment since you began your mission as an advocate?
One of my proudest moments within my advocacy has to be when I took over KeKe Palmer’s, “Love is the Gag” Snapchat! That was so pivotal to me because there were so many walks of life tuned in to listen to my story and also be educated by MY STORY! After going live on numerous occasions on the platform I had men from prison, and a plethora of men and women from all walks of life thanking me for my transparency and wanting to learn more about HIV/AIDS. It was so refreshing to see! I had no idea that that many people would be tuning in. For me, that was a groundbreaking moment to have men from a prison in upstate New York say to me that they had no idea that a person with AIDS could live so vibrantly like me. During that moment in my advocacy, I knew that I was doing exactly what I was ordained to do! I had individuals from all walks of life calling, reaching out to me saying how happy they were that they ran across my story because they had been battling living with HIV for years and felt like life was over. Once I began to receive messages of that magnitude, I knew I had struck educational gold! The same effect happened when the Shaderoom posted me as their morning inspiration a few times. I had so many walks of life in my DM’s telling me how inspired by me they were and that they wished there were more people like me sharing my story on platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and etc. For me, those are the moments I am most proud of because I was able to reach the masses and change lives through my transparency!
With your health battles, can you offer some insight on what we can do as Women of Color to practice preventative measures to take better care of our health? I know there are a number of cancers in which early detection is key.
As women of color it is very imperative that we put our health first not just when we feel as if something is wrong, but at all times. Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I did everything I could to eat healthy, workout and do all the proper self care work that I knew how to do and even that was not enough to prevent me from enduring colorectal cancer. However, we must remember that I also have a compromised immune system and because of that I was prone to certain cancers that most would not be privy to. For the most part I would encourage women of color to be conscious of what you are putting in your body. Understand that you can do your part to detox, cleanse and provide your body with the balance that it needs to help fight off certain free radicals that aid in causing various cancers. I also feel that as women as a whole we get so caught up into what tastes good instead of taking in what is good for us. That is very key especially if you have underlying issues that already take away from your overall health. We as women of color must also realize that stress also contributes to our overall health and magnifies the effect of certain cancers or other health ailments for that matter. Self-care is more than just taking a break from social media, or going to the spa! The act of loving up on self starts in your mind and transcends to the actions that you display when caring for your body. Please remember that your body will be sweet to you if you love up on it! Lastly, learn to eat or drink your way to healing. No, I am not a doctor, but I can tell you from experience that there are various foods that you can intake to help with healing and help prevent various cancers as well.
In addition to my previous question, safe sex is another layer of preventative measures that is still not practiced regularly. In your advocacy mission, do you find that some people still have a mindset that contracting HIV is something that won’t happen to them due to certain stigmas or false stereotypes? Or simply lack of education?
For years I have gone from city to city advocating and one of the things that I hear the most is that individuals did not grow up with being educated on sexually transmitted diseases; they were instilled on the firm stance to not bring a baby home! I say that to say, many people who are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS or other STDs not only just lack the education in the midst of putting themselves at risk, but they also had no one to educate them during the adolescent stage of life. Many within the black community simply do not take the time to have conversations with the one that they are looking to engage with. We live in a time where being overly sexual is what is advertised no matter where we are, especially if you spend most of your time on social media. People are quick to be fulfilled with instant gratification that people act now and worry about the consequences later.
Believe me when I tell you that I have heard it all over the years and the unsettling part is that many truly feel like that they would rather be unprotect-ed than protected. I do believe in order for us as a whole to see a true shift and change we must meet the masses where they are in our advocacy. That means connecting through social media with creative collaborations and partnerships! We as advocates MUST stop advocating amongst ourselves. It is imperative that I go where others will not go to speak my truth and utilize myself as a vessel to help educate the masses on a matter that is truly hindering the numbers within the culture and those rates are a detriment to black women!
You have such a strong energy presence that comes with you wherever you go. How do you remain positive?
My positivity comes simply from the fact that I AM STILL HERE! Every day I wake up, I know that it is a reason that I must take every day and keep fighting forward. The cards that life has dealt me, I could have easily given up a long time ago, but that has never been an option for me. To be positive in life means to wake up daily with an outlook that is greater than anything negative that you might be facing at that moment of time in your life. Because I wake up every day and choose life and happiness; I will forever be grateful while walking in positivity!
If you had to choose some positive affirmations to live by that have guided you along your path, what would they be?
Awesome question! It is funny that you ask that because in my new book, “Cancer Could NEVA”, I have several affirmations in there that will help readers navigate certain traumas that they may be facing or have encountered in their lives. One of the main affirmations that will always have and always will reign true to me is “I AM POWERFUL”. That one is literally the foundation that I stand on because understanding the power that you possess will be one of the most monumental things that you will ever do; especially as a black woman. Oftentimes we sleep on ourselves and sleep on the power we have inner access to the point that we do not manifest all of the great things that God has in store for us. When you DO NOT understand your power, it is very easy for someone to come in and be the navigation system to your life because again, YOU do not understand YOUR power! Another one that helps tremendously is, “I AM Healing”! That one is something serious because the world we live in perpetuates the idea that we cannot allow ourselves grace and once something happens to you, life is over and you are ruined! In actuality you are grating and healing. Every experience that you endure in life is not happening to you, it is happening FOR YOU! This journey of life is about growth and understanding that healing is an amazing thing because we ALL have nuggets and things that we must heal from in order to truly live a purposeful life!
Another title that you wear proudly is being a MOTHER. How has being a mother contributed to your drive and purpose to serve others?
Journei, my JOURNEI! She was literally a gift from God because she is a walking little me, lol! The idea in her head is that “I am the boss and I run the world and YOUR WORLD”, is completely true. Seeing her face every day has been the biggest contributor in the fight that mainly got me through my battle with cancer. Once I found out I was pregnant, it was almost immediately that I made massive changes in my life. From the changing of my circle to tightening up my business ventures to even assessing myself as a woman; I truly took the time to make sure that I was doing all I could to become a better version of myself even before she got here. Being a mommy is an awesome feeling because this little human loves you regardless of what the world may view of you or what you may even think of yourself. Journei is the most dramatic little human that I know but looking at her I see so much of me that I can laugh and love her that much more!
As her mom, it puts that extra sauce on my world of advocacy because again, I have always heard people say that they felt it was impossible for a woman living with AIDS to give birth to a healthy baby. To move around the world of HIV/AIDS and now cancer, I feel so empowered speaking and letting people know and see that not only is it possible, but it is here live and in color baby!
Also, what challenges have you faced being a mother while juggling being an advocate as well as needing to take care of your health. I can imagine you have a full plate. How do you manage everything with being a mother to a young daughter?
It has definitely been challenging to say the least! During my cancer battle I realized how much I had to navigate with my health and being a mommy. Most of what I have to juggle has mainly to do with the energy level that is needed to complete the tasks as a mother, but also allow myself the grace and space for the healing of my body. Living with AIDS and having a family, being a homemaker, businesswoman and brand was not challenging because I just kind of fell in line. The disease does not affect my body in terms of mobility. However, after being diagnosed with colorectal cancer, having to undergo such aggressive forms of treatment had a major effect on my body to the point where now I have to maneuver using a cane or a walker. Now, the way I organize my day, run my business and brand has to be based on the energy that I have throughout various moments of the day because my body is still in a state of healing from cancer treatment.
To be honest what helps me navigate is I am very firm on how I start my day and conduct the synergy in my home. I start my days promptly at 4am, then I cleanse with a salt bath, go straight into prayer and meditation and close out my morning routine with yoga. By starting my day with power and on a certain energy level, it helps my mind and body follow the rest of the tasks that I must navigate throughout the day. Even when I am on the road with my brand, I keep that same routine and energy while being a vessel to others while manifesting all my dreams!
You also share a mission that is equally important to me and that is self love. It is so important for women to embrace self love in order to live a full life. You have gone through a lot in your life. How has self-love played a role in your evolution as a woman?
Let me say this…..self-love is the key player, Quarterback and apart of the blueprint to getting through a lot of what life will throw at you here on this earth. Without the love for self it will leave you to accept a lot of scenarios that you would not accept if you truly knew your value and worth. For years I thought I knew what self love was in terms of looking the part. High heels, nice ensembles, designer bags and luxury cars were all representations of a self love ideology in my head; until I truly realized that all of those material things have nothing to do with the core of SELF LOVE! As I have evolved in life I understand that self love is about how you treat yourself mind, body and spirit. How do you speak to yourself? How are you allowing others to speak to you? What are you putting into your body and that means food wise and partner wise if we want to be real about some things! SELF LOVE is a lifestyle and a mindset and until you embrace it fully, the dots of life will not connect the way they need to!
Let me tell you, I had not realized how much stigma that stood in front of mental health issues within the culture until I started to engage more heavily in dialogue about my own battles with mental health growing up. Even as a young girl growing up, I can remember very vividly that in my household growing up, I never heard anyone in my family speak about depression or anxiety and if they came up for any reason it was said that you just should simply get over it, pray about it and move on! What I had a front row seat to for many years as well is within the entertainment industry so many individuals are suffering in silence all for the sake of fame; especially our black women and men. Navigating and seeing how so many within the industry especially the music realm in particular suffered heavily in silence with some of the many belittling ways that the industry tries to dehumanize or over sexualize a woman which leaves them to mentally run this race with self that turns out to be extremely unrealistic. All in all that leads to so many mental health struggles that it leaves many women and men in our culture stuck trying to keep up with an industry's perception of who they should be, not who God has called them to be! It is very unfortunate, but I do know that shifting the culture forward and engaging in more dialogue about the matter will definitely begin to break the wall of stigma down that stands in the way of mental health within the community!
We have already reached the halfway mark of 2022. You have been on your mission for such a long time and you remain an unstoppable force! Cancer could neva! What’s next for the indomitable Kecia J.?
This year has been so amazing thus far! From now being cancer free to the release of my new book, "Cancer Could NEVA” and my empowerment tour that kicked off in Los Angeles with Tabitha Brown as a special surprise guest; needless to say that 2022 has definitely been a pretty dope year. Even though we are just mid-year, I still have so many more things in store that are going to continue to shift not just the culture but the world as a whole. So far we are two cities on my health and wellness empowerment tour and the next stop is Atlanta! That stop will be EPIC and will be in late August. For that particular tour stop I am making sure that I lay out the red carpet because ATL has been such a supporter of mine throughout the years, so it is only right that I do that city right and pay homage to those who have loved me all these years! I am also one of the new ambassadors for the Fight Colorectal Cancer organization so there are going to be so many pivotal events that are going to be taking place with that opportunity that I am super excited to introduce to the world very soon!
There is one project that I am extremely excited about and let’s just say that the world will get to be up close and personal with my story right in their own homes or from any streaming device lol! Let’s just say that it is definitely Kecia J season, and I am wholeheartedly walking towards my purpose and it feels amazing! (c) 2022. S. Armstrong