Weems, who has been an icon in the Twin Cities nightclub and promotions scene for many years is using her local celebrity to promote awareness following her two bouts with the deadly disease. And she is not standing alone. Several women are joining the cause and are telling their stories to hopefully prevent future deaths by promoting regular screenings in efforts of early detection.
“When you hear that word (cancer), it’s just darkness,” said Weems, who was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997. “My first thought was death. I stopped breathing. I literally stopped breathing.”
After getting over the initial shock of the diagnosis, Weems said she found her reason to fight on.
“I started looking at my children and I said, ‘hey, you got to shake this’ and my whole attitude just flipped and I turned myself into a fighter,” said Weems. “I wasn’t going down without a fight.”
According to the effervescent Weems, known for pushing fashion’s limits, she took every negative of her cancer and turned it into a positive. That in turn, transformed her life.
“I made everything a positive – even my bald head. I would go out with my bald head and people thought I was just being fashion forward,” said the two-time survivor, who got a second diagnosis in 2010.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, African American women are more likely than all other women to die from breast cancer. The reasons are their tumors often are found at a later, more advanced stage, so, there are fewer treatment options. The department’s Office on Women’s Health said other reasons for this might include not being able to get health care or not following-up after getting abnormal test results. Also, research has shown that African-American women are more likely to get a form of breast cancer that spreads more quickly.
Thankfully, Tamiko Edwards did not become a death statistic. But putting off seeing her doctor nearly cost her life.
“I found a lump in January of 2009 and I was like it’s a lump, but it will probably go away,” said Edwards. “On the first of April it got huge overnight – about the size of a golf ball.”
Edwards, 36-years-old at the time, said she got the call on April 9, 2009 that she had stage-three breast cancer.
“They called me at work and I just started crying and I thought I’m going to die,” said Edwards. “And I was so upset with myself because I should have had it checked out earlier, but I didn’t and I thought I was going to die.”
Understandably, depression set in for Edwards, but she too found her will to fight.
“I spent a day just praying and I said I’m going to fight this and if I was going to die, I don’t want my daughter (who was 5-years-old at the time) to remember me depressed,” said Edwards. “I made a decision to fight.”
Tamiko Edwards’ husband, Adrian Edwards, gets a lot of credit for helping Tamiko fight on.
“He was amazing,” said Tamiko Edwards. “I don’t think I could have made it through this without him. He was at every surgery, took three months off from work, made me feel beautiful when I felt I looked like a boy – he was just amazing.”
Both Weems and Edwards had double mastectomies – with Weems having hers after each diagnosis and Edwards opting to have both breasts removed following her initial diagnosis.
“It was a hard decision,” said Edwards. “It was hard, but I decided it was better for me. The risk to me was too high.”
And though Weems found her second lump early enough to avoid needing chemotherapy, she chose to have her second breast removed.
“I was on it (regularly doing self breast exams), so when I noticed a lump it was the size of a pimple,” said Weems. “But it was the type of cancer that could spread and I just didn’t want that fear so I decided to have the mastectomy.”
The two survivors said they are speaking out to encourage women to get examined regularly and to let women know breast cancer is not an automatic death sentence. Weems is hosting “Think Pink” on Nov. 10 at The Venue, 315 1st Ave. N, downtown Minneapolis – an event to celebrate survivors and those who have passed due to all forms of cancer. The event is free, but donations are being accepted with donations going to her Love Promotions Foundation, which will use the funds to help children of mothers with breast cancer. Weems said several female promoters and tastemakers are co-producing the event.