T minus 17 days until we Unmasque Cancer in LA! Today, we welcome Jahcobie to the blog. His is a powerful story of struggle, survival, and determination to keep moving forward. We are grateful to have him on our Unmasque planning committee and in our Samfund family.
No matter where you are, you can #UnmasqueAndUnite with us! Light a tribute candle, change your profile picture, or make a donation to Unmasque Cancer and The Samfund here. LA friends, hope to see you in person in a few short weeks!
If you ask most people who know me outside of The Samfund they’ll say things like I’m strong, funny, a character, passionate, fierce. If I talk to The Samfund founder Samantha Watson and she asks me how I am, I’m a bit more truthful. Since my diagnosis in Spring/Summer 2009 – while ending my first year of college, as the first generation graduate in my family – I’m inclined to let down my wall a bit more with her. I tell her how I’m hurting because my cancer comes up constantly in ways I couldn’t even imagine.
In the last year of my treatment for Stage 4 Nasopharyngeal, I was the archetype of the astrological sign, Taurus. Stubborn, bullheaded, determined, passionate, loyal to a fault, and fiercely emotionally connected to my heart which has constantly stood the test of tragedy and bad news. Cancer for me has been such a roller coaster and I’m learning from my Samfund survivor friends that it never goes away.
Cancer, which I’d thought I would die from, taught me a sense of home and space. I was staying at a friend’s family house who’d I met in college. It was there I learned more about the notion of family, love, creativity and the foul reality of having cancer. Cancer is not sexy, it eats away at every liberty of the human body and mind that we take for granted. Looking back at my journey during this time I wouldn’t wish cancer upon the worst people who’ve ever walked this earth. The motor and basic life skills I’d learned many times were no longer there. I roller coastered in and out of depression, anxiety and I’ll admit honestly wanting at many times cancer to take me out of my life.
Deep down in the depths of my stomach, heart and mind, I’d found reasons to fight. I found reasons to be a warrior- CalArts, being a student trustee, finding my tribe of friends that accepted this gay Dorchester/Roxbury/Mattapan-raised black young man lit a fire in me.
I first moved to Santa Clarita from Boston with a duffle bag and a couple of hundred bucks to help pay rent for a month while I started my freshman year at Walt Disney-founded CalArts. I lived with five women of various ages, economic classes, ethnicities, and personalities, two of whom would go on to become my backbone as my cancer spread to my brain. I would pass out with severe sensitivity from light, my neck and head stopped being able to move and my nose would bleed. Often you would find me in a cave-like space with light barely able to escape into the room. I forced a few of my friends into complete silence about my illness because I was ashamed of what was going on. Little did I know these two strong young women would stand by my side, love me for the mess I am at times and I would teach them lessons that came from my adversities. We won’t even get started on the “break out of the hospital” mission I led my friends through trying to be diagnosed correctly.
I unmasque because cancer is the most violent disease in the world that does not discriminate. As I meet other young adult survivors through The Samfund I finally have the chance to learn how to survive. I unmasque because I’m so tired of feeling ashamed about cancer when it taught me work ethic, endurance, how to connect with people and handling life on life’s terms.
I unmasque for the K-S family who’ve changed the way I look at my life and family.
I unmasque for the many chairs in Cedar Sinai’s infusion center that grew empty while I fought to stay in school and beat cancer. The numbness that came over me time and time again when a new friend, a veteran, a lost young adult, a newlywed etc., would never have a chance to sit down again next to me.
I unmasque because I’ve learned through The Samfund community that cancer is my greatest asset and not a liability.
I unmasque for the friends who drove, picked me up from treatment, and did a cancer catwalk with me to sit at the most scenic view of the hospital patio.
I unmasque for the people who became my family, who took me in when I refused to put aside my dreams to be the first college graduate in my family. I was lucky to learn true brotherhood and lil’ sisterhood and meet two incredible parents who taught me it’s okay to cry, to set life up on your own terms and own your choices.
I unmasque for my mother who I became closer with and always reminded me to be honest, keep my passion alive and not be afraid of the resilient warrior in my heart.
I unmasque for the many cancer survivors who chose to pass on with pride in their struggles/journey with this monster and shared with me stories of their epic lives. Without y’all cancer would have taken me. Rest In Power #4SW
I unmasque for my hometown of Boston. I’ve been blessed to be so connected artistically, professionally and personally. Never could have dreamed TC Squared, Schaffeled & family, and my dear dramaturg Marty Kingsburg would support and inspire me to create raw and honest work about my young adult cancer survivorship
I unmasque for the many people who have believed in me — mentors past, present and in the future who have instilled in me to never give up and keep one foot in front of the other.
I unmasque for the many friendships and relationships I lost due to cancer. I value and acknowledge your role in my journey and will never forget the sacrifices you’ve made.
I unmasque for the many people who have gone, will go through and are going through cancer including the many doctors and professionals that commit their lives to us. Presently here and past we will celebrate and support the many cures for cancer.
Most of all, I unmasque and am only without a mask when I’m with my Samfund community. Sam, without you, my identity as a survivor would be non-existent. I praise your struggle because it’s laid a road for other young adult survivors to walk on, like me. When I question why I continue to give my time to The Samfund, I remember that without y’all I would have never graduated CalArts, got my first part time job and can now keep walking with my head up as a young cancer survivor.
I’m learning it’s okay to unmasque.