“We have to make it known to people that we are not just a patient,” said Michelle Anderson-Benjamin, CEO of the Fearless Warrior Project, who received a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer in 2022.
Advocacy has always been a way of life for Michelle Anderson-Benjamin, CEO of the Fearless Warrior Project, an organization which, according to its website, works to “empower, inspire and coach communities of color affected by cancer and to help their families find their superpowers within.”
“My dad was a cop, my mom was heavy into politics even to this day, she was the tenant association president for (like) 500 years, and … I grew up in that environment,” Anderson-Benjamin said. “So, I've always been told and taught to speak up for myself.”
When she received a diagnosis of stage one triple-negative breast cancer in September 2020 shortly after earning her master’s degree in healthcare administration management, Anderson-Benjamin, a mother of two children who are now 17 and 7, confronted the issue head-on.
“One thing I am proud of myself of being is a person of resilience because I knew from the appointments and the repetitive back and forth — every day was a new appointment, another biopsy — and the way the conversation language changed, I kind of was able to prepare myself somewhat (for) what could be my outcome,” she said. “So, when I got the initial diagnosis, it wasn't like a blow to the heart. It was kind of like, 'OK, this is what it is. Take your moment, you have your breakdown. And when you lift your head back up, it's game time.'
“So, I came to that appointment prepared for whatever the outcome would have been. And once my doctor told me that, he stepped out of the room for a little bit to give me a minute. When he came back, I had my binder ready with (information on) oncologists, surgeons, (containing) the research that I've done on triple negative and was ready to have a business meeting. It gave a different approach of being determined to take the driver's seat in your care and your life.”
Treatment with surgery to remove both breasts and chemotherapy followed. In 2022, Anderson-Benjamin learned that the cancer had metastasized, and she received a diagnosis of stage 4 breast cancer.
“That was a different blow, right? Because I'm like, 'OK, my kids were starting to get their mom back.’ I was starting to get my groove back as far as how I bounce around and how I move around, and now I got to have another conversation with my family about some new stuff that's happening. This particular time, I wasn't fully prepared for it, but me basically being the person that I am, I had to really do a deep dive for myself. And what I appreciate about how I personally looked at this is that throughout my journey, I was a student to a lot of different things. I took a mental health course, became a mental health coach and advocate. Although that is a course that can help me help others, it really helped me first.”
She collaborated on three books, worked with her daughter to launch the Fearless Warrior Project and remained a vocal public advocate for fellow patients, featuring in a 2023 installment of the #MyLifeisMyLegacy video series on the YouTube channel of the Tigerily Foundation and on the cover of the Summer 2023 issue of My Life Matters magazine presented by the Tigerlily Foundation and Elephants and Tea.
“It hurt, like it really hurt, but it was kind of my mind notion of me looking at life from our perspective, that we sit on these ideas in our head all the time, and we write down all these goals that we want to have, and we assume we have time,” she said. “And sometimes (stuff) happens to you where it shows you time is not promised. So why are you wasting it?”
Now 40, she spoke with CURE® about some of her advice for fellow patients, particularly those from communities of color about how every person with cancer is “not just a patient.”
One of the things that I tell people all the time is that especially for communities of color, sometimes we are spoken to in a way that can make it seem like things are out of our reach. And although my doctor's not that way, I know of doctors that have been that way. And I know of patients that have felt that way. Everything can happen if you really want it to, it's just there might be a different way it's got to get done. And sometimes we have to make it known to people that we are not just a patient. Like I am truly grateful and blessed with the team that I have. But I also know and I (have) heard of horror stories from other women and men that have been through the worst experiences ever. At the end of the day, knowing who your team is, is what matters and making sure that your team is your right fit. It's like being in a relationship if it ain't gonna work out ain't gonna work out. Let it go. Like 'Frozen,' let it go.
Transcript has been edited for clarity and conciseness.
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