Cancer Survivor and life coach Eden Adaobi Onwuka shocked many when she revealed her ordeal with the dreadful disease few weeks ago. On January 7th 2017 , Eden was diiagnosed with cancer and for eleven months she went through intense treatment while also still trying to keep up with her daily activity. In her gripping memoir, I am More Than Body Parts, Eden writes of her experience in real time, right in the middle of her Cancer diagnosis and progression. She shares her daunting journey and how the mindset of being an overcomer has kept her spirit-woman at ease. Eden believes it is possible to be ‘Cancer-ed’ and not cancelled, and like any negative experience life brings, the response of the human spirit plays a pivotal role in restoration.
In her words “After a year of chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, physical therapy, hormonal therapy, countless needle pokes, hospital visits, side effects etc, I realize that daily choosing Joy kept me sane. Empowering others even as I fought the biggest battle of my life has revealed to me the unbreakable strength of the human spirit.
In commemoration of the world cancer month, I bring you the inspiring and life changing story of Courage in despair and Hope in adversity.
It was a beautiful closely knit family with brothers and sisters, born to parents who placed a high premium on education. Dad worked for Unilever, while Mum was an Educationist. Typical post colonial middled class family in Lagos State. I recall Fun trips to the Bar Beach, Amusement park and Trade fair. Then boarding school in a Federal Government Girls College in Kwara/Niger state.
I am the middle child in a family of seven, I have a twin sister and I pretty much love to read, travel and volunteer. I’m easy going and friendly but love my quiet times, that is where I refuel as a creative person. I like to describe myself this way; I am from the East, born in the West, schooled in the North and served in the South, and i now live Western. Funny, but true plot twins. I begun my career with a brief stint at Shell Petroleum and have about 15 years corporate experience in financial services and consulting. Currently with a fortune 500 company and have my own Coaching business, having been certified by John C Maxwell.
The Cancer Journey
On January 7, 2017 I got a phone call which changed many things.
“We’re sorry to inform you that your Biopsy came back for Cancer…”
One word that was very alien to me. With no previous family history of cancer, and being relatively healthy, I was very surprised. I was a new Twin mum, my twin babies were just nine months when I had noticed a Lump and went to the for a routine check-up. A series of consultations later, then the shocking results. Can-cer? I was totally blindsided. Then angry, then sad, then confused. I honestly didn’t see this coming.
“Dear Lord, Why me?”
I let myself internalize this and it didn’t feel good. What do you do with a news like this? When the reality you see as a Positive person has no iota of Positivity in it?
After a few weeks I encouraged myself. I said Eden, ” Your perspective determines your narrative. What you magnify grows, what you simplify goes”. I asked God for strength to help me ‘find’ a Purpose in it. I remained focused on my assignment, hard as the next phases of my life was, I was going to walk in integrity before God regardless.
Today, I stand in awe of God’s grace, strength and power. I stand for everyone who was unable to live beyond their pain. For everyone fighting a secret battle, for everyone shamed by their scars, for everyone overwhelmed by sickness, for everyone silenced by affliction, for every warrior who gained (untimely) heavenly wings.
I decided to write about my journey in REAL-TIME, while going through an intense treatment (Tough): To show through my Story how finding and focusing on Purpose, helped me overcome. And to lend a voice to demystify the stigma attached to any cancer or breast cancer. Because anyone can write after they’re out of a storm, only revelation will make you write in the storm. I wrote to encourage you that you can feel helpless sometimes BUT you must never be hopeless.
After a year of chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, physical therapy, hormonal therapy, countless needle pokes, hospital visits, side effects etc, I realize that daily choosing Joy kept me sane. Empowering others even as I fought the biggest battle of my life has revealed to me the unbreakable strength of the human spirit.
Living and Thriving…
Restoration is a process, so some things take time. I humourosly say, it takes a while to put humpty dumpty back together again. Seriously though, I still have a few residual side effects from treatment like intermittent fatigue, hot flashes, born aches now and then. Then for any survivor of anything not necessarily cancer, surviving is the first aspect, living and thriving is the most important next phase. You grapple with one of the biggest ongoing mental battles, like Joyce Meyer calls it the ‘Battlefield of the mind’. It is in those silent moments when negative thoughts creep in or the enemy whispers to you that you’ll never be whole or pain free or have a full abundant life, that’s when you cant be silent. Therein lies the greatest battle- To embrace a ‘New normal’, and refuse to call it abnormal. Because after you survive, you gotta Thrive!
Inspiration behind my “tell it all” book
So after I received my shocking diagnosis from Kelsey Siebold hospital in Kingwood Texas, I got a second opinion from MD Anderson Cancer center Woodlands Texas, and the reality of it all dawned on me. I started looking for resources, like a book on this journey. Not just the medical info, that was everywhere on the internet, all kinds of fearful info. I was looking for encouragement from someone like me-African, Nigerian who had gone through it and at the time I didn’t find any. Some people blogged about their experiences, others mostly told their stories after everything had become perfect or cancer FREE and they were mostly non Africans like Tiffani Rose and Makosi Musanbasi. I decided to become the answer to a need I had which I believe countless others have or will have. In the early moments of adversity, after their diagnosis, for them to have a resource from someone who understands their journey and is connected to the similitude of their pain. Not theories but a lived experience. A book that peaks to the emotional aspect of this journey that is often ignored: how the mindset of an Overcomer can play a strong role in restoration. That is the why of the book. And i wrote it while going through treatment and battling cancer, when all i had was faith that I would prevail. The title came from a low moment in the beginning of the cancer treatment when the oncologist and surgeons has discussed the possibility that certain genetic results may mean bilateral mastectomy or double boob loss. I had a discouraging moment in the shower where in response to a negative voice of fear I boldly declared “I am more than Body Parts!” Which was based of the scripture that says ” man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes out from the mouth of God, I kept saying to myself, I am more than boobies, I am more than my hair etc. And I believe that we all must get to the place in our identity where nothing external, additional defines us. Our identity must become based on who God already says we are, in alignment to our Purpose regardless. We must work it from inside out. An unbroken spirit, a vibrant soul and hopefully a healthy body. Any other thing is an accessory. Eventually, genetic results were negative and the treatment plan didn’t require a bilateral so we had a segmental mastectomy.
Changed lives. People who try again after they had given up before. In the past 12 months, I have received inbox messages or private calls from four people who changed their minds about ending their lives because they read my Book, or a write up or listened to me speak. Precisely on my last birthday, a lady I haven’t even had the privilege to meet all the way from Nigeria wrote to me, in her words ” Eden, you talked me out of suicide”. That for me is the most compelling reason why I pour into people, coach, mentor or write.
I’ve experienced delays. After youth service 16 years ago waiting for a dream job that didn’t come for 2 years, waiting for a good man when i was in my thirties and the immediate prospects seemed like a joke. Being tempted to adjust my ambitions because of cultural pressure for marriage, thankfully I didn’t. I went abroad for my MBA which has been a long time personal goal, and in a stroke of God’s grace and serendipity my husband met, courted and married me towards the end of my post graduate program, exactly the kind of person I desired who got attracted to the very thing (goal getting/ambition) I had felt pressured to tone down. Last year, I almost ended my treatment when the side effects were uncomfortable. The temptation to give up is part of life. But we never give up because generations are tied to our rising.
Women who inspire me
I have a few, my mum Lady Oby Ike-Udemgba would be number one. Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Pastor Bimbo Odukoya, Bimbo Awosika, The women at Wimbiz and many others who are breaking frontiers in their industry’s. Joyce Meyer and Sherly Sandberg are people whose messages connect with my soul. I recommend them.
I am a Woman of Rubies
A rubies woman is anyone who uses the very things that was meant disempower her, to empower others. One whose confidence comes from a cause greater than herself.
To every woman going through same ordeal…..
Don’t give up on your dreams. Don’t tone down your strengths, don’t make it easy for the glass ceilings or age old barriers to stick, you can have it all, it may require patience, unpopular decisions but walk in the truth of your beliefs. If you fall, get up, if your heart breaks, break boundaries. Whatever happens don’t stay down. Remember, no one can ‘use’ you without your consent, use what used you by learning from it, and growing imspite of it. Cancer survivors or those in the journey, I salute you, stay the course, your purpose is Greater, well beyond your pain. Ladies, please don’t ignore your bodies and mammograms, be proactive about health check ups.