The Moments That Defined My Decade: Lymphoma, Love, Laid Off

December 31, 2009

To close out the first decade on this new millennium, I took the challenge from My Brown Baby, to write five defining moments of the last ten years. Here goes

"Welcome to the Atlanta Daily World"

I started this decade as a freshman in high school, sure I wanted to be a lawyer or a math teacher during the day and radio dj at night (even had my name . . .Lady Cha Cha which my dad still calls me:). Then I joined my school newspaper staff junior year, because I liked writing and they had long lunches. That summer I did a program with 30 students throughout Atlanta to intern at different companies.

I wanted a law firm.
I got assigned to the local Black newspaper.

After getting over the disappointment, I looked up and was home. From calling companies to place ads to writing local arts stories, I was doing something I could see myself doing for the rest of my life.

I also learned you can't wait for opportunity to knock. I saw Andrew Young and Jackie Reed walking by our office outside, in town for the BET road tour. I ran outside and took photos with my disposable camera, and smiled bright the next week, when those pictures made the front page.

"You have Hodgkin's Lymphoma"
I have been saying I'm going to Howard U. since 8th grade. And I finally made it to my top school, with two of my best friends in 2003. I joined the newspaper staff after emailing the EIC the summer before, too naive to know no freshman were on staff. Sophomore year began, and one of my best friends back home lost her mom to Breast cancer. I came home feeling the weight of life and death. That Christmas break, at my grandmother's urging I finally checked out a little bump in my groin.

And after a biopsy, I got big news. Being diagnosed with cancer at 19, rocked my little world. As my classmates returned for the second semester, my parents drove me up to get my stuff and come home for treatment. Thankfully, after chemo, radiation and a new bald head, nine months later I was cleared to return to school. Even now, I don't enjoy returning to those memories, though it definitely made me stronger. And this decade I am pushing myself to share my story.

Empire State of Mind
I returned to college knowing intimately how short life really is, which gave me an ongoing boost to live it to the fullest. That spring I was back on track to graduate on time and was awaiting word about a magazine internship. I got the email I had been waiting for. I was accepted into Asme and had gotten my first choice of Essence Magazine. I cried. Almost a year to the day I had lost my hair, here I was about to go to New York. God is good. The next day was our magazine conference and I walked up to Essence EIC Angela Burt Murray to tell her I was coming to her magazine. She welcomed me and said with a smile, "Be ready to work hard."

And she was right. I had the time of my life and it was hell adjusting back to college life. I was in NY every chance I got, and a position opened up on their website staff right before I graduated. Four days after hearing Oprah speak to the graduating class of 2007 at Howard, I was at my desk at Essence, after finding my first apartment the night before.

Love Comes Along

I fell in love this year. Hard. And I am still getting my bearings. That balance of building something beautiful while not losing yourself is a work in progress. I had a moment a few months back, where I was feeling down, and looked to my boyfriend to fill me up.
It scared me. And I had a wake up call, that it will still always be my job to be my best friend. No one will ever treat me as good as I can treat myself. And I have worked on keeping my relationship with myself the strongest. It made me better. It made us better. And I am so enjoying the ride. We just celebrated nine months of officially going steady and went to see "Princess and the Frog." Love ya Tiana, but the real thing is so much better than a fairytale.

The Next Level
This year alone has been a defining one filled with firsts. I lost my grandmother this summer. And along with getting my first job this decade, this year I got laid off for the first time. It was a turning point in my life as I felt myself get off cruise control and return to the driver's seat of my life. I had my dream job at 24, so it was time for new dreams and new goals. And I know exactly where I want to go next. Though I still miss my grandmom, I have the greatest peace I have ever known. And I definitely did not get here alone. I have had amazing mentors in my corner and parents who really make me believe I can move mountains. Here's to a fab 2010 and beyond!!


  1. Queen Irnise said...:

    You never know someones story, the joy behind their smile, the steps that they walked to get there! I am so blessed to have had a chance to take a glimpse at your decade! And more enriched by doing so. May God bless you as you continue on your journey!

  1. Julia said...:

    This was so moving. It was a beautiful read.

  1. Ms. Rene' said...:

    Good Mornting Love! Thanks for sharing your story. I have to echo the previous comment and say that you never really know the story behind someone's smile. Charreah, you are a great person and the world is at your fingertips. Even though we don't talk often, I value your friendship and I'm so glad to know you! Here's to a fabulous 2010!

  1. Bsquared said...:

    This was so moving. I hope that you really do share your cancer story in 2010 as we've discussed in the past. I often tell you that you have an old soul but it is actually your youthful spirit (living life in the moment and soaking up as much knowledge as possible along the way) that I think I am most drawn to. You've inspired me to do something similar on my own blog. I'm so glad we met this decade b/c we're making serious moves together in the next one! ;-)

    By the way - I LOVE that you were sporting diva shades on your graduation day!

  1. la negrita said...:

    Great post. Best of luck to you for 2010. ;)

  1. CJ said...:

    Thanks for reading and all the support!!

  1. ckunzendor@aol.com said...:

    I read your story of Hodgkin's disease and found we have so much in common. I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease when I was 19 years old and it was such a profound journey I wrote a book about it. In it are my poems, special things I feel about my family, and stories of how I got through it all. That was 30 years ago. Maybe you might enjoy reading it. It's called Finding Rainbows.

    I hope you continue to be blessed with a rich life and find that maybe quite possibly cancer gave you the rare insight to see it for all it's beauty.

    Take Care.

    Cindy Kunzendorf

  1. shara said...:

    "Going steady" made me smile.

    It was inspiring to watch you overcome your trial with cancer. When I heard about it, I remember thinking "She's Charreah. She'll come back stronger." Indeed, you did. :)