Living life in the now
Juanae Simmons didn't expect sinus cancer. It was Valentine's Day, 2014. Tissue from a polyp in her right nostril had been sent away for testing and she was in specialist Wesley Miller's office for the results.
“When I had the surgery, he told me that it was worse than what he thought, so when I went back on Valentine's I was expecting bad news — maybe that I needed further surgery,” Ms Simmons said. “I wasn't expecting it to be, ‘You have cancer'.”
It was “a very quiet night” at the house she shares with her boyfriend and two daughters, Khari, 8, and Ayara, 3.
A week later she left for Massachusetts' Lahey Hospital & Medical Centre.
Two doses of chemotherapy and eight weeks of radiation followed.
“For me it was about getting it done as fast as I could because I wanted to hurry up and get back to my life,” she said.
The 33-year-old is now two years in remission. She's had to learn to slow down.
“I'm learning how to prioritise. As mommies, we just gotta keep on going. I don't have as much energy as I used to, so I go about things a little differently. Whether it's getting up earlier or sleeping in later on the weekends.
“My eldest daughter is absolutely wonderful. If I say mommy's not having a good day, she just makes sure that she plays with her sister and entertains her. She's very compassionate and considerate. She's all around an awesome kid.”
Ayara was 18 months old when Ms Simmons received the diagnosis. She went with her mother, Sharon Golden, to Boston along with her godmother, Gladys Wolffe.
Khari remained at home with her aunt.
“I had three great women behind me while I was out there. I had a really good support system here and abroad.
“‘Momager' is what I call my mother because when I got out there she had to take care of me, my appointments and my daughter. Nothing was passed until she approved it,” she added, laughing.
Khari didn't initially understand all that was going on. Ms Simmons used a book she got at Lahey to help explain her illness.
“I didn't come right out and tell her what it was. She knew I had to go in and have a sinus surgery, so we would joke that ‘mommy had a nose job'.
“When I came back, the nurse at Lahey gave me a book for children to understand what I was going through.”
The book, with its digestible explanations, turned out to be a useful tool.
“At one part of the book, mommy has no hair. It happened to me.
“Just a patch fell out. I'm on the bathroom floor crying.
“I've got this hair in my hand and my daughter comes in having read the book saying, ‘Oh, your hair came out. The book said that would happen'.
“She understands cancer doesn't have to kill. Now I'm more comfortable talking to her about it.”
These days she takes a more holistic approach to life.
“I try to stay away from medication. I don't want to keep on fighting poison with poison. I'm more conscious of what I do and what I eat.
“I'm more conscious of how I let myself get stressed. I've had to teach myself to let go of a lot,” she said.
“I'm becoming more spiritual. I take time out to meditate. I try to be in ‘the now'. I've learnt to slow down and enjoy my children; to enjoy life and take one day at a time.
“I'm trying to enjoy it more because it could have been gone.
“My blood work looks good. I still have sinus issues, but not severe. I'm hoping that the next three years will go well, so I can get that free and clear.
“I feel like I'm winning the race against this and I'm hoping that I keep on winning.”
Ms Simmons has worked at Miles Market for almost ten years — her smile is a constant.
“I'm so grateful that I'm still able to work and do what I need to do,” she said.
“They're really good people down there. They take care of me and I'm still there — still smiling.
“Finding out on Valentine's was like a kick in the tail. On the day of love, I get the worst news in the world, but the amount of love I felt after that means so much more.
“That Valentine's was a true testament to the people in my life that really do care.
“My family is behind me 100 per cent. My friends are behind me 100 per cent.
“It's very humbling to find out something like that on supposedly such a special day. It's very humbling to know that life does go on after.”
This year, Ms Simmons is sorry to miss charity event, Relay for Life, after taking part in 2015.
“This year, my eldest godson graduates from high school. I already made that commitment — I've never missed any of his graduations,” she said.
But she has next year's team all planned out.
“I told them, I know what I want my team to be called, everything, I have it all planned out. Next year, look out for ‘Not Pokey, Just Nosey', named for my sinus cancer,” she laughs.
“Next year we're making it a big event.”
• Relay For Life will take place on May 27-28, starting at 6.30pm at North Field, National Sports Centre. Teams of 10-15 will participate in a relay-style walk or run, challenging themselves to stay on the track overnight. For more information visit: www.bermudarelay.com.