You wouldn’t know it by looking at me. Meeting me. Or hearing me on the radio. Definitely not. I’m the host of Riding Middays with ML6 at WEUP, 101.3 FM, a hip-hop and R&B station in Huntsville, Alabama. I give people the news, play the latest music and interview artists. My on-air personality, ML6, is a talker, a total extrovert.
But really, I’m an introvert. I like my peace and quiet. I like to chill at home. I keep things to myself. I’m a private person. That’s a big reason why I got into radio instead of television. The idea of everyone seeing me on camera freaked me out.
Sitting in the booth at the radio station, that was another story. I loved getting behind the mike and being able to reach people. They didn’t care what I looked like, what I was wearing. They were just into my voice.
I guess I should say I used to be a private person. Then, on Monday, May 20, 2013, my life turned upside down. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’d gone to my gynecologist for my annual exam, not for any health issues.
In fact, when she asked if there had been any changes in my life since I’d last seen her, they were all for the better. I’d quit partying two years earlier and hadn’t had a drink since. I was exercising regularly and eating healthy, except for the occasional junk-food craving. I’d put a bad breakup behind me. I was content.
My gynecologist found two lumps in my right breast and sent me to a breast specialist. I had a mammogram, then a biopsy. The doctor called me at the radio station to give me the results. One lump was benign. The other wasn’t. “Micha, you have Stage Two invasive ductal carcinoma,” she said.
I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t have any of the usual risk factors. I was only 31. I didn’t have a family history of breast cancer. I didn’t drink alcohol anymore. I didn’t smoke. I wasn’t overweight. How could this come at me out of nowhere?
“We need to move fast,” the specialist told me. She laid out the plan of attack: chemotherapy, followed by surgery and radiation. The number of treatments would depend on how the tumor responded.
I hung up the phone and broke down. Chemo, surgery and radiation…how was I going to get through it all? And if the cancer didn’t respond to treatment, what then?
Once upon a time I would have turned straight to God, the way I’d been taught growing up in Detroit. My family came from a strict religious background. In church, we kids were told what to do, when to do it, what to wear, how to be. And I just accepted it all. I went to a Christian college in Huntsville.
It wasn’t until I’d graduated and was out on my own that I started asking questions. Why did I do all those things? Was it just out of routine? What did I really believe? Why did I believe?
At church I’d sit in my pew and look around. If faith is supposed to fulfill you, how come there are people here who seem utterly miserable? I saw a young woman come in with the baby she’d had outside of marriage and be judged harshly.
I felt that judgment myself when I told folks I worked in radio and it wasn’t the Christian station they listened to, but hip-hop and R&B. “You mean you go to clubs?” they’d ask, their eyes narrowing.
I got tired of being looked at and judged. I’d go to church and wonder why I was there. It wasn’t like I was growing from it. I didn’t feel a connection with God anymore. For a while I went out at night and drowned my spiritual frustrations in alcohol, but those frustrations and resentments were still there when I woke up in the morning, hung over.
Drinking wasn’t the answer. So I quit. Still, I kept my distance from God. My prayers were halfhearted, when I bothered to pray at all.
Then, a few weeks ago, I’d found a new church, led by a dynamic young pastor. It was nondenominational and I liked the “come as you are” vibe. Something stirred in my soul. I wanted a real relationship with God. I just didn’t know how to go about it.
I was pretty sure being stricken with breast cancer wasn’t the way.
Right after I hung up with the doctor, I called the pastor, hysterical. He calmed me down to the point where I was able to call my parents and other family back in Detroit and let them know what was going on. I told my boss. “Six, go home,” he said. “Take the rest of the week off. Do what you need to do.”
I only took off a day. Normally my introverted self would’ve felt renewed at home, but my peace was gone. All I felt was depressed. Better to be at work where I had something to keep me busy. People kept calling—family, friends, folks from church. I didn’t want to talk to anyone.
Older women who I didn’t even know had survived breast cancer tried to give me their perspective. I knew they meant well, God bless them, but they were in their fifties and sixties…mothers, aunts, grandmothers. They’d lived so much more than I had! What if I never got the chance to buy a house, get married, have a baby?
I don’t know how long I would’ve kept feeling sorry for myself if my friend’s mom, whom I call Aunt Jan, hadn’t gotten me on the phone that Saturday night. “Micha, you need to get it together,” she said.
What? She was a cancer survivor. Why wasn’t she more sympathetic?
Aunt Jan went right on talking. She called me out on everything—my negative attitude, my brushing off people who were trying to help, my broken relationship with God. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but it was what I needed.
“You’ll only make it harder if you don’t give it to God,” she said.
We got off the phone. I stared at my reflection in the mirror. Was I up for this challenge? “Okay, God, we’re going to do this,” I said. “I’m reaching out to you. Reach back.” I went in for my first chemotherapy treatment on June 6. Chemo was no joke. It killed my appetite. I was tired all the time. My complexion developed a gray tint. My hair fell out. So did my eyebrows and eyelashes.
I’d never been more grateful to work in radio, where my audience wouldn’t see me and ask questions. I didn’t want them to know what I was going through. I did grocery shopping when I’d be least likely to run into people. When I attended work events, it would be just for long enough to show my face. There were days I avoided hanging out with my friends because I wasn’t myself. I didn’t feel like Micha.
I had zero energy anyway. There were times when I couldn’t get up and walk. When I felt like three heavyweight boxers had been beating up on me. One night I barely crawled into the bathroom before everything I’d tried to eat that day came right back up. I slid down to the floor and lay there. I’d never felt so weak, so helpless.
I opened my mouth to pray, but “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…” was all I could manage.
That’s when I heard a voice say, I got you, Micha. I know you feel like you want to die right now, but this is not your time. You’re not going to get through this if you keep quiet. Get on the air and tell your story.
I was so surprised, I sat up. This wasn’t me reciting Scripture or recalling something I’d heard at church. This was the real deal. God was talking to me. Not the way I’d been speaking to him or to my audience, from a careful distance. But up close and personal.
The next day I went into the radio station and announced, “Today’s the day. I’m coming out about my breast cancer.”
“Are you ready for this, Six?” my boss asked. “You’re going to be pulled in all directions. Are you ready for people to really see you?”
I wasn’t sure I was ready, but God had said he had me. And knowing that, I could do it. I told my listeners about my diagnosis, my treatment so far, how I was leaning on my faith when I struggled to stay positive. I shared more of myself than I had in eight years on the air.
And people responded. One caller said his wife had been terrified by her recent diagnosis. “She was just listening to your show, and she smiled for the first time in days.” I talked to a 21-year-old who’d undergone a double mastectomy and another young woman who hadn’t told a soul about her breast cancer. They both said my story inspired them to open up to the people around them.
A local news anchor, Liz Hurley, who was a breast-cancer survivor, came to the station to interview me. After my segment aired, I couldn’t go anywhere without someone recognizing me. “Hey, ML6, stay strong!” “Yo, ML6, I’m praying for you!”
I went to the treatment center, and another patient said, “You’re so cheery. Can you help me get through this?”
“Bruh, you do know I’m here for chemo too,” I said.
We laughed. I got up and checked on him while we were both getting our infusions, and you know what, that helped me too. After 18 weeks of chemotherapy, my tumor shrank. I had a lumpectomy, followed by 35 radiation treatments.
I’ve been cancer-free for two years now, but it’s not over. I have to take medication every day. It causes some crazy side effects and I’m learning to deal with them.
The important thing is, I’m alive. More alive than I’ve ever been. More alive spiritually. I’m still a private person, I guess, but being private doesn’t mean hiding. Especially not from God, who knows all things and loves and cares for each one of us.
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