by Telishia Berry
Vanessa Bell Calloway is the essence of talent, style, and beauty. From dancing on Broadway to performing in film and television, she seems to handle it all with much grace, even when she was diagnosed with breast cancer eight years ago.
Vanessa says she had a strong feeling something was wrong. “I wasn’t sick and I had no pain, I just had a feeling that something was wrong, but I didn’t think it was breast cancer. I sat up in bed and told my husband that something wasn’t right” This prompted her to quickly seek medical attention. Staying on top of yearly medical exams was something she said she always done. “I get my mammogram done each year religiously,” she said. But when the place where she normally went closed, the task to find another location got lost in her busy schedule.
When I finally saw the doctor, he sent me for a mammogram that day. When the results came back, it showed that there was some calcification in my breast. The doctor then ordered a biopsy, and from there, a lumpectomy was ordered of her right breast that did not show the results I hoped for. The doctor tried to save my breast.” she said. After a second lumpectomy was unsuccessful, a mastectomy was performed.
Vanessa shared her fears of losing a breast with her sister Elaine, who assured her that life would be OK without the breast and to simply “let it go.” Vanessa’s husband, Anthony, is an anesthesiologist who told her that she was more important to him than her breast, and reminded her of their two daughters and all the things they needed to experience together. Vanessa said their support helped: “The things they said helped me out of my funk.” For Vanessa, breast cancer was not hereditary, but because her mother-in-law was a breast cancer survivor, it puts Vanessa’s two daughters at 20% risk of getting breast cancer.
In a 12-hour surgery, the surgeon was able to rebuild her breast by performing a breast reconstruction with flap surgery, a type of breast reconstruction that involves taking a section of fat tissue from one area of your body (most often the abdomen), and relocating it to create a new breast mound.
I asked Vanessa if she believed a healthy mindset could affect a person’s prognosis or outcome in a critical diagnosis. “Yes, and no, because you can’t wish it away. Staying positive is key, but you still have to do what you have to do to get better.” You absolutely have to have a positive heart, mind, and spirit because it makes the journey easier.”
In her recovery, Vanessa said prayer was very helpful, as well as listening to her doctors. She chuckles as she talked about how she used positive self-talk and challenged herself through her healing: “I’d say things like, ‘this time next week or next month, I’m going to be able to take a long walk or drive or exercise.’”
With a normal health status and a great outlook on life, Vanessa continues to stay focused on her career, but keeping up with her health and wellness is certainly a priority. She is preparing for the third season of “Saints and Sinners” and is scheduled to direct two episodes of the web series. She also filmed three movies this summer.
In my last question to Vanessa, I complimented her on how great she looks at age 60 and if she would share her personal tips. “Workout and eat well,” she said. “I drink plenty of water and eat lots of veggies and fish. I stay away from soda, juices, and junk food, I eat very little sugar, and I use good skin care products.”
For women who may be going through breast cancer, Vanessa Bell Calloway reminds them: “You may have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have you!” She wants to encourage other women to stay on top of getting annual medical exams. “Get your mammograms regularly so that if there are any issues, they can be detected early.”
Telishia Berry is Publisher of Courageous Woman Magazine, and the upcoming collaborative book, What is a Courageous Woman?
Click to read the October 2017 digital issue with Vanessa Bell Calloway