Abreast cancer survivor rises above pain to inspire others.
Maimah Karmo had one goal: To make sure her young daughter, Noelle, didn’t grow up motherless. Her next concern was whether she would live long enough to help others by telling her story.
When young Karmo and her parents left Monrovia in 1989 for the United States, just as Liberia was about to be plunged into a devastating civil war, she did not know that in the future she would be experiencing a different type of struggle.
Karmo was 32 years old and a new mother when in February 2006 she discovered a lump in her breast and visited her doctor to investigate. She was told that she was too young to have breast cancer and lacked the family history. Trusting her instincts, she chose to get a second opinion. Six months later and her diagnosis revealed that she had invasive ductal carcinoma, an aggressive Stage II breast cancer. Karmo’s new doctor immediately entered her into a robust treatment protocol, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Today,she is happy to learn from her doctor that her cancer is still in remission.
“While undergoing treatment, when I looked into my daughter’s eyes, I had to fight to be around to take care of her,” says the single mother.“I realized that my daughter was too important to me to just give up. Cancer is a horrible experience, it is not pleasant. But, I am glad I have been given a second chance; a new lease on life.”
Her second goal now is to educate women all over the world about the disease because 80 percent of women who get breast cancer have no history of cancer in their family.
According to the National Institutes of Health, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis among African American women, and among women nationwide. However, black women are more likely than white women to be diagnosed at later stages of the disease and are more likely to die from it.Younger women also have more aggressive breast cancers and higher mortality rates than their older peers.
“The risk factors other than environmental is just being a woman and having a breast,” Karmo adds.
Karmo, who speaks to women groups around the globe, advises women to do their monthly self-examination, get annual clinical self-examination, and if they find a lump, have a family history. If they notice irregularities in their breasts such as discharge or abnormal color, dimpling or puckering, they should ask their doctors for a mammogram.
Fran Harris, a television personality and former WNBA player with the championship Houston Comets, says it is a blessing to listen to Karmo speak on her educational tours.
“Karmo’s zest for life is contagious,” Harris says. “Her personal odyssey gives her a powerful platform from which to share her empowering messages. But what I love most about Karmo is her generosity of spirit and enormous heart.You will be blessed the moment she opens her mouth.”
A breast cancer and women’s rights advocate, Karmo says her faith in God kept her hopes high in battling the excruciating pain associated with cancer and going through her treatment regimen. She lost all her hair and developed scarring in her lungs as a result of the radiation, some of the long-term side effects of cancer treatment.
“After my diagnosis, I struggled to understand what it all meant. At the end of my second chemotherapy treatment, I had a talk with God and told him that I would dedicate my entire life to him and spreading the word about this disease”.
Karmo is keeping her promise.
She is the founder and president of Tigerlily Foundation, a breast cancer advocacy organization based in Reston, Virginia, a motivational speaker, and a candidate for the MBA degree at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Karmo is also the editorial director of Global Woman Magazine, a publication that addresses issues that affect international women’s issues like breast cancer,female genital mutilation, fistula, domestic violence and lung cancer. She has been featured on ABC’s Good Morning American, Fox Channel 5, News Channel 8 and numerous newspapers and radio interviews. She was featured in Essence Magazine,and will appear in two international women’s publications this fall.
Last year, Tigerlily Foundation sent a mammogram machine to Liberia, the first at Liberia’s JFK Hospital in 16 years. Tigerlily recently received financial support from Middleburg Bank (Virginia) and Lucy, a major clothing retailer.
“Funding for our programs is essential. It is the only way that we can continue to help women who are going through breast cancer, by providing education, technical equipment and encouragement,” says Karmo.
This summer, she releases a book, “How Breast Cancer Saved My Life:Using a Challenge as a Gift” a story of facing challenges, overcoming them and thriving because of them. She writes on how one can use insurmountable odds to create the life you want to live.
“A challenge can be a gift and a blessing.”