For years, Dionne Monique hid her breast cancer diagnosis and treatment from her young son, in her mind protecting him from the realities of her chemotherapy and hundreds of doctor visits.
It’s a decision that the 45-year-old Decatur resident regrets. In a book she published earlier this year — “Ebony’s Purple Scarf”— she hopes to help other families who choose a different path.
“Because I hid everything from my child I don’t feel that he understands the struggles that it took to get to this point in my life right now — for the both of us,” Monique said. “I wanted to create that book to help other cancer survivors talk to their children about cancer — to have a tool that they can use to guide them through [that] conversation.”
“Ebony’s Purple Scarf” follows a young girl “hiding a secret under her scarf,” according to Monique, a former teacher. As classmates learn of her illness, Ebony must navigate elementary school and friendships while undergoing treatments.
Monique — who didn’t have a family history of breast cancer — had felt a lump near her underarm for several months in early 2007, but was hesitant to see a doctor about it. Then, at her routine annual physical, a nurse noticed a lump too.
In November 2007, she was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer and her life went “into shambles,” she said.
Two days after her diagnosis, Monique’s fiance left her, saying he was “not a hospital person,” according to Monique. A few months later, her mother died.
Over the next three years, Monique would undergo chemotherapy and meet with providers hundreds of times while being the sole parent to her then 7-year-old son.
“Everyone around me was so doubtful that I wasn’t going to make it through,” Monique said. “It was hard to keep my head up when everyone had put a death sentence on me.
In August of 2010, Monique received news that she was cancer-free, having successfully eradicated all cancer cells from her body.
Luchon Grant, one of Monique’s former co-workers at Decatur’s Clifton Elementary School, was one of the only individuals who would drive and spend time with Monique while visiting doctors.
“When she was taking chemo and she thought it was over, I was always there to encourage her, and be silly and make her laugh,” said Grant, 46. “I’ve always encouraged her to share her story. Somebody needs to hear it. She didn’t go through it for her. She went through it for somebody else.”
Monique’s diagnosis with a later-stage breast cancer reflects national trends among Black women.
“I think this book is relatable to everybody,” Monique said. “But I’m African American. And I definitely wanted to fill that gap in my demographic with this book”
Black women are more likely than white women to be diagnosed with an advanced-stage breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society
And although Black women are less likely to have breast cancer than white women, they are more likely to die from it.
The reasons for those trends are complex, said Jean Sachs, CEO of breast cancer education nonprofit Living Beyond Breast Cancer.
“There aren’t as many targeted therapies,” Sachs said. “I think we’ve got to make healthcare more equitable. I think we’ve got to get more black women into clinical trials so we can find out [if] the same drugs that work on white women work as well with black women.”
Monique, now a full-time nanny and coach to other authors, is now working on three companion books to help convey the realities of cancer to young children and parents. But she recalls knowing from the earliest days of chemotherapy that she wanted to write a book related to her experiences and self-publish it.
“I didn’t want anybody to rearrange my vision,” she said. “I wanted to tell my story the way I wanted the story told.”