I always carry a journal in my bag wherever I am, traveling, visiting family or just going out for a coffee. I then write whatever thoughts come into my mind and also what I see. In 2007 I had come from London after having gone to protest with Action Aid about girls’ sanitary pads. It had been a long day and had pain on my left arm. I examined myself while lying in bed and found the inevitable, the unexpected, the worst nightmare – the lump. I got into shock as it was a weekend, a Saturday, it was a long weekend before Monday came and I went to the doctor. Yes, I had breast cancer after several visits to the hospital. I had two young daughters, 15 and 10 years.
I was a widow who had arrived in the UK as a refugee in 2002. I did not have any family. Panick kicked in.
In all this time I was writing things in my journals from the first day of finding the lump as much as I had I written about going to protest in London.
My current living experiences was different as I had disadvantages, the intersectionality of race, gender, ethnicity, class and refugee all were playing a part on my identity.
I had nobody to share with except friends and work colleague what I was going through.
My journal became my sanctuary, and I was writing talking to God. I had nobody as my four brothers, parents and husband had died within a space of 13 years. The deaths included my brother’s two little boys who were less than ten years and died a week apart. I knew death was now inevitable to me as the only child left in our family. Maybe this was how it was meant to be. I was giving up slowly. The chemotherapy, the medication caused many problems in my body, and I was living in the hospital than I was living at home. My nerves were damaged. While I was in the hospital after the reconstruction, I had a substantial period, bled so much that the doctors had to send me to the theatre to find out what was taking place. I had chronic pain from the reconstruction and also developed lymphodema.
I had good friends and one of them. Ruth came to visit me for a month to support me.
She was honest to tell me that I was not dying of cancer but the mind. She was right; the load I was carrying from my past was presenting itself at this time when I was vulnerable. I never had time to mourn all the 7 members of my family as I was busy burying them and organizing what was left behind. I had woken up one day at 3 am and had decided I was not good enough as a human being, let alone as a mother like this. I was hurting inside as a lot was happening, and I was not coping. I was in darkness. I wanted to end it all. I was saved by the television. That was my wake up call. At 43 years, I had to sort myself out.
The journal became my buddy and my written conversation to God helped me to find my inner strength.
My two daughters, Meme and Tadi, gave me a purpose to live. With their so not perfect meals, sleeping on the floor in my bedroom ‘trying not to hurt my operation’ and their notes, kiss before they left school was the unconditional love I need. The books I bought and read gave me one second, hour and a day to live.
I went for a spiritual retreat and went for therapy – something which in Zimbabwe is not culturally appropriate.
I had developed lymphodema in my arm and was now wearing gloves. I fought that so hard it disappeared. The chronic pain that developed after the reconstruction, I managed it through exercise, meditation and prayer. Now I go once every 6 months to have a Capsaicin patch and do not take pain killers. I always loved reading and made a pact with myself that I will buy a motivational book once a month (of course, a 2nd hand or cheaper). I had a lot of what I called ‘excess baggage’ from my past life and decided I needed to put a light on myself. I deleted phone numbers I did not need and the so-called ‘friends’ that existed only on the phone. I knew my triggers in life and took strides to emancipate myself. I had stickers in the house to remind me that I was the love and that I had to illiminate that love. Today, there are stickers of different quotes that I write in my house when I read a book or attend a conference. Besides the toxic chemotherapy and the tamoxifen tablets, I had toxic impurities that I did not realize I carried in my body and mind that needed to come out. I also started studying with Open University while I was having treatment and did not stop until now I am doing my 2nd year PhD at the University of Reading. I have always been an activist, and continue to channel my energy to refugee disenfranchisement.
My late husband had died when I was 33 years.
My youngest daughter was less than 2 years. I was not lonely but I was alone in my life. When going through cancer it can be a very lonely place. I am grateful I have good friends and also made good friends when I arrived in the UK. It was time I gave love a chance. I met my current husband through a mutual friend almost 9 years ago – a yellowbelly. He was not the least bothered about my scars. We got married in 2015 and the poached egg breast behaved while dancing to Bruce Springsteen and Tina Turner. Our children were our bridesmaids.
Breast cancer is not something that you can talk about easily in my black culture, worse if a breast is lost.
It becomes a stigma. I saw my aunt (mum’s sister) go through that in Zimbabwe when she was only 43 – refused treatment or a mastectomy. I had also to make sure I write my book so that all those journals end up published. If the book touches one person, then it would have saved one life. The book has an intimate chronology of my cancer experience and African innuendos that can make you laugh, and hence I write about how ‘I am grateful for being diagnosed with breast cancer as I found the true me during that journey
After ten years of having the book on a memory stick, my husband decided it was time he did something.
On Christmas day, he surprised me with the printed book (now available at Amazon) and my children took a video which they posted on twitter unknowingly of me which went viral on social media – the story certainly touched the world.
Alice is a motivational speaker, a writer an author, an advocate for social justice and an activist. She has battled breast cancer and different challenges in her life.
Alice arrived in the UK in 2002 as a refugee and for 8 years she volunteered at the Reading Refugee Support Group both as chair and vice-chair. She helps to advocate and portray a more positive image of refugees by participating in numerous projects; one of which was co-started the Zimbabwe Community Groups and recently the Zimbabwe-Reading Women’s Group.
She is currently a trustee of the Reading City of Sanctuary and a Specialist Ambassador for the Female Wave of Change and a representative for the Zimbabwe Diaspora Focus Group. She has done BBC television documentary and interviews on the plight of refugees, poverty, women and speaks at events and conferences. She has also written articles in newspapers and magazines on these issues. She furthers her activism by being actively involved with different organisations in promoting social justice, education for all, alleviate poverty and empowering women and girls. She was given an Honorary Masters of Universities by the Open University in 2013 at a ceremony in Poole for her services to communities, education and civil services.
Alice was presented with an award by the then President Chissano of Mozambique for her writing competition on working with culturally diverse communities. This was achieved while working as a diplomat under Zimbabwean Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Maputo, Mozambique and preceded a posting to the former Yugoslavia, Belgrade. When she returned to Zimbabwe, she co-foundered the first Secretaries training convention in Zimbabwe featured in the media and spoke at different events about women and work.
She has a BA in Social Work and worked for different local authorities as a Social Worker, an MA in International Relations and currently doing a research PhD in Human Geography at Reading University and in her 2nd year. Her research is on Identity and Transnationalism Among Young Zimbabwean Diaspora in the UK. She is a member of Amnesty International, British Zimbabwe Society, Royal Geographical Society and other women’s groups.
She is married to Wayne and has two daughters Michelle (aka MemePoet) and Tadiwa. She enjoys writing, loves reading books, attending live music, exercising and walking. They have a family dog called Zii