The Basketball Wives LA star reflects on being diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 24 and coming out on top, despite the odds.
Not all cancer is pink. I wear teal because I’m an ovarian cancer survivor, and the month of September is National Ovarian Cancer Month. Of course, you’ve seen me dueling with my cast members on VH1’s Basketball Wives LA, but I can honestly say, my cancer was a much tougher nemesis. I fought a good fight and won my battle with cancer. Today, I’m in remission.
In my early twenties, I was happily engaged to the man of my dreams. I wasn’t a bridezilla, but I was so excited to be planning my wedding to my high school sweetheart Jason Maxiell. We grew up together in Dallas. While I was finishing up college, I supported Jason as he realized his dreams of playing in the NBA, drafted by the Detroit Pistons. It was an exciting time for us. It seemed like the world was our oyster. I’d moved from Dallas to Detroit, happily cheering Jason on in the stands and planning our life together. But, there was one problem. I wasn’t feeling well.
I had all the classic symptoms of ovarian cancer – back pain, bloating, weight gain, abdominal pain, feeling full quickly after eating a couple of bites of food as well as the need to urinate urgently or often. Now, what woman doesn’t have one or more of these symptoms during a regular menstrual cycle? That’s why ovarian cancer is called “the silent killer.” It creeps into your body with symptoms so subtle that it can mimic other, unrelated conditions. And a Pap test won’t find it. There’s no test for it.
That’s why ovarian cancer is so deadly. In fact, it’s the deadliest of all gynecologic cancers, affecting 1 in 72 women. For these reasons, most cases are diagnosed in later stages, when the prognosis is poor. On my first trip to the doctor’s office, I was misdiagnosed. I was given medicine for back pain and sent home. My symptoms were dismissed. Why? Because I was a young, Black woman. No family history. No need for alarm.
But I know my body. I knew something was wrong. I was gaining weight, but I knew I wasn’t pregnant. And I could feel knots poking through my body. Listening to my instincts, I decided to go for a second opinion. Thankfully, the second doctor diagnosed the problem in 2007, and sent me straight to an oncologist. My oncologist didn’t mince words. “You have cancer,” he said. “We’ve got to get it or you’re going to die.” Period. Just like that. I had “the C word.” CANCER. I was 24.
With those words, I decided I was going to live my best life possible. I headed back to Dallas, and immediately had surgery and began various rounds of chemotherapy. My doctors told me I had the worst case of ovarian cancer they had seen. An alien was growing inside of body – the mass had hair follicles, nails and teeth. (Well, maybe that’s a little T.M.I.) The “C” word wasn’t going to stop my flow. Yes, it slowed me down, but it didn’t stop me.
While I was wrestling with cancer, I was still going to Jason’s basketball games in Detroit and making plans to see concerts and do things with my friends and family. After two weeks of chemo, I noticed my hair shedding while attending a basketball game. Days later, I was bald. And as a show of solidarity, Jason shaved his head to create awareness about ovarian cancer on the basketball court. I really appreciated that loving gesture more than he’ll ever know. Jason and I were kids when I was diagnosed with cancer; but we matured into adults during my treatment and eventual remission.
After several rounds of chemo, and a clean bill of health, my life moved forward. In August 2009, I got married and was excited to start a family. However, the cancer had taken a toll on my body. It left me struggling with fertility issues. I went through various IVF fertility treatments that failed. Eventually, I gave birth to a miracle baby in 2011. And now, I’m working on baby number two.
On a spiritual note: When God wants your attention, he’ll find a way to get it. For me, it took cancer. I know God is real because he listened and answered my prayers. My spirituality deepened during this health crisis, because he brought me out of the storm. In a blink of an eye, I was cured. Medically speaking: I’m in remission. Biblically speaking, I’m cured.
Wife, mother, cancer survivor—Brandi Maxiell is the wife of NBA player Jason Maxiell and a cast member on VH1’s “Basketball Wives LA.” Diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007, she is currently in remission. September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and Brandi wears the color teal to bring awareness to this deadly disease. Follow Brandi on Twitter and Instagram.