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I’m a Survivor, pt. 1

October 12, 2011

Truly the most life-inspiring moments for me are those that are spent with people who have been blessed with the gift of time, PRODUCTIVE time. Time spent ‘growing in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and people’, Luke 2:52.

LH2 is a huge proponent of good spiritual and physical health – they go hand in hand. We believe that living life from the inside out is the key to wholeness. The three women I had the pleasure of interviewing for the Survivor Series exude this pilosophy. They are absolutely lovely from the inside out; living proof that with a steadfast, firm foundation one can overcome the storms of life.

Vivian E. Thomas, born in Augusta, GA  in 1929 is our first Survivor. I met Mother (that’s my name for her, others call her Mama Thomas) almost 10 years ago now at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA, where she serves as a Deacon. Reaching out to me as I stood at a crossroads, she held my hand and guided me along the right path. And to this day she has not let go.

Mother has shared many pearls with me, but it was not until this interview that I learned what a profound woman of strength she really is. I was shocked to find out that early in life she’d spent 4 years in a sanitarium in Rome, GA stricken with tuberculosis. A survivor indeed!

When did you move to Atlanta from Augusta? I moved here in 1954 and became a school secretary in the Atlanta School System in 1960.

Did you move to Atlanta right after highschool? Well, that’s a long story. I had tuberculosis, and I was in a sanitarium for 4 years. That happened 2 years after highschool, I was 17 years old.

Was the sanitarium in Atlanta? No, it was in Rome, GA. That was the only sanitarium in Georgia at that time.

Left untreated, tuberculosis kills more 50% of those infected. The first anti-TB drug was developed in 1944,  however 2 drugs are needed to effectively defeat the bacteria. Treatment requires a timeframe of 6 to 24 months TODAY. In 1946, this was definitely not the case when treatment was much longer.

My stay at the sanitarium was an education within itself, because there were people there from all walks of life – doctors, lawyers, you know name them. And having interacted with them on a regular basis, you know, it was indeed an education.

Were you able to receive visitors?
Oh yes, it was nothing like it sounds at all. I went in very, very sick. I didn’t realize how sick I was because I was always taught that it could be worse. But back then they were trying different medications, and as you improved you ‘moved up’. I recovered to the extent they gave me a job in the welfare department within the facility. I interviewed the patients, then I gave them what they needed. They took me off the job because they said they were going to go broke. I just wanted to help everybody. I did, however,  get another job renting earphone radios.

Social Life
At the sanitarium there was a lounge, a reading area, we played music and dined together. We also had church service where I taught Sunday school and became a missionary. So we did have a social life,  and being in our late teens and early twenties, we dated. It was there that I met my second husband. We were also given leave and were able to go home. We were not ostracized, but people were being very careful. Being young and not knowing about the disease, my friends would sit across the room. They meant well, and I understood – but it was still kind of painful.

Because I am a people person, I met a lot of people there that I came to love. That was my college education. Today, I have friends of over 60 years whom I’ve stayed in contact. So it wasn’t that bad. The hardest thing was being seperated from my son, from my first marriage.

My Recovery
After a period of time, I was a candidate for surgery which a good thing. The surgery involved removal of part of my lung and rib. But while I was in surgery my mother passed, and I learned of it through a weekly newspaper from Augusta. My family would send it to me every week, and my father told everyone not to send it to me that week. But as God would have it, they did.  I just couldn’t believe that – it was surreal. So I called my girlfriend who came to see me, and I had a nurse to call home for me. No one answered. This was on a Thursday , the day after my surgery. I was very upset and cried so much that the nurse gave me valium. Well, I did not want to sleep, so I took the pill and placed it under my tongue. I wanted to hear all of what my friend was telling me. By that weekend, my sisters and my fiance’ had come to see me to tell me the news in person.

After my surgery, I was told that there was a spot on my right lung (the surgery was on the left lung) and therefore, the recovery would be extended. I was VERY disappointed, and could not talk about it. I didn’t even go to church that Sunday. But I did listen to the radio, Oral Roberts was on there. And he was saying that God can heal you, not me, but God. But you’ve got to believe. By that next Thursday when I went in for my check up, they had the x-rays up. They were smiling; my lungs were clean. They said they didn’t know what happened, but I knew. I went home that following Saturday, and have not had a moments trouble since with that condition. My mother always taught me about having faith.

Life in Atlanta
In 1960, after I received training as a secretary, I began working for the Board of Education at Harper High School. I worked for the Atlanta Board of Education until I retired from Benjamin E. Mays High School in 1991. Then in 1992, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

At that time, I was planning a trip out west. My doctor didn’t want to give me a mammogram because I’d had one the year before. However, since I was at risk, I insisted. (Lesson – be your own advocate). I was 62. They did the mammogram and a spot was found the size of a pencil eraser. I was then sent to an oncologist, who said,

That’s one of those little jelly-like cysts that forms during menopause. They form, and they go away.

My doctor insisted he perform a biopsy, he did not want to. But again, I insisted and the biopsy showed malignancy. When he told me, well, I cried. And I have an ‘ugly cry’.  -Me too.
But after that, I was good – ready to get to treatment.

Did he apologize?
He told me he was glad he listened to my doctor. Because when I went in to see him, he said, “I’m sticking with my diagnosis.” And I said,”I’m sticking with your diagnosis too, but we need to be sure.”

Did you feel a lump?
No, and the doctor didn’t feel one because it was so small. During the operation to remove the spot, they also biopsied several lymph nodes – no malignancy.

Then I was ready to go and get to my treatment. I did not want to miss my trip. So I had radiation for 8 weeks with no problems. I drove myself to Piedmont Hospital 5 days a week for 8 weeks. Alone. It was by choice.

My doctor, Olivia Bush, said that your spirit is 98% of your cure. You’ve got to have a strong spirit to endure these things.

Since that time I’ve been monitored and no cancer. And my trip was wonderful!

My next mammogram is next week. And I believe I am cancer-free, because I know God can heal. And I’m still surviving.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned? Never give up. Just keep believing. Sometimes after radiation I would feel depleted, and I would come home and rest-so take care of yourself, listen to your body. And through everything we experience God has a plan, and it’s for our good. So make the best of whatever life gives you, because God keeps doing great things.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Delores permalink
    October 13, 2011 4:26 pm

    Mrs. Thomas (Mama Thomas, Deacon Thomas) is small in stature, and appears somewhat fragile to the physical eye. However, she is a woman of great spiritual strength. She is a light for a multitude of people. What a blessing!
    Kudos to you, Lahronda, for an outstanding interview.
    Much love.

  2. Carletta Sims permalink
    October 13, 2011 8:54 pm

    What a beautiful reflection of a beautiful spirit and witness of Sis. Thomas. It is strength, courage and integrity such as that which inspires me to take the 60 mile Susan B. Komen for the Cure Atlanta 3-Day walk that will take place 10/21 – 23, 2011. http://www.the3Day.org

  3. Jacqueline Lott Jackson permalink
    October 14, 2011 12:33 am

    Mama Thomas as I so fondly call her as well, has been a blessing in my life for over thirty two years. In 2001 I participated in the Avon 3 Day Breast Cancer walk in memory of my paternal grandmother and spiritual mother, Mama Thomas. Truly her walk and witness has strengthen many. Thanks for taking the time to interview her!

  4. Lilieth Jones permalink
    October 15, 2011 12:22 pm

    Sister Viv (my look-alike sister) one of my first friends when I came to Ebenezer, and still one of my best friends! A teacher, an encourager, she is an inspiration to all who comes in contact with her. Thanks and congratulations to you Lahronda, Great job !

  5. Clarice Conley permalink
    November 23, 2011 12:04 pm

    Deacon Thomas is a spirtual and literal light. She has allowed her light to shine on so many people, including me and I am so grateful for her. She is such a blessing and I truly enjoyed reading about her. We never know what depth people possess until you hear about their pain. And through God’s Grace, He has placed this shining light in our path to point the way to Him and His tender mercies. May God continue to bless Deacon Thomas and all those He allows her to touch.

  6. Freda Thomas permalink
    November 26, 2011 5:16 pm

    Thanks for this beautiful interview Lahronda. It was good to meet you at mom’s 82nd birthday celebration. I look forward to keeping the connection.

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