Meet the Breast Cancer Fighter: Part I

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2014
The Rev. Dr. Unnia L. Pettus,an educator, minister and leader, who is currently battling late stage metastatic Her2+ breast cancer, opened up with the {AFRO} about her achievements, previous health challenges and current fight. (Courtesy Photo)

Interviewed By Micha Green
Transcribed By Etolia Magdalena

The Rev. Dr. Unnia L. Pettus is an educator, minister, and a  cancer, stroke and domestic violence fighter and advocate.

AFRO: Please briefly explain who you are and what your role has been in media relations, education and in the church over the years.

UP: I am an educator, a professor, a ministry leader, a cancer, stroke and domestic violence survivor and advocate.  I’m also an entrepreneur- I am the founder and CEO of “Nobody But God Ministries” and Pettus PR LLC. I am a 52-year-old single, Black female native Washingtonian who is currently battling metastatic breast cancer, late stage metastatic breast cancer, Her2+ invasive ductal carcinoma and renal carcinoma which is kidney cancer moderate cardiomyopathy the other word for that would be heart failure- so I’m generally a survivor and a thriver, but if I had one word to describe me it would be an overcomer so that is generally who I am. I’ve lived in the projects, from the projects to my PhD. I have attended three schools for a higher education- my undergraduate degree Summa Cum Laude Bachelors in Broadcast Journalism, minor in Spanish. I received that degree from Howard University, the School of Communications now known as the Cathy Hughes School of Communications that was in May 1990. May 1995 I matriculated from American University with a degree in Public Communication and in May 2003 I matriculated from the University of Maryland College Park with a PhD in Mass Communications. My dissertation focused on the Black church and Political Communication from the pulpit during elections. So that’s my academia as well as I’ve studied at Howard Universities School of Divinity where I took courses to allow me to do my dissertation and understand the significance of the Black church and the importance of it once known as the invisible institution, but now a force and how important it is for us to get souls to the polls during major presidential elections, which is what we’re trying to do now.  I am working with the Biden campaign as a volunteer. I have worked with every presidential campaign.

AFRO: I know this is not your first bout with cancer and you’re a survivor of many trials.  Can you please share your health challenges and achievements leading up to this point and the state of your current health?

UP: I’ve been dealing with cancer for 16 years. My first diagnosis was age 33; it was approximately one year after I graduated with my doctorate with honors from the University of Maryland at College Park with a Mass Communications degree. I completed my first year, ten-year track assistant professor at Bowie State University and immediately after the semester ended in May, in June I was diagnosed with colon cancer stage four, had to have an immediate total colectomy.  

Since then I’ve had to have eight abdominal obstructions [surgeries], which had been due to complications of the colon surgery. So although it started in June 2004 my abdominal obstruction surgeries have continued up to most recently three years ago. I’ve had four times battled with cancer, colon cancer was my first, the second was gastroenterological cancer that surgery took place in July of 2018 approximately July 3, 2018 and during that surgery it was noticed that I had kidney cancer however I was told that I had 45 to 60 days to live was placed under palats of hospice and I was pretty much told to go live my life and do whatever I can in the next 45 to 60 days because my life was coming to an end. I was placed under hospice care after my colon cancer in June 2004 so this was the second time my mom was told I wasn’t going to make it.  

After two of my abdominal obstruction surgeries where I got down to almost 90 pounds my mom was told that I wouldn’t make it through the surgeries and I had many complications and near death situations my third bout with cancer came approximately a year after the surgery in 2018- that’s on July 1. I had tumor removed from my kidney and that was a kidney cancer which is renal carcinoma so that would be July 1, 2019 then the week after that surgery I was in the shower and I felt an extremely large knot felt like three or four pieces of something hard as a rock in my right breast and I immediately heard the Lord say while I was showering, “Cancer,” as the water continued to cover my body and I’m in the shower I start screaming and crying out to Him, “Lord please I can’t take anymore Lord please don’t let this be cancer too.” So I immediately called my doctor. I  went in for biopsies, mammograms, had ultrasound needle guided biopsy. I had breast MRIs, multiple mammograms, multiple biopsies and was told that I have invasive ductal carcinoma metastatic breast cancer late stage and that it was also called HER2+, which is a very complicated aggressive breast cancer surgery.  It was metastatic because it was already in my chest by the time that I felt the night, which I tell you was not there the night before, so it is so important to self examine because it actually helped save my life.   

Read Part II in next week’s AFRO.