One in 8. You read it. You see the stats. But you never know if the person standing behind you in line at the grocery store is one. You don’t know most people’s stories because so many people walk through their storms alone.
For Diam and Marcus, they wanted their lives to be a beacon and encouragement to others from the beginning.
“We were into health and fitness, we ran workout classes, we had a smoothie shop in our community. Our wedding hashtag was #thevictoriousvalentines. We were going to be posting the same stuff so we said why don’t we just merge our accounts together with our wedding hashtag,” Diam said. “This was 2016. We just were who we were. And we continue to share who we are. When I was diagnosed, it just made sense to keep sharing who we are.”
When Diam and Marcus met at a business meeting and married not long after, they couldn’t have anticipated the journey that was ahead of them. But they knew they were in it together. And their wedding hashtag, in a prophetic way, really spoke to the way they would approach the coming storms.
“I was 27. We were entrepreneurs, we had a shop in the community. It was just a random day and I touched my chest and there was a lump. I told my husband and he said we’ll keep an eye on it, thinking it would just be a cyst or something. We actually did schedule an appointment because I ended up getting a cold that month and while I was there I said, ‘Could you look at this lump I have? It’s probably just a cyst. My mom had a cyst, my sister had a cyst.’ She said, ‘Ya it’s probably just a cyst but while you’re here I’ll have you schedule a mammogram and ultrasound just to be safe.’
I’m glad she did that because most people would say you’re too young for cancer. We’ll just watch it, and come back in 6 months. But she did acknowledge me.”
When Diam went to schedule her appointment she discovered there was a block on their insurance. Still convinced the lump was nothing to worry about, she started researching where she could get a mammogram with no insurance any free moment she got. After reaching out to someone via social media for recommendations, she moved forward with a clinic in September, but wasn’t able to get a screening until October. Two months had gone by since trying to get her appointment scheduled.
“I still felt there was no chance it was cancer so I wasn’t crying out on social media or anything. So I went to the appointment and they did the scan and said, ‘This looks really suspicious. This is a big lump. While you’re here we don’t feel comfortable letting you leave, we want to do a biopsy.’ I had no idea what a biopsy was. I was trying to google what the procedure was. I had no idea.”
Four days later, she received the call that she had Breast Cancer. “I didn’t even question, what stage? What kind? I called back and asked if they knew anything. It took like 6 days before I got more info. I thought I was going to die. I thought if I had cancer I was going to die. I was uneducated. I was so stressed. I lost 7 lbs just unable to eat. I felt paralyzed.”
Diam learned she had Stage 3 Triple Negative Breast Cancer. This type accounts for 10-15% of all cancers and mostly affects women under 30 and African American women.
“They were asking me all these questions a 27-year-old isn’t prepared for. Do you have a will? Do you want kids?” More testing, MRIs, CT scans, chemo classes, education, and fertility specialists would follow that first appointment.
“We knew the chemo could affect my eggs. It was so much money and no education about it and also being stage 3 feeling like i had to move at that moment. I was moving out of fear.”
In order to preserve eggs, they would’ve had to wait on the chemo treatments. And the cost was significant. Looking ahead, they were concerned about asking for money to take care of these treatments, when it was possible they’d need money for chemo and life after.
“We decided to start chemo treatment right away. When the future comes and we need to adapt, we decided we would do it. Just living and being alive was the thing we were gonna focus on.”
“The whole process leading up to her finding out she had breast cancer, it was scary,” Marcus said. “It was scary for me, the thought and possibility of my wife, my partner, my best friend being in that position. It was just heartbreaking for me because for someone who does everything by the book, who loves on people, cares for people, a staple in her community, for someone who is such a light to have something so dark happen. I just wanted to do everything in my power to help her survive and fight.
She would say, you didn’t sign up for this. But my thought process, this is what I signed up for. This was our covenant. This is what we went before God to say. In sickness and in health. This is who I get to be for her. To this day it’s unbelievable.”
Diam and Marcus knew they wanted to be parents, but now they weren’t sure what the future would hold. She received injections that in essence, shut down her ovaries and put her in menopause to protect her ovaries during treatment.
Diam took to social media to find others that were in the same position she was. And she couldn’t find anyone. At least not yet. She felt alone, and yet decided that this would become bigger than her. That she would use this to bring hope and encouragement to others because if she needs someone, chances are, there are other people looking for someone too.
“It became bigger than me.”
“I wanted to deliver a message and bring people hope. The first week, it was hard to talk about and going through treatment, some things were more personal than others. But I always felt like it was bigger than me. I couldn’t find people with breast cancer that were thriving. I didn’t get any idea of what it looks like to live while going through cancer and surviving – no matter how hard it is I wanted to be that light for someone else. Now it’s still unbelievable – what happened?”
Diam’s treatment started in 2019 and went into the beginning of 2020. Spending the pandemic and the year after as immunocompromised, she feels like they are just now able to start living again. In November of 2020 she got her first period again, so they approached the subject of starting a family.
“We waited another 9 months before we started trying. Even though it’s not recommended because you’re five years out because of recurrence – but tomorrow isn’t promised anyway so we didn’t want to sit around and wait. We could leave our house and something could happen. We decided we were gonna move forward with trying to have a baby. We went to see our doctor and we told them. They weren’t ok with it. But we decided it was best for us.
We want to do this and we’ll deal with whatever comes from it. We conceived Mali right away. It was unbelievable. We thought we were in it for the long haul taking it day by day, but it had been right away.”
Diam’s pregnancy was full of biopsies and maternal fetal specialists, but 1 year and 9 months after her treatment ended, Mali, their baby boy, was born.
“I knew that I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed but it was more than I imagined. We did all the research learning about donor milk. That whole process was a mess because nobody understands it. The insurance doesn’t understand it. The doctors don’t understand it. I know it’s available but how can it be available for me? We started looking for donor milk when I was 3-4 months pregnant because we knew it’d be a process. Nothing made sense. It was trial and error. People don’t talk about it enough. It was super frustrating. But I was hoping the next person who goes through it would be easier for them.”
Additionally, Diam started leaking milk and having breast pain, which was surprising because she thought she didn’t have any breast tissue. Her doctor told her she would have to manually express this milk and it wouldn’t be enough to feed her baby.
Through all the rollercoasters of finding donor milk, running out of donor milk, and even having to switch to formula during a formula shortage, they both confidently share that Mali changed their life for the better. He is a miracle.
“He has enhanced our life to another level,” Marcus said. “We were great with each other. We took care of each other. And that’s a key foundation for marriage. Having him just enhanced that to another level. His contribution to our family is something we could’ve never imagined. It’s brought us even closer. We have another bridge in our lives.”
Now, living cancer free, Diam and Marcus, together as the Victorious Valentines, have made it their goal to lead and inspire women, men, and couples to live extraordinary lives and become the best versions of themselves.
“That looks like for people, having restoration in their relationships, communication, hope. We feel like marriage is on purpose – we want people to know that purpose is a part of their life and we want them to see that. If that happens, if you can have a harmonious partnership with someone, then everything else in your life will be ok,” Marcus shared.
Diam continues to advocate for breast cancer awareness and encourage others with her experience.
“Cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence,” she said. “For some people it is dark. When I was first diagnosed, I thought it was an automatic death sentence. It doesn’t have to be. You can go on and live a glorious and purposeful life during and after cancer. You can’t always see that there’s more to your life, but there is. Joy always comes in the morning.
Advocate for yourself…look at your body…get comfortable with your body…know when something is off. If something seems off, get it checked out. Get second opinions. There are resources now that help young women. This is just a little chapter of your life. There’s going to be so much more life after this. Lean on your family, you build up your community, build up your faith. You tell yourself you deserve to live. Because you do. And one day you’ll wake up and think, wow, I did that. And you’ll appreciate life so much more on the other side.”
Connect with the Valentines on Instagram @the_victorious_valentines