When I heard about Kabibi's cancer diagnosis, my first thought was, "Why her?" After that lightning strike, it became all about, "How can I help her?"
I've created this new HuffPo' column to help create massive, public and global outpourings of help -- logistical, financial, emotional -- which will significantly improve the recipient's situation by providing relief from the most immediate threats to their survival and easing their minds while they get back to full-health. I will personally verify and confirm all facts in these columns with doctors, lawyers and other professionals as necessary. Hopefully, "Paying It Forward" will tell the interesting stories of people needing help -- a "Kind Call to Action" -- and give people all around the world a link or way to help contribute. (Look for the link at the end of this article.) If you can't make a donation or give physical support, a quick note of support can make all the difference in the world. Let's really open our hearts!
Kabibi M'Poko is a stunning lady. Tall, charming, whip-smart and very dark-skinned, Kabibi is a real "Nubian beauty." She's got a smile that lights up all of humanity.
Kabibi is 48 years old; lives in New Jersey and is the single mother of Lauren, 23. It's been just Kabibi and Lauren since Lauren was 12 years old.
While she gives off an air of ease and grace, I got the impression things have never been easy for Kabibi M'Poko. Born in Kinshasa, the capital of the Congo (Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC), Kabibi came to America at the tender age of eight.
Now coming to this country from a country like the Congo must be like entering a time machine and being transported to another dimension. At eight years old, it must be especially unsettling. In 1974, around the time Kabibi would've been new to the USA, DRC was known as Zaire, the name having been changed in 1971. The head of Zaire was Joseph Mobutu, who had previously headed up the army and weaseled his way into running things with the financial and intelligence help of America because he was staunchly anti-Communist. Corruption, theft of billions, and Mobutu's portrait hanging everywhere by decree were only a few of the harbingers of the First Congo War followed closely by the Second Congo War. Things were not looking up in Congo and this was undoubtedly why Kabibi's family made the move. Good timing.
Kabibi's mother was American and her father Congolese. In Kabibi's 40 years in America, she's never gotten her citizenship, which is ironic because she's positively surrounded by Americans; her mother is American, her eight other siblings, her ex-husband and her daughter too. Having only her green card, ironically Kabibi is the only one in her family who's not a US citizen. "I've always worked and paid taxes in the United States," Kabibi told me. "I was raised very traditionally Central African," she recalled, "and when my grandmother asked me to keep my DRC citizenship and that citizenship only, I listened because one of the values we learned was that you listen to, respect and honor your elders, ancestors and particularly, your grandmother."
Early in 2013, Kabibi was doing what we all try and do: working hard and taking care of her family. She was also doing what we all don't do: getting up at three or four am and running up to 20 miles a day while training for a marathon, eating healthy and keeping very fit. Kabibi was in the best health of her life and things were running smoothly in her life.
That was all about to change.
In May of last year, Kabibi was running and felt something was wrong. "I thought I had food poisoning," she told me ominously, "there was a sharp pain near my belly-button on my right side." Taken immediately by ambulance to the nearest hospital, Kabibi spent the first five days having tests and then, getting the bad news: it was cancer. "Then, I had to have emergency surgery and they took out part of my colon." Kabibi had been diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer which had spread to her liver. "I said to myself, 'Holy crap, I have cancer." Life would never be the same for Kabibi M'Poko.
"How does somebody who's a vegetarian and is training for a marathon get cancer and so sick?" Kabibi asked herself not too long after the diagnosis bowled her over. "Having cancer, I do feel sorry for myself. Why me? I kept asking myself over and over."
The shocker diagnosis threw Kabibi for a mental and emotional loop, as it would us all. "At first, I didn't want to fight ... it's Stage IV, right? I'm done, I thought. My parents are crying, my daughter is crying, my nieces and nephews are all crying too. I just said to myself, 'I've got Stage IV colon cancer. It's over.'"
And then her health insurance stopped paying for her treatments. And, of course she couldn't work anymore because of the cancer. That was something that really bothered Kabibi: not working. She'd worked all her life. Hard.
Kabibi tells me she "cries a lot, all the time" now. "I never used to cry," she said wistfully. Adding that "crying is so therapeutic," Kabibi's fierce internal strength always comes shining through. So, a change had to occur.
Kabibi's natural fighting spirit didn't take long to surface however. There's something indomitable about our human spirit, that I wish could be bottled. "I started thinking, "I just have to be still, until I know how the matter will fall.'" That sentiment and actual verse is from Ruth 3:18 of The Bible and seemed to be wise council for Kabibi to be giving herself at that very moment.
"Then, eventually, I get up and wipe away my tears and get myself up and going. Keeping busy. I definitely don't want to sit at home and mope." No she doesn't but then she remembers she has cancer, "I don't want to sit at home but I do have to quite a bit," the sadness continued in her voice, "because my doctor told me, if I catch a cold, I could die. I wear a mask quite a bit," she told me uncomfortably.
"People look at me funny, when I wear the mask in public. They look at me as if to say, 'What do you have?' I think to myself, 'It's not what I have, it's what you have," she laughed charmingly.
It's at this point that I ask Kabibi about her treatments over the last year or so. "From August of last year until this January, I endured eight rounds of chemotherapy. This was about every other week with a few breaks in between. Toward the end, they installed a port in my chest through which they inject the chemo because my veins became invisible; chemo does that to you. That port freaks me out."
"When I go into the cancer center (John Theurer Cancer Center in Hackensack, NJ), everybody is so nice and I love seeing them." Kabibi gave me the feeling she was reuniting with a bunch of long-lost friends. And God bless them for making her feel that way. "First I get my blood drawn in the lab, where they weigh me in and check my vitals. It's crazy how efficient they are in there; by the time you are leaving the lab a few minutes later, they already have your test results."
"Then I talk with my doctor, who will likely talk to me about the test results or that my white blood count is low. He'll tell me all about the chemo treatment and answer all my questions; I love my doctor. They're very honest with you, so don't ask them any questions about something you don't want to hear the worst about."
"Finally, I go into this perfectly beautiful room -- it's so peaceful and pleasant -- there's lots of food and drink. 'Are you hungry? Are you eating? Here, have something to drink. Do you need any meds for weakness?' they always say to me. And for four hours I sit there on a drip. We're always catching up with each other, 'How's your baby?' I'll say to a nurse I know there. It's always a party when I go in there."
I'm not sure again, how in the world Kabibi keeps going and smiling. Maybe it's partially her internal refusal to give up as she originally considered, mixed with a bit of those cancer healthcare professionals' support, caring and love that pushes her over the top. I don't know.
"Right now, my doctors are reassessing. I have four big tumors that went from my colon to my liver, so in March I had two rounds of radiation at Hackensack University Medical Center. It's a party there too; that's the real party!" she said and I could hear her smile.
"For my radiation, they go through my groin area using a catheter and drop radiation pellets right on my liver. You're awake but drifting in and out. Radiation really kicked my ass. I couldn't eat. I was throwing up all the time. Still, a month later, I'm down to one meal a day; I'm always sleepy; and it definitely took its toll on my skin. My palms turned black. I'm not going to have radiation anymore."
"Usually, they only do one round of radiation -- "one and done" -- but I needed two rounds because my liver tumors were so big."
"You know, through this I lost a lot of weight and my hair thinned out but I didn't lose it all. I didn't mind if I lost all my hair, I just didn't want to lose too much weight."
Since the diagnosis, Kabibi and her daughter have fought stoutheartedly. Their finances have been extremely tight and they have struggled to pay for cancer meds, rent, food, transportation and all those other things that everybody has to cover. When you're not feeling well, every expenditure hurts.
Though Kabibi M'Poko was rocked with cancer out of absolutely nowhere, she has risen to the occasion and fought hard like a Navy SEAL and has found the inner strength to win. In addition to her daughter, Kabibi has ample reason to stick around: her stepdaughter Akira and eight year old granddaughter, Deedee, whom she talks about positively overflowing with love. She will find out everything about her future prognosis at the end of May.
While withstanding this very personal predicament over the last year, Kabibi has retained a rock-like faith. It is what has gotten her though; what has fueled her fight for survival. "I feel like I'm not going through all this to die," she told me heroically, "God has other plans for me. From praying and talking to other people, I know I'll be here. I'm gonna be OK."
"Once I get better," Kabibi told me, "I want to be the biggest cancer advocate in the world!" she said brimming with unbridled enthusiasm. "You know, I really want to create a way to help other people with cancer on all the problems I had, like paying my monthly bills, food and medicine. When you have cancer, these things are such a challenge."
"Every morning that I wake up and look into my daughter's eyes, I thank God."
Kind donations to Kabibi can be made at her Give Forward campaign.