As you can imagine, being an assistant principal always brings challenges and Vanessa Gibson is up for the challenge. When she was diagnosed in February of 2021 with stage 3 breast cancer, she knew that now was not the time to back down. In fact, it never crossed her mind.
Vanessa always knew she was at risk for breast cancer. It was prevalent on both sides of her family. “I have a family history of breast cancer. My mom’s mom passed away from breast cancer. My father’s sister passed away from breast cancer. She was diagnosed at age 38 and passed away at age 40, it was stage 4 by the time they found it. She never had a chance. As a result, I have always been an advocate for breast cancer awareness. I had my first mammogram at age 31. I always said, ‘This will not happen to me.’”
Vanessa’s reality quickly changed in December of 2020 when she noticed something strange about her body. The texture of her skin was the red flag that prompted her to call a medical professional. “I made an appointment in January to see my doctor. She agreed there were changes to my skin’s texture and set me up for a mammogram and an ultrasound.”
Vanessa went in on February 2nd for the scheduled procedures and had a biopsy performed.
It only took one day to receive the results. “I got the call on February 3rd with the diagnosis: stage 3 breast cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma. Two weeks later, I began treatment.”
Vanessa is now in the process of receiving 6 rounds of chemotherapy, followed by what she believes will become a double mastectomy, and after that, radiation. In preparation, she already took a leave of absence from her role as an assistant principal at the school.
That amount of chemotherapy is a lot for anyone to handle, but Vanessa Gibson is not just anyone, and she is not taking this diagnosis lying down. She is not feeling sorry for herself either. Vanessa is a natural born fighter and she’s ready to fight. If you talk to her about her diagnosis, she will tell you she has an entire team of people supporting her that includes family members, friends, students, and parents.
“I am not alone in this. I have an entire army fighting with me.”
Vanessa is a woman with a big personality, wonderful laugh, and an infectious smile. According to Vanessa, there is one thing that helps identify her and that is her hair, it’s big and curly. It is a huge part of who she is, her personality, and of her identity.
Of course, part of chemotherapy is losing one’s hair, and this was something that caused Vanessa to struggle, she felt losing her hair would mean losing a part of herself. As her hair began to fall out, she first cut it short, but clumps continued to fall out. Finally, she knew it had to go.
So, what did Vanessa do? She threw a party of course.
Vanessa decided to throw both a Facebook and Instagram live party simultaneously while broadcasting her head being shaved. A friend offered a barber, but Vanessa knew this would be more personal than that. She would not just give up her hair to anyone, she wanted to be in control of letting it go. Vanessa asked her mother and brother to do the honor of shaving her head.
Just after her diagnosis, Vanessa learned of Wellness House of Annapolis and its services. She immediately became a member. It was because of her appreciation of the unique offerings of the organization that she decided to use her Facebook Live event to raise money for Wellness House of Annapolis.
Wellness House of Annapolis is a nonprofit situated on 200 bucolic acres of Mas Que Farm where members come to experience true respite from the day-to-day challenges of living with a cancer diagnosis. All programs and services are offered for free to individuals diagnosed with cancer, their family, and caretakers. The organization raises funds to support its free offerings through fundraising, donations, and grants.
To Vanessa, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring awareness to breast cancer while supporting the mission of Wellness House of Annapolis. She said, “Wellness House is this great organization. So, when I decided to go live, I thought, ‘Why not have people donate to this amazing cause?’”
“To take an event that could be seen as a negative and turn it into something beautiful. I think in life there are moments that can be challenging, and the question is, do we search long enough to find that one thing that can make it beautiful?”
She put a donation up on her Facebook page for the event and set a modest goal of $200. Vanessa was sitting in chemo the day of her hair cutting event and had not even started the live stream yet when she realized the goal of $200 was met. Vanessa thought, “If I can raise $200, maybe I can raise $500,” and she raised the donation limit.
As she still sat in chemo, her target of $500 was hit. When the livestream began, she set the limit to $1,000. Boom. Friends and family began donating, matching each other, and cheering on Vanessa as her brother began shaving her head.
Then, it reached $2,000.
Vanessa ended up raising a grand total of $4,275.00.
“It’s humbling to see the amount of love that was shown, and I know it’s going to a great cause. It also underscores the power of the internet, and the ability to get your message out.”
Vanessa is not done, nor does she think her challenge is harder than the challenges of others. “If this is my path, then so be it. I’m ready to walk this path.”
Wellness House of Annapolis cannot thank Vanessa, her friends, and her family enough for hosting this incredible live event and donating all the money raised. This organization cannot do what it does without support from individuals like Vanessa, her friends, and family. It is people like Vanessa Gibson that make Wellness House of Annapolis what it is, a true reprieve from the challenges of a cancer diagnosis for individuals, their families, and caretakers.
Vanessa Gibson is an assistant principal and certified make-up artist living in District Heights, MD. She sees the inner beauty in everyone and believes in building women’s self-worth so that their beauty translates from the inside to the outside. Check out her website at: www.vanessasroyaldesigns.com or Instagram at: @msvgibson.