There is a common knowledge that mother’s instincts should never be questioned. My mother in particular knows this to indeed be a fact. Just a few weeks after celebrating my first birthday, my mother began to notice that her happy-go-lucky baby girl was not in her usual good spirits. I wanted to sleep all the time and I cried when I wasn’t sleeping. The days that my mother worked, she would let me stay with my grandmother who happened to be a Registered Nurse. Also having that motherly instinct, she told my mother one day upon her return from work, “Starla, something is wrong with this child”. It was then that my parents headed to the first of many doctor’s appointments during what would come to be known as the fight for my life.
At 13 months old, my parents were told that their daughter was suffering from a form of childhood cancer known as Neuroblastoma and it was spreading fast. At the point of discovery, my cancer had already advanced to my liver and was at Stage 4. The doctors at Children’s had determined that the cancer began to affect my body at a mere 6 months old. They told my parents that they had never had a stage 4 patient to survive under my circumstances. My parents were faced with having to watch their infant daughter be confined to a hospital bed with IV needles and tubes running out of my body. My skin had turned yellow and my body had swollen so much that my mother had to buy specialty diapers just to fit me. It was during these moments that my parents knew their Faith was going to be put to the ultimate test.
The doctors started the chemotherapy & radiation treatments immediately. For a while, I was responding to the treatments and making progress. However, after a short while my body failed to continue the response. The cancer was spreading rapidly throughout my entire body and none of the treatments seemed to be making any progress. The doctors started preparing my parents for my death, leaving me with only a month left to live.
Thankfully, I was blessed to have a mother who is a woman of Faith. Through prayer she had peace that God was going to heal me when the time was right. They kept trying to convince my parents that they needed to be realistic and face the truth that I was going to die, but the peace my mother had was just too overwhelming for her to give up on me. During these days of waiting and praying and hoping, she held tight to the bible verse, Mark 11:24. She read it knowing that it was God’s way of assuring her that I would be healed in his name, through his will.
It was only two days before my second birthday and my parents were at home inDothan waiting to receive a phone call that would inform them of my most recent test results. They had been waiting for three days for the results when the phone finally rang. The doctor’s apologized and they explained that the delay was because they needed to get a few other opinions on my test results to reassure that what they were seeing was not incorrect. As tears of joy covered their faces, my parents were finally hearing that the cancer that had once engulfed every inch of my entire body was nowhere to be found.
Not only was I cancer free, but I was walking away from this fatal battle only losing half of my hearing due to the chemotherapy . I had just fought and won this battle with a cancer that accounts for 15% of childhood deaths attributed to cancer. The odds had been stacked against me from day one. I was a living, breathing miracle. Little did I know, this would not be the last battle that I would have to fight?
The world as we know it can be a crucial one and being partially deaf in the era I was growing up in was extremely difficult. I was constantly bullied with the name “deaf girl”. The majority of my teachers never understood me nor did they really try. It was hard to maintain a job at first because people would find excuses in how my disability was getting in the way. It just always seemed as if nobody believed in me because of my inability to hear as well as others.
I always had big dreams for myself and I always kept faith that God healed me for a reason. He had a purpose for me in this life. However, I had very low self-esteem due to being bullied and struggled with my confidence on a daily basis. There was a night when I was watching Miss America 1995 with my mom and it was the night that Heather Whitestone was crowned as the first deaf Miss America. I turned around to my mom and said, “I want do that, I want to be like her”! My mother knew it would be a great start in helping boost my confidence by entering me in pageants.
I started competing, but wasn’t gaining much success in my first few pageants, so the confidence started going down again. My speech pathologist discovered the news that Heather Whitestone was coming to Dothan, Alabama to speak at a school and she knew that she wanted to make sure I met her since she knew how much I looked up to her. It was the day that I will never forget. When she was done speaking, my mother took me behind stage where Heather was waiting before she left. She knelt down to my level and neither of us could understand what we were saying because she signed and I was learning to read lips. With the help of my speech pathologist, it was these words that Heather spoke to me that I would never forget, “Kayla, you are only as disabled as you allow yourself to be. You can do anything you set your mind to and you should never give up until you receive your goals because you can be where I am at today”.
From that day forward, I started living by those words. I went on to win my first pageant the very next weekend, learned to speak & talk like a normal person, graduated high school in 2008 with a standard diploma without the help of an interpreter in classrooms, placed 2ndalternate at Miss AL USA in 2010, moved to Birmingham four years ago so I could further pursue bigger dreams, I have been modeling professionally for 5 years and now here I am pursuing a dream of being an Actress.
There is not a day that goes by that I don’t face an obstacle or having someone tell me that I won’t make it. But I couldn’t say it better than NFL player, Derrick Coleman, “I’ve been deaf since age 3, so I didn’t listen”. I look back at how much I have overcome and I look ahead knowing that nothing can stop me now. My Father made me a fighter for a reason, He knew the journey He was preparing me for and with Him, nothing is impossible. That is why I laugh without fear of my future as in what scripture verse Proverbs 31:25 quotes. My journey is just beginning.
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