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What’s a cancer survivor like me doing in Ebony? (The back story)



Cancer is Crazy: Journals in the Raw (Part I)


First allow me to remind some and initially inform others that I’ve been writing/blogging about African Americans and Cancer for more than two years. Penny Dickerson Photo Image #2I was diagnosed with Renal Cell Carcinoma in 2006 after decades of other health related issues that affected my reproductive system and resulted in a series of ongoing catastrophes. Additonally, I was told I’d never have a child. My daughter, Kelsey Nicole, turns 23 in June. I beat odds.

It wasn’t until last week, May 2, 2013, that my voice, my story, my advocacy was given a national platform. It was and remains a blessing in due season.

This didn’t come by luck or by brown-nosing anyone in high places. It was favor and by that I do mean spiritually, coupled with the good heart and professional favor of a savvy editorial director at Ebony Magazine (Digital). Actually, I impressed the CEO/President of TJM Communications, Inc. (Treva Marshall). Her firm was contracted to manage public relations for the Disney Dreamers Academy with Steve Harvey and Essence Magazine.IMG_7165

Treva referred me to the  Ebony.com Editorial Director who offered the opportunity to write

“The Kinsey Collection.”

It is a fascinating historical representation of an African American family’s private art collection and  debuted at at Walt Disney’s Epcot Center the same weekend as the Dreamers Academy took place. Timing is everything.

Ebony (March 20, 2013)   “A Whole New World: The Kinsey Collection”


My initial goal with Ebony was to get a paragraph or two in by the end of March to honor Kidney Cancer Awareness month which was also the same month as DDA. I’d previously shared with the editorial director that the REAL struggle with cancer begins AFTER survival. Physicians save you, but you have to put your life back together.

The result of  my pitches and (perhaps) harrassment was an offer to do a cancer journal, twice a month with the following caveat: “I want it to be raw.”  (I still can’t believe she presented such a generous offer.)  Thinking I (really knew) what raw meant, the following online dialogue between she and I ensued:

Writer in the raw:

This raw you speak of, do you mean like this?: Revision #`1.

Editor’s Response (days later): 

“Penny if you don’t want to do it, that’s OK. I want this to be cathartic for you.”

Writer in the raw (to self):

“She must want me to show off my metaphorical genius. You mean like this?” Revision #2

Editor’s Response (a week + days later):

“Penny, I want you to emote, not report. Think the antithesis of reportage.”

By now it’s mid April. I’ve sent a string of other non-cancer related pitches and driven her stark mad with emails that go to her phone. Professional (or scared stalker) that she was, she always responded and usually at length. (For freelancers, that’s unprecedented).

Stumped by the journal, I simply stopped writing. I recalibrated and went through my old journals to see what I actually wrote back in 2006, 2007, 2008, you get the chronology. I also scanned through my old M.F.A. binders and reviewed the words of previous mentors, one of whom wrote the following feedback on a submission prior to my graduating:

“You’re finally writing like you don’t care who’s reading.” Translation: RAW!

I then reviewed some notes from Rick Horowitz (Huffington Post and a MASTER on teaching writer’s to learn their “voice.”). One of the BEST workshops I’ve ever attended.rick horowitz

After that, I was courageous and good to go.

Revision #3 is the published link above and the first in a series of “to be determined” entries.

By now, it’s the end of April. I’m told that the journal will debut as part of an Ebony    “Woman up!” series highlighting “Sister Stories.”

Mine will be included, but they need my photo image by Tuesday, April 30, 2013 (What?) That was the next day.

Well, my great artistic friend Greg McKinnon (of Alvin Ailey Scholarship Recipient, Cats and Starlight Express – EUROPE) had me semi-scheduled two weeks ago to do some shots that I procrastinated on. According to him, he was sick of seeing my blurry photos and camera phone shots on all of my public sites. Greg was also a model while in Europe and therefore knows a thing or ten and has more equipment and gadgets and lights and booms than I’ve evah seen.photography equipment

Monday night, April 29th, till about 2:00 a.m., we played Top Model and had a good ‘ole time. I am a horrid model and we must have taken a gazillion shots. By night’s end, I was so dizzy and nauseated (forgot medicine), that he had to bring me home; I left my car at his house, which incidently has been my 2nd house since high school. I can go in his Mama’s pots AND I know where they keep the toilet paper.

I want people to understand that these things, these blessings, these opportunities, this favor, does NOT happen overnight. In the midst of all of the above, I continued to write major features for other affiliates, was hospitalized for five days…no, as a matter of fact I didn’t widely share that bit of information, and I also continued to hold it down as Professor Dickerson at Florida State College at Jacksonville. Trust me: I am nobody’s whiner.

A cohort of small minds have voiced that, “Penny is milking that cancer thing for all it’s worth.” Really? Whose been reading my cancer blogs? Have you any idea how many editors politely tell me to “stick it?” Throughout the years, many have but most editorial relationships I’ve developed are sustainable and treasured.

My health has indeed been an ongoing saga, but not for the reasons many may think. It’s a multi-layered struggle that has many dimensions. I think it’s called playing the hand you’re dealt and making lemonade when life serves you lemons. What’s milk got to do with anything?CT of Kidney Cancer

Let me share this: A 9 cm tumor basically ruined my life. “BATTLE” as associated with cancer is not limited to the physical disease. Even if you think you know about my struggle, I assure you, I have never revealed HALF of what this has taken me through, but it will be exposed in these upcoming journal entries.

I have been a freelance writer since 2001. While it’s been intermittent, writing is my passion and on some level, I’ve always been a lover of language and gravitated towards prose. My first, FIRST, freelance article appeared in the Florida Times-Union. It featured three local dancers admitted to the Alvin Ailey School of Dance summer program.

That was A LONG time ago and 12 years later it’s still an act of media congress to get a story in the Florida Times-Union. For some odd reason, many also think I started writing when my first  website launched in 2010. NOT! The website was simply a much needed portal to market both me and my work. My writing precedes it.

Click the link below to read: LOCAL TEENS TO ATTEND AILEY


I have kept at it, kept at it, kept at it, studied, stayed up late, studied with MASTER writers  and poets, given up, slowed down, gotten back up, and yeah, NOW I’m published in Ebony, but it has been a 12 year hike uphill and this is not the end nor is it the pinnacle.

It is, however, definitive symbolism of a professional milestone for which I am proud, but I continue to foster and nurture dreams and goals. And when I dream, I dream big, bold, and in technicolor.

Every writer understands the gravity of this opportunity. A national platform in a digital format for ANY writer in the 21st century is a coup and I quote: “EBONY.com is the premiere online magazine destination for African-American cultural insight, news, and perspective.”

Don’t HATE because cancer serves as a formidable outlet for creative exchange. Love me because I am using my voice and gift(s) to  prevent you from getting cancer.


Those who know me (well) can also attest that I am one of the most resourceful and undeterred human beings on planet earth. My confidence sometimes wanes, but I keep it moving. MOVIN’.

Now that I have your attention, please take time to read and share the links below. There are so many devastating cancers in the world, but the ones we pay the least attention to are the ones that unfortunately affect us the most.

Each of my journal entries will begin with the same excerpt from my Duke Medical Center Records. You’ll learn that Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston Salem, NC also played an integral role in my treatment. The following sentences bookend my personal journey.

Ms. Merdis Dickerson is a 43-year-old African American female who began experiencing abdominal pain in the spring of 2006 and was noted to have gallstones…

The Pathology showed a clear cell renal cell carcinoma, grade II out of IV, which was confined to the kidney and measured 0.9 cm in greatest dimension.” —

Excerpt from Duke Medical Records: Raleigh, North Carolina

kidney_cancer stages

Black Kidney Cancer Patients Die earlier than White Patients


Kidney Cancer Tshirt

Black Cancer Death Disparities – Why the difference?


Penny Dickerson 2013

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