Ananda Lewis gave a platform to Black teenagers in the 1990s on BET’s wildly popular show Teen Summit. Her on-camera career has earned her two NAACP Image Awards and stints on various networks, including MTV, TLC, and CBS.
Today, the 47-year-old mother is sharing the most intimate details of a personal story. On Oct. 1, Lewis announced to her Instagram followers that she has been battling Stage 3 breast cancer for the last two years. This was a surprise not only to fans, but also to some of her family.
“First, I want to apologize to the family and friends who are going to be hearing this for the first time with everybody and who are going to feel like I should have had those conversations with them directly,” explains Lewis.
At times holding back tears, Lewis tells of how she avoided getting mammograms for fear of the radiation and because her mother, who faithfully had mammograms for 30 years, still ended up with a breast cancer diagnosis. Lewis discovered a lump during a self-exam and a biopsy in early January of 2019 confirmed breast cancer, which has also spread into her lymph nodes.
The experience has made Lewis an ardent champion of women getting mammograms. She is still vehemently opposed to prolonged radiation exposure, but she now recognizes that one is essential to mitigating the spread of the disease.. BET.com talked to Ananda Lewis about the response from her big announcement, her plans for the future, and all the ways she’s able to find joy these days.
BET.com: What was the reaction from friends and family when they learned of your cancer diagnosis at the same time as everyone on Instagram?
Ananda Lewis: The response from them has been positive, understanding, and loving. My friends and family are amazing people. There probably is a twinge of something there, but I think it's less, ‘Why didn't she tell me,’ and more ‘Why did she go through that alone?’ For me, it was about really being able to focus on getting myself out of this mess. I subscribe to the philosophy of conserving your energy for forward momentum and not circling in place. I didn't want to talk; I wanted to do something about it.
BET.com: You've been battling cancer for about two years now, and announcing this during Breast Cancer Awareness Month makes sense, but why share this news now?
Ananda Lewis: 2020 has been such a messed up year; why not just pile on, right? But seriously, last year was a rough, tumultuous, and emotionally challenging year for me. And so it wasn't time. It was just as relevant but not as accessible for me in terms of handling. Now, I'm in a better place, and I wanted to take advantage of that. I've taken the physical action that I needed to take in all aspects of reclaiming my health, happiness, sanity, and all the things that may have been off. This diagnosis has compelled me to do that.
BET.com: How have you been taking care of yourself since learning of the diagnosis? I know you're not too keen on conventional cancer treatments.
Ananda Lewis: When I left my breast center, where I got my biopsy, I went straight to one of my favorite places to get herbs and cleanses, and I started a 30-day cleanse. I stand on living in an intelligent body. We are divine beings getting to live in these bodies for split seconds. Our bodies are intelligent; they will handle not having the right thing happen. I don't reject the conventional approach and the benefits they have had for people; I've seen it help people. I've also seen it not help people. And I think no matter what you choose, honoring your body's ability to do something for itself has to be incorporated for me in terms of maximizing the potential of healing.
BET.com: Of course, everyone has to do their research and figure out their journey to wellness, but what does treatment look like for you right now?
Ananda Lewis: I've attacked it from many different levels: energetically, spiritually, nutritionally, emotionally a direct attack on the cancer cells. For me, that looked like hyperbaric and high dose vitamin C IVs. I now have a team of people who have helped me figure out even more of the things that I was doing and how to do them better and how to do them differently. I'm not a doctor; I'm just a woman who's going through it and finding things that work for me. The things that have worked the best have been supplement based. If you look up breast cancer and alternatives, you'll find a list of things, and I've almost checked off that entire list. I'm checking it off with medical supervision and help.
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BET.com: Did you feel a sense of relief when you finally told everyone about your breast cancer?
Ananda Lewis: It was a huge relief. But it wasn't easy to post that. I wasn't sure what the feedback was going to be. I wanted to help other women by sharing the mistake I made. There was a lot of shame and embarrassment around that. I have a sister who's a physician and cousins who are doctors; I was like, ‘Oh my God, they're gonna think I'm so dumb.’ But I had to power through the shame. The night that I was posting, my body wasn't well. I had some odd reactions to treatment. It was physically a struggle to push through and write and edit the post. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, am I gonna even make it? What are people gonna think of me? How am I gonna look?’ Then it hit me what was happening. My ego was trying to push against me. Eventually, I pressed post and turned off my notifications for two or three days.
BET.com: When you were on The Tamron Hall Show, she mentioned that the doctors gave you a prognosis of two to three years to live.
Ananda Lewis: It makes me laugh every time I hear it because it just flies in the face of what I know to be true, which is that no one can tell you how long you're going to live. I don't care what color the coat they have on. What they tell you is based on a snapshot they've taken of where your body is at that moment, which is an accumulation of what it's been through. I asked the oncologist how long he thought I had if l did nothing, that's when he said two or three years.
BET.com: You have a nine-year-old son. How did you explain all of this to him?
Ananda Lewis: My son is such an amazing little boy. He has been very in tune with his own body from the start. He would get scrapes like kids do and cry, and we would sit together as I showed him how to close his eyes and visualize his body healed. When I got the diagnosis, I told him, 'Mommy's body is having a problem. There's something going on that if I don't do something about it, it can be perilous, and I'm going to do something about it. And here's how you can help me.' I wanted to empower him. So, I told him not to share foods with me that I can't eat anymore, like pizza, and how I need him not to drink my special juices, things like that. One of the first things he did was he took his hand and tried to heal me like he had been taught to heal himself. It was such a moment! He's a strong boy.
BET.com: Through all of this, where and how do you find your joy?
Ananda Lewis: I get up every morning, and I have a solo dance party. I have my Bluetooth speaker; I put my music on and jam out in my jammies, dancing and singing. Right now, I’m loving DeBarge. I’m listening to the 20th Century Masters Collection. I love the new Busta Rhymes, and I listen to Anderson.Paak in the mornings. He hypes me up. My friend Lenora King has an amazing album out right now. I used to have live jam sessions with this group, and it was so freeing discoveing my voice improvising songs.
I’m looking forward to getting back to that. I get to be silly and light and dance.
Demetria Wambia is a New York City-based writer and editor. Follow her on Twitter @Love_Is_Dope.