One of the survivors featured in the expanded exhibit of The Alabama Project recently passed away from complications of breast cancer. Debbie Tabb welcomed David, Lauren and me into her home last July 4 to celebrate with her family. The joy and love in the room was infectious, despite the realization among many that her health was rapidly declining.

Debbie was unstoppable. A breast cancer diagnosis, and metastasis to her ovaries, her bones, and her left eye did little to slow her down. Every morning, she continued to rise early to be in place at the Hale County Board of Education when the busses pulled out at 6:00 a.m. to make their rounds. For a while, she even drove a school bus. She refused to let cancer change how she went about her days.

Her journey encouraged her to educate other women, to empower them to care for themselves and to face their fears and talk about their experiences.

“I saw somebody I knew in the grocery store and she looked like she didn’t care what she looked like, no makeup on, her hair stuck up under a hat,” Debbie told me as we sat waiting for members of her family to arrive for the Fourth of July feast she was hosting. “I told her, ‘you need to take care of yourself and make yourself look like you’re still living.'”

“Cancer is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about,” Debbie continued. “Some people in the community think they’ve got to hide. That needs to stop if we’re going to change the mindset in Black communities.”

Debbie recognized that how she walked the walk, how she lived her life with cancer, was important. For her own need to feel alive. For her family to see that she was living the life she wanted to live, all the way to the end. For her neighbors, to witness the vitality and passion that can characterize a life affected by cancer.


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