Vanessa Bell Calloway: “By The Grace Of God, I’m Still Here”
Movie and television actress Vanessa Bell Calloway, who is best known for her roles in What’s Love Got to Do with It and Coming to America, has her own story to tell…her battle with cancer.
Calloway has always been a stickler for good health. As a former dancer, she exercised consistently and followed a healthy diet for the most part. She was also diligent about her annual mammograms and pap smears, and thought she was doing all of the right things. Yet, about four years ago, she knew something in her body just wasn’t right. She just felt it.
“I thought they were going to tell me that I had some incurable blood disease – I’m very dramatic! I had missed my mammogram because the place I usually went to closed,” the actress said. “I had to find a new place, but life happened, and I got busy. However, breast cancer — that was the last thing on my mind because since the age of 40, my mammograms came back clear.”
Still, Calloway just didn’t feel right.
“I went to the doctor and had him do everything, blood work and all kinds of tests. He asked if I had pain. I didn’t. He finally asked about my mammogram, and then sent me to get one immediately.”
They called her back because they saw some abnormalities in her right breast, and a biopsy was scheduled.
The actress went back to work, but waiting a week for the results was extreme stressful. Yet, Calloway, who was doing a show in a theater at the time, was able to find comfort in a unique source — a legendary gospel song, “His Eye is on the Sparrow. ”
“If God is watching a little sparrow, surely he’s watching me,” Calloway said. “That song soothed me and got me through that period.”
It was determined that the actress needed a lumpectomy, which was performed, but the doctor called her back because he wasn’t happy with the success margins of the results and wanted to do another one.
“I was fine with that because I didn’t think anything was wrong. I just thought, ‘let’s knock this puppy out the park!’ At this point I had told no one but my husband; not my kids, not my parents, because I just thought it would be a one-two punch,” Calloway continued.
“And I am planner. I plan everything in life; everything has a schedule, so once it was determined that I wasn’t going to die, I made a schedule. I thought, I’ll have this lumpectomy, then I’ll have radiology twice a day for five days, and be done before one of my daughter’s birthdays in September, and no one would know the difference. So when he asked me to come back that Monday, I wasn’t thinking a thing.”
The actress went back for her second lumpectomy on a Monday and was scheduled for radiation treatments that Wednesday. “So I decided I’d get my hair done beforehand. No sense in looking crazy!”
Her phone rang while she was at the salon, and she moved to a quiet corner off the main area to take the call in private, but the reception was terrible. That is when she got the difficult news.
“All I can hear is static and the word ‘mastectomy,’” Calloway recalled about the aftermath of the second lumpectomy. “The radiologist is trying to tell me that the margins came back unclear, and I wouldn’t be able to start my treatment that week. Here I thought he was calling to tell me to come in for treatment that afternoon.”
At the age of 52, Calloway was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), the presence of abnormal cells inside a milk duct in her right breast. When she learned her diagnosis, her hairdresser comforted her until…