I long admired Gen. Colin Powell. After his death, I learned we shared something in common

General Powell kept his myeloma diagnosis close to his chest. I share my journey to show that living with cancer does not mean you stop living.

General Colin Powell was someone I deeply admired for his service to our country and especially our children. I was blessed to meet him and his beautiful wife, Alma, at two GradNation Summits in Washington, D.C. which I attended with some of my colleagues in the Kinston and Charlotte communities.

At the time, the Powells were leaders of America’s Promise. Their son, Michael, gave a shout out to Kinston during a speech, calling us one of the communities working to make a difference in the lives of our children.

I recently read that author Bob Woodward had a conversation with General Powell, during which Powell shared that he had been in and out of the hospital due to his challenges with multiple myeloma and Parkinson’s disease. Woodward shared that he was sorry to hear that news.

According to Woodward in a Washington Post recap of that conversation, the retired Army general and former U.S. secretary of state was quick to say, “Don’t feel sorry for me, for God’s sakes! I’m [84] years old. I haven’t lost a day of life fighting these two diseases. I’m in good shape.”

For me, what I found stunning was Powell’s admission that he was a multiple myeloma patient. My daughter, April, had shared with me on the day of his passing that Powell had multiple myeloma. And although I was a big fan of Powell’s great work and service, I didn’t know of his diagnosis.

Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer that you do not hear very much about…until someone famous is diagnosed and/or succumbs to it.  I am not famous, but I have lived with the challenge of multiple myeloma since 2010.  When my doctor gave me the diagnosis, the first words out of my mouth were, “I ain’t got time for cancer. I’ve got work to do!”

While General Powell seems to have kept his myeloma diagnosis close to his chest, I have tried to share my journey with others to show that living with cancer does not mean you have to stop living. I have outlived the 36-to-48-month prognosis my doctor initially gave me. I have been blessed that there have been great treatments available to me to keep the cancer at bay. Great treatments but not a cure.

The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly put a lot of fear in those of us who are immunocompromised. After Powell’s death, critics were quick to question the efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccine, since Powell’s family shared that he was fully vaccinated. Some initial news reports did not say he was immunocompromised, which put him in a high-risk category for contracting the virus.

I am fully vaccinated, and all three of my grown children are as well. But we each have had health issues that could put us at greater risk for the virus. To be completely honest, we all are at risk of contracting the virus.

I look forward to the day when we can say goodbye to the devastation of multiple myeloma, Parkinson’s disease and to the life-threatening effects of Covid-19.

It is with great sadness that I say goodbye to a great American hero. However, it is with great pride, General Colin Powell, that I say thank you so much for a life well lived.

Theresa Williams Bethea
Theresa Williams-Bethea is a Kinston native and former Charlotte resident. She is a long-time children’s advocate and is president/founder of Young Women of Promise, Inc., and ENC Nonprofit Partners.

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