After being removed from her home at the age of six, Lanaya and her younger brother were placed in foster care. Three years ago, at the age of 18, Lanaya ventured out on her own and discovered that her biological mother did not have stable housing, but she did have three more brothers whom she had never met.
Lanaya started a relationship with her siblings but was dealing with her own housing struggles, bouncing around with friends or family. When her cousin was unable to continue housing her, Lanaya stayed in parks, or rode the train at night.
In the midst of her time experiencing homelessness, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. While briefly staying with her boyfriend and his grandmother, she heard about applying for housing assistance. Finally, in October of 2018, after 8 rounds of chemotherapy, things started looking up for Lanaya. Within weeks, she turned 21, was clear of cancer, and got her first apartment through a placement with Inspiration Corporation’s Housing Services program.
Describing how difficult it was to fight cancer, Lanaya recognizes that all of the obstacles in her life helped prepare her for this new challenge:
“It teaches me endurance. Endurance physically, but also endurance mentally. It kinda of prepared me for just about anything. The cancer prepared me for a lot. And I just know that everything I went through prepared me for the next thing and the thing after that. I got taken away from my mom when I was six, and I just think I went through all the trials of the different foster homes, and then I turn 18 and get diagnosed with cancer. So I already had some strength built up that prepared me.”
Lanaya’s grit is also apparent when she talks about the other challenges of cancer, including the burden of losing her hair during chemotherapy:
“It teaches you the true definition of self-confidence… If I thought I was confident before, getting ready to lose my hair set me down a peg. That’s the chance to really love yourself. If you can do that, you can do anything. It was good to hear that my boyfriend always loved me with or without my hair.”
With her health in order and stable housing, Lanaya decided to apply for guardianship of her 14 year old brother. He regularly visits Lanaya, and they are working to complete the process before Lanaya can assume guardianship.
Lanaya’s brother has been through his own challenges as well, and his sister is there to look out for him. It was clear to see the love and care between them. When we asked himhis thoughts about his sister and their situation, he started to say, “I just come a long way. Being with my sister….”, but he was unable to finish the thought. We are glad that we can help Lanaya and her brother build a home and a family with each other.
Just as Lanaya puts a lot of energy into caring for herself and others, she channels her creative energy by finding ways to stay busy. After her experience with chemotherapy treatment at Rush, she knew how lonely it could get. She is trying to start a support group for cancer patients, where volunteers can go spend time with patients to make the time go by more pleasantly.
She also created a T-shirt design with the help of TGi Movement, a local Community Service, Community Development, Youth Engagement organization based on the south side. The front of the shirt has a purple ribbon with the quote, “I never had cancer…Cancer had me.” The back side has the hashtag #PainIntoPower. Lanaya never claimed the cancer, because she knew that she had already beaten it. You can purchase a shirt here, and the proceeds go to TGi and Lanaya. It is all about turning your hurt and pain into something positive. She said that it motivates her to move forward and keep going:
“It’s something good at the end and that’s why something keeps coming between it. I just remember it like that.”