The Rev. Unnia Pettus has said goodbye to her loved ones a few times, but she’s still here.
A survivor of domestic violence, stroke, four types of cancer, pneumonia and heart disease, Pettus continues to inspire and lift up others no matter how much she is suffering. Even if she can barely speak, she surprises members of her “Angel Tribe” with phone calls to check on them, offer prayer, share a laugh or say “Happy Birthday.”
Instead of dwelling on her pain, she focuses on the positive side of her illnesses. “The gift,” she says, “is that God shows us to appreciate the little things in life.”
It’s a gift that Pettus encourages people everywhere to cherish during the coronavirus pandemic. “Even with COVID-19, God is letting us know He’s in control.”
And with October being both Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Pettus encourages women to take good care of themselves and avoid suffering in silence.
The pandemic has sparked or increased the abuse of children and intimate partners with more people being inside together for longer periods of time. “COVID-19 has caused major economic devastation, disconnected many from community resources and support systems, and created widespread uncertainty and panic,” according to the Substances Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
“Don’t think it could never happen to you,” Pettus warns on domestic violence. “It happened to me and so many others who fell in love with the wrong partner.”
To fight breast cancer, Pettus stresses mammograms and especially self-exams. That’s how she discovered a year ago that she had breast cancer, the second leading cause of death among women behind heart disease. While white women have higher rates of breast cancer, Black women are No. 1 in terms of breast cancer deaths.
In addition to being an ordained minister and advocate against domestic violence, Pettus is an entrepreneur. She has tried to keep practicing and teaching strategic communications, public relations, social media and brand marketing as her health permits. In 2007, she wrote her first book, “Nobody But God: A Journey of Faith From Tears to Triumph.” Since then, she has co-authored a book about President Barack Obama and co-edited another by her late public relations mentor, Ofield Dukes. Eventually, she wants to update her memoir.
Here, in her own words, the 52-year-old “overcomer” describes her ups and downs with cancer, which has been linked genetically to her father’s side of the family:
My journey started with Stage 4 colon cancer when I was 33 years old. Then in 2012, a blood clot caused me to have a stroke with right-side paralysis. I ended up in a wheelchair, and I had to learn how to write, walk and talk again. It took nearly two years to be back to functional, like going from a baby to an adult. After that, three brain tumors in my pituitary gland, which were benign but painful, resulted in extreme memory disabilities and speech issues that I have still today.
The cancer tsunami began in 2018. I was diagnosed with gynecologic cancer in July and developed life-threatening sepsis complications. I almost died and was placed into palliative/hospice care. I wasn’t expected to live more than 45 to 60 days, but I did live — thanks to the miraculous healing power of God.
Unfortunately, cancer continued to spread throughout my body with me getting sicker and sicker. Doctors detected kidney cancer and removed a tumor on July 1, 2019. The following week, I found a large painful lump on my right breast while in the shower. Fast forward, I was diagnosed with HER2-positive invasive ductal carcinoma. This metastatic breast cancer led to a double mastectomy last November.
In less than two years, I’ve had three life-threatening cancers. I’m still in treatment, and I’m back in a wheelchair. I’m unable to walk without assistance, because chemotherapy damaged a nerve in my eardrum, which has impacted my equilibrium with persistent dizziness while I’m awake or asleep. It’s called PPPD, or triple-P-D, for Persistent Postural Perceptual Dizziness. It feels like vertigo times a hundred with wobbly legs and double vision.
I’m bummed that I can’t walk without assistance, but no need to ask, “Why Me?” Instead, I try to focus on God’s promises to never leave or forsake me. With each step, I’m growing my faith muscles. It’s increasing my testimony!
I was quarantined a total of six straight weeks during hospital and nursing home care. We had frequent COVID-19 tests — mine all negative bless God — constantly, 24/7 wearing masks and gloves.
I’m so grateful to be alive.
Prayers and encouragement keep me believing that people do care when bad things happen to good people. I feel every prayer, virtual hug, sincere love and concern. I’m determined to stay positive and continue to fight by faith!
Domestic Violence: How to Protect Yourself and Your Children
“Every 15 seconds a woman is beaten in the U.S. And 1 out of 4 women will experience some form of verbal, emotional or physical abuse from her intimate partner in her lifetime,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
But there is help.
Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE to get 24/7 free, confidential help and resources to get to safety. The hotline will put you in touch with local law enforcement and advocacy resources, plus safe shelter to protect you and your children from your abuser.
Don’t delay, reach out today and tell a trusted friend, pastor, co-worker, or family member what you’ve been going through in silence. Now you must speak your truth to get the help you need. The abuse is not your fault.
You can also email me at email@example.com to seek help. As a domestic violence survivor, I’ve been helping women and children safely escape abusers since 2007 through my D.C.-based Nobody But God Ministries, which also increases awareness about sexual violence and human trafficking.
— Rev. Unnia Pettus
The “Friends of Unnia Pettus” are raising funds for life-saving home care, immunotherapy cancer treatments, holistic therapy and other uncovered health expenses. They have set up a Go Fund Me campaign under #HelpUnniaPettusFightCancer and two other giving options: