I could not think of a better person to feature as we bid farewell to October, which is Breast Cancer and Domestic Violence Awareness month. Deborah Carter is an officer with the New York City Department of Corrections. She is an independent mama (single-mother), domestic violence awareness advocate, and a breast cancer survivor. Deborah has lived her share of challenging days. But faith, perseverance, and resilience have seen her through. Her story truly inspired me. I hope it does the same for you.
You survived domestic abuse and are now a domestic violence awareness advocate. Please share your journey from victim to survivor?
Twenty-nine years ago, I was in an abusive relationship with my second child’s father. We were living in Maryland and were in a relationship for two years. When we met, he already had a child by another woman. He would take his anger at her out on me. He abused me emotionally and physically. I was slapped, choked, and even shot with a BB gun. I did not recognize myself as a domestic violence victim until one day, while watching an episode of Oprah, I realized the story being featured was very similar to what I was going through. It was then that I knew that I had to get out of this relationship. I just needed to come up with a plan. I left when I was two and a half months pregnant with my son. I raised him, as well as my other two children, on my own with little to no financial help from their fathers. My experience inspired me to later become an advocate for other domestic violence survivors, which is what led me to start my blog, Abigail House.
The month of October is significant for you for another reason. Tell us about that.
I always knew that I might have an issue with breast cancer in my life. I had very cystic breasts, so when I was diagnosed, I had moments of disbelief, but I was not totally shocked. I had two lumpectomies. My first was in March 2004, and my second was in July 2004. When the cancer returned, in December 2014, my entire left breast was removed. I spent the new year (2015) in the hospital.
How did you feel after having the surgery?
I actually felt okay for the most part. I did not use pain medication through it all although it was offered to me. The one time I cried was when I woke up in the recovery room. My family had gone home, and for some reason the blinds were closed and the room was dark. When I woke up, I was still disoriented from the anesthesia. To wake up in darkness with no one there was scary. That was the one and only time that I had an emotional breakdown. I’ve since had my breast reconstructed using fat from my body. So in the end, I got both a new breast and tummy tuck (we laugh).
Please share your journey following the mastectomy. How were you emotionally? What did you do to get through each day?
My faith got me through. I and so many other people stayed positive and in prayer. Even the church where I first gave my life to Christ was in prayer for me. I also journaled as a way to process my thoughts and feelings. The biggest thing I did though was to rely on my faith and belief in God.
What advice would you give to other women regarding their breast health?
Be proactive. Always do your self-exams and get your mammograms and ultrasounds regularly. And if you are ever diagnosed, get a second opinion. There are hospitals and cancer centers. There is no excuse to just sit on it. There are too many resources available. You cannot let fear immobilize you.
Let’s shift gears a bit. You work as an officer for the New York City Department of Corrections. How did you get into corrections?
My father was an officer at the juvenile facility, Spofford located in the Bronx. In the 1980s, I began working in corrections in Maryland. I also worked as a correctional officer in North Carolina, and then finally here in New York, where I work at Rikers Island.
Do you find it difficult to be a woman in corrections?
Not really. I find that if you are respectful, you get respect. I don’t really have any issues with the job. And you can earn a pretty good living working in corrections.
You have three children, all of whom you raised as a single-mom. That could not have been easy. What words of advice would you give to other single-moms?
You have to put your children first if you want them to have values and know how to exist in this world. Encourage them to make good decisions. Don’t push your desires onto them. And let them pursue their gifts and talents.
Being a single-mother is not easy. There were times when the lights were on in the house and I had food in the refrigerator, but I did not have a dollar in my pocket for gas for my car. During that time, I learned how to be grateful for what I had. I understood that more would not come to me if I was not grateful for what I already had.
What are you most proud of as a single-mom?
I am most proud of the fact that my children are all leaders in their own right. My oldest child operates the trains for New York City Transit. He also always wanted to drive a bus and now he actually owns his own bus. My second son is an engineer. And my daughter is in college pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice.
How did you handle dating as a single-mom?
I did not bring men around my children because I knew that they would not be a permanent fixture in their lives. When I wanted to enjoy myself, I always went out of the house.
What is life like for you now and what are your plans for the future?
Life is good right now. My three kids are now grown, so it’s my time. I want to live life and do things for me right now. I want to travel. I would like to enjoy jazz clubs and things like that. I do want companionship. I would like to be in a relationship, but the person must have serious intentions. I’m not interested in online dating or casual relationships. I’ve been there and done that.
I hear you! Where can people connect with you?
Through my blog abigailhouseblog.wordpress.com and on Facebook at Abigail House.
Thank you for sharing Deborah.