First run in the Memphis Commercial Appeal in October 2017, this article is the catalyst for the concept of this non-profit devoted to the legacy of Keesha Warrior Princess.
Our sweet daughter, Keesha Furniss, was diagnosed with stage-four metastatic breast cancer in late 2013. For four years, she fought the good fight, dealing with 14 different treatment strategies (multiple chemo/immunotherapy drugs). The treatment she received at West Clinic here in Memphis was literally life sustaining. She never stopped fighting. We called her the #WarriorPrincess! My wife Susan and I could not be more proud of her strength, her love of others and her will to live life to the fullest.
While we never focused of how this could happen to a 30-year-old vibrant daycare teacher, the shock was overwhelming. But, looking back, we think it might have been prevented — or at least caught earlier before it reached stage-four. While she was fighting the cancer, our focus was on helping her to live the remaining time to the fullest. But throughout her fight she was open with friends about the need to see a gynecologist consistently — and shared with some that she had not been going prior to diagnosis.
Perhaps it was her Christian upbringing, perhaps it was her commitment to no sex before marriage, perhaps it was the fear of “the visit.” Whatever it was, she did not go. When she had back issues and breathing issues, her physicians diagnosed it as something less than cancer. There were no breast exams given, something that a gynecologist does every time. Any lady will tell you, a gynecologist looks at a women’s body differently.
So why am I sharing this story? Because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and we want her story, our story, to be heard.
As a father I asked most all of the “dad questions” often: Do you have enough gas in your car? Are you being careful when you walk to your car? Do you lock your doors? I may have even asked, Have you been to the dentist? I did not ask her, “Have you been to the gynecologist, and are you doing self-breast exams every month?
I am now on a mission to ensure that all dads asks their daughters those questions. Really it’s a message to any man to ask his wife, his mother, and the females in his life. Have you been to the gynecologist? Are you doing self-breast exams? Have you had a mammogram? Yes, they need to start in their mid-20’s. Although statistics say breast cancer in your 20’s and 30’s is rare, our sweet Keesha is the example that it can happen.
Our new hashtag that we use when we tell this story is #AskHer. We hope her story and that question could save lives in Memphis and around the world.
Not long after Keesha she stepped into heaven last Nov. 28, we began to share this story and to ask this question. We have been surprised to hear story after story where the answer was “No!” A relative who had not been to the gynecologist for mammograms for more than two years because she does not have insurance. One of Keesha’s friends who had not been in more than nine years because of a bad experience her first time. A father who talked to me after a speaking event and who said, “I would have never thought about asking, but I am calling her on the way home and #AskHer!” The husband and wife at the bar who asked about my kid, which led to the story and the question, and the dad’s response: “I don’t know, but I bet I will by the end of the day.”
We are establishing — warriorprincess.org — a nonprofit in Keesha’s honor soon. To tell this story. To see if we as parents can share our horrible path and help others avoid the pain of losing a child to breast cancer. To keep women going to the right doctors, to ensure they know how to do a self-exam and are doing it every month.
For four years Keesha lived life out loud on Facebook. She met Josh Pastner and sat on the bench for a Tigers game. She swam with dolphins in Mexico. She went to see her beloved Pittsburgh Steelers and met DeAngelo Williams on the sideline. She went to eight Luke Bryan concerts and met him back stage (she was a Luke Bryan nut). She lived out her faith, loving and helping others in a similar situation, all the way to the last days. One friend said that she lived more in those four years than most people live in a lifetime.
She had more than 400 people at her Life Celebration service last December. It was a time for us to celebrate a life well lived. And the crowd was diverse — parents and kids from daycare, childhood friends, lifelong friends, doctors, nurses and family. Her brother Kevin, in his eulogy, summed up her life this way: “When Keesha stepped into Heaven last week, she didn’t lose to cancer. No. She beat cancer. She beat cancer by how she lived, why she lived, and the manner in which she lived… I’m thankful that she has no more pain, no more sickness. She has been given a new body. And she will now spend eternity with God. And I look forward to joining her one day!”
We wish she had gone to the gynecologist, that she had had done self-exams, that we would have the cancer earlier, that she had lived longer. We hope you and others will overcome any social stigma, any concerns about saying the wrong thing, and just #AskHer!
Bob Furniss is a husband, father, grandfather and now a breast cancer awareness advocate who lives in Bartlett. For more information visit warriorprincess.org.