This year, Altovise Ferguson will be marking 14 years since her diagnosis of lymphoma, a spinal tumor that she was on the receiving end of when she was just 27 years old. Her journey towards becoming cancer-free wasn’t easy, but, for the gospel-recording artist, songwriter, and actress, the eye-opening experience changed her life and led to opportunities, accomplishments, and milestones that she might not otherwise have experienced or achieved.
When reflecting on how she knew something was going on initially, Altovise said, “I had been walking and falling for months and that’s what led me go to the hospital on August 10th, 2003. It was actually my gynecologist who got me in, and I had begun to see him prior because the pain was shooting. I was walking and falling at the time but I also experienced pain down the middle of my spine to my sciatic nerve and to the female area, so I felt like it might have something to do with female things.”
Altovise, at the time, had a six year old girl and had given birth to a baby boy the year prior. Considering this, she thought that her symptoms might correlate to having given birth. She then underwent test after test, and at one point it was thought that she might have multiple sclerosis, until her doctors came to see her with a skeleton of the human body and asked to speak with Altovise and her family.
“That was around August 14th and they told me, ‘You’re going to miss four vertebrae bones. It is non-cancerous, but if we don’t get it out immediately you’ll never walk again,’’ described Altovise. “They had told me that it was non-cancerous and I felt like time was not on my side because it really wasn’t, even though I didn’t really know that at the time.”
Altovise decided to have the surgery immediately and she was transfered from Methodist Northlake to Methodist Southlake. After the surgery, the doctor told her that they didn’t have to touch her spine, which was a plus, but that things didn’t look quite right. A sample was sent off for testing and Altovise spent the next week in the ICU before moving over to the rehabilitation floor.
Results came back inconclusive but Altovise had begun to experience a blood clot in her leg. They sent her down for an ultrasound immediately, she was put on bedrest, and her neurologist came the next day. The doctor needed to see the immediate family again.
“They came and let us know that it was lymphoma,” Altovise said. “We were young, me and my husband at 27 and 29 with three kids between us, so it was very difficult for us that night. It was like whirlwind of words going on and I heard my husband ask, ‘Well where does it come from?’ The doctor said, ‘Only God knows where it came from but he’s going to use me to kill it. That’s when I rolled up in the bed and said, ‘Okay!’”
Altovise was then given a battery of tests to make sure that her heart and her system was strong enough. The doctors found 3%-5% in the bone marrow and a small nodule in her chest. While learning to walk again, she was started on chemotherapy which lasted through to the following year.
“So, I had been in the hospital from early August to September 25th,” she said. “I learned to walk again and the doctor told me that he wanted to get me home and back to my family and children, and then we started chemo.”
“It was very difficult and very challenging but I took chemo for six-and-a-half months until I was finally declared cancer-free in February of 2004.”
Altovise spoke about the people around her that helped her through her struggles. “I needed positivity around me because it’s a constant fight in your mind. Am I going to see my kids grow up? Questions like that were always swirling around me and on my mind so I had to have all positive people around me,” she explained.
“I credit the doctors I have here in this area. They told me I was going to be sick, and I was, but when I would see the patients crying sitting next to me, I would grab their hand and say, ‘I feel you, I know.’ That’s my spirit; I’m not going to stay down. We would laugh and I feel like that can be the best medicine.”
When Altovise was going through these incredible hardships she held out faith that there was a higher power at work and would help her get through this struggle. While still in the hospital, she rediscovered her passion for music and how powerful it can be to heal. In 2004, after she had become cancer-free, she was able to pursue more seriously the passion she has for the arts, including music and dance.
“I initially started to sing to other patients when I was in rehab,” Altovise said of using her love for music as a way to heal herself and reach others. “They would come to my bedside and the only music that I had was from the Westside Theatre Guild album that we had. Music is healing and, for me, that was a safe place.”
“That’s what made me realize that was what I should be doing, and that I needed to get back to that. It was a motivation for me.”
Eventually, Altovise began to write her own music and she put all of the feelings that she had whirling around her into these songs that she was now creating.
“I put all of my strength, my faith and my resilience into writing,” she said. “I really wanted to encourage people because some people give up on God when they get sick. Me, I got closer to Him and I wanted to share that with the world.”
Despite some bumps in the road over the next several years, Altovise became involved with her children’s school, working through the Parent-Teachers Association to bridge the gap between parents and teachers, and she went back to work at a salon in 2011.
“I love helping other women become beautiful and that opened the door for my book, and to go back to everything I love,” Altovise said. “I then recorded ‘Something Out Of Nothing’ and I was blessed to get that on the radio last year.”
“I’m currently continuing to work on a full album but I did finish my book so I’ve been going around singing, speaking, and giving my testimony, and promoting my book.”
Her book, ‘Live to Win: My Victory Over Cancer’, is a testament to how her life changed overnight, and how with faith, courage, and tenacity she was able to overcome the incredible obstacle that was placed in front of her.
“It was my journal,” Altovise said of the book. “That was very therapeutic for me and I’m still writing. It wasn’t really pieced together but my cousins wife helped me by taking my journal and typing the pieces together. A client of mine has a publishing company in Chicago and she blessed me by publishing my book. That happened in 2015 so I my first batch of books in November.”
“I’ve been blessed to be able to do some amazing things over the last year. I got to sing on some national platforms and recently I’ve regrouped from that. Now, I’m back to writing and last year I was blessed to partner with Ivy Tech and the Institute for Leadership and Performance Academy. I became a teacher for six weeks and I had to take inner-city youth and teach them music. So, in six weeks we put a show together.”
For Altovise, it’s not about recording a Grammy-winning song or writing a national bestseller, though.
“I’m living my dream,” she said. “As long as I’m giving back, this is a dream to make music and write this book. I had over 30 children, some who had no experience with music or dance, and we put on an R’n’B Soul Review. I connected with a lot of those kids and, to me, it was such a joy. I’m truly living my dream.”
To find out more about Altovise Ferguson, visit her website at: www.shinefromtheinsideout.com!