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October 4th, 2011
07:35 AM ET

Human Factor: TLC's T-boz on sickle-cell anemia, brain tumor

In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle - injury, illness or other hardship - they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed. This week, Grammy award-winning singer Tionne "T-boz" Watkins,  lead singer of the best-selling female hip/hop group TLC, shares her story about her struggles with sickle-cell anemia and a brain tumor. 

Most people know me as an actress, singer or member of the '90s musical group TLC. What many people don’t know is that through all of this, I quietly battled sickle-cell disease. Since the age of 7, I have been in and out of hospitals. Then, in 2006, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Many physicians refused to remove the tumor due to my sickle-cell related complications.

These experiences have taught me, and I want everyone to know, that you can be a survivor, even when it looks like you’re against all odds. When I went to the first doctor to talk about my brain tumor, he wasn’t getting into my livelihood, my life. The decisions about how to treat the tumor were not what would happen to me and my quality of life. You need to learn about yourself, research and take notes. Know the questions to ask. When you’re stressed and going through something, it can be hard to do, so it’s important to learn what you can and prepare.

God has the last say so. At the end of the day I do think there’s a higher power and the way I feel about things and choose to do things has an effect on that outcome. If you want to live, you have to face your fears. I had to learn a lot about myself during the situation with my brain tumor. The hardest thing was waiting to see what kind of brain tumor I had and getting back to where I am today. I’ve been through a lot with sickle-cell, but my recovery from the brain tumor was THE hardest thing. I’m proud of myself for seeing this through and to be here for my daughter. You have to make a commitment to yourself and that was important to me.

I don’t believe in changing anything because I think everything happens for a reason. If I didn’t have bad things happen, I wouldn’t know the good things. I’m wiser now. With age comes wisdom and I’m looking forward to becoming wiser. I’m not one of those people who is ashamed to say how old I am – I'm 41 – because other people told me I wasn’t even supposed to be alive at this age. It made me who I am and I’m happy with me and I’m just glad I learned from my mistakes.

Being forced to live my life in public has given me strength to deal with things. I have also been inspired to help others, which is why I lend my voice to causes like Be The Match, which helps patients with sickle-cell disease, leukemia and other diseases who need a marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant. As a person with sickle-cell disease and an advocate for everyone fighting this disease, I am passionate about encouraging everyone to learn the facts about marrow donation. We especially need more African-Americans to step up. I encourage everyone to check out BeTheMatch.org.


soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. bruce waters

    that is a wonderful thing to have strength to be able to fight your sickness. i commend u my youngest brother was just diagnosed with a brain tumor n i had a cousin that passed away a few years ago of a brain tumor.never stop fighting stay strong n be blessed

    October 4, 2011 at 08:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Christine

    Thank you for sharing your story and for your dedication in helping to make people aware of the need for donors. I'm off to check out the Be The Match site.
    Peace to you.

    October 4, 2011 at 09:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Lynn

    Be The Match is a terrific organization – all you have to do is swab your cheek and send it back to Be The Match, and you're in the registry. Then, if someone needs a bone marrow or stem celll transplant, and you're a match, they know where to find you!

    I've been registered for about 2 years and was matched with a patient about six weeks ago. In two weeks, I will donate stem cells. It's been an incredibly humbling and powerful experience, and one that I am grateful to be a part of, thanks to Be The Match.

    October 4, 2011 at 11:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Sophia

    Thanks for sharing that story... I'll check out that website... GOD BLESS!!!

    October 4, 2011 at 11:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Bkeepr

    Your story if so inspiring, I can relate because I was diagnosed with lupus at 19 and God has brought through so many obstacles with this condition that I am too, so proud to say that I am 36 and counting! You are beautiful inside and out....keep the faith and keep up the good work with your organization!

    October 4, 2011 at 12:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Marcques

    You are an amazing women full of energy, strength, and courage, i encourage you to relax God is in control of the situation Proverbs 3:5. Keep your head up

    October 4, 2011 at 12:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Marcques

    You are an amazing woman full of energy, strength, and courage, i encourage you to relax God is in control of the situation Proverbs 3:5. Keep your head up

    October 4, 2011 at 12:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Jean

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am a big TLC fan and will never forget seeing all three of you perform in your last concert tour. I am a bone marrow donner. My mom had a heart transplant but unfortunaly died after 3 years of living with the heart from complications. T, all of your fans love you and wish you recovery. Everything does happen for a reason. I, myself had some health problems years ago with depression. I am well and take everything I learned from that experience to help young people. God Bless.

    October 4, 2011 at 13:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. otis craig

    after every storm the birds will sing, god bless

    October 4, 2011 at 13:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Anika

      I think that is the most beautiful thing I've ever heard..

      October 6, 2011 at 09:21 | Report abuse |
  10. Lisa Parker

    T You are an amazing and talented young woman. I pray for you and you health to continue to get even more better. I suffer from depression and been through so many difficult things in this life. But God has brought me through it all. So please keep up the great work you are doing T. And God Bless You.

    October 4, 2011 at 15:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Tarsha

    T-BOZ U ARE AN INSPIRATION TO ME AND OTHERS. IT'S SO HARD TO REALLY OPEN UP AND BE YOURSELF WHEN OTHERS ARE CONSTANTLY LOOKING FOR YOU TO FAIL. I WANT TO SAY GOD BLESS YOU AND HE'S AWESOME. NO ONE KNOWS WHEN THEY WILL LEAVE THIS EARTH AND I'M GLAD YOU DID NOT BELIEVE YOU WOULD NOT SEE AGE 41. YOU ARE A SURVIOR. ONCE AGAIN, GOD BLESS YOU WITH MANY MORE YEARS OF LIFE. :)

    October 4, 2011 at 17:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Trevor Mitchell

    Wow! Tionne T-Boz Watkins has always been so candid about her life and her health issues. I commend her for being so vulnerable. All i can do i wish her the best and pray that God blesses her with longevity, good health and her overall well-being. She's been such an inspiration to a lot of people, especially people with chronic disorders and illnesses. Thanks CNN for featuring her and allowing her story to reach the masses.

    October 4, 2011 at 17:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Felix Masi

    T-Boz you are full of hope and one of chosen few, the world needs you to fight for others who have had to face similar challenges, our two daughters 4 1/2 and 13 have sickle cell but I believe sharing your story makes them stronger, let me know when you embark on a global campaign, Sickle cell has no cover in Kenya, poor kids die all the time! Keep the drive. God Bless!

    October 4, 2011 at 19:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Frankielove

    i say you are somkey hot in that pictuer and i think that you are doing great thing's with you are going through keep up doing great thing's

    October 4, 2011 at 20:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. CICKLE CELL T BOZ & WE THE PEOPLE!

    BEAUTIFULLY SAID

    October 4, 2011 at 21:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Kishma Shillingford

    I have a 10yrs old Daughter and she reminds me of you. She also have Sickle Cell Disease and God has always been shining his light on her and others as well. Continue to Praise GOD!

    October 4, 2011 at 23:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Latoya jones

    Hi ms T-Boz my name is latoya jones and i'm sum wat like u i have the sickle cell trait. And my son and my younger brother and his two kidz. I cnt image wat ur going through. But i'm happy to hear ur r doing great. Keep pushing forward. Thanx u for ur story. I luv u. Have a good day.

    October 5, 2011 at 06:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Freddie Pittman

    may god bless U&R Child he grace will see U through ...I was Diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2009 stage 4 ...at 59 years young...Dr.look at me & said U aren't crying why not I look her in the face & told her the God I server is Great & he got this...Always look 2 God for R stength..LUV FMP

    October 5, 2011 at 09:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. APRIL MONTGOMERY

    TIONNE YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL PERSON INSIDE OUT. U ARE SUCH AN INSPIRATION TO ME. THAT'S WHY GOD IS KEEPING YOU AROUND. U SERVE SUCH A BIG PURPOSE ON THIS EARTH. U BEEN THROUGH SO MUCH, STAY STRONG. LOVE U N GOD BLESS!!!

    October 5, 2011 at 19:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Shanti

    God Bless T-Boz. I was a fan from day one. Wishing for your continued success in music and and prayers for health.

    October 7, 2011 at 20:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Vanessa D

    I am a fan of TLC, I had a friend Quintina Marie Scott who was YOUR biggest fan. If you research the late '90s she was all about T-BOZ. She connected with you because she also had sickle cell. Yes you were her SHERO! We lost Tina...RIP, T I thank you for your energy even when ur energy was spent...........I now have a 17 year old daughter with lupus and fibromyalgia and its hard to young with a grey cloud shadowing you. I would love it if you could please give her some real talk! T you rock and I appreciate you for sharing.

    October 14, 2011 at 00:01 | Report abuse | Reply
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  24. Kimberly H

    You truly are a inspiration. I'm a 24 young lady living with Sickle cell anemia also
    I know how difficult things can get far as being in and out the hospital. This disease can be challenging. But u haven't giving up that's why I look up to you. You are showing others you can be what you want and do what you want no matter what the situation may be. Showing me and others don't give up thanks!!

    December 14, 2011 at 05:05 | Report abuse | Reply
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  28. Cindy Hill

    T-boz your a huge inspiration!!! I am on a mission to bring awareness to sickle cell also.. I have a pilot program with a all natural product the people that are using it are having amazing results everyone is reporting no pain crisis and more energy other reports are eyes clearing urine clearing ulcers healing teeth feeling stronger... If only we wouldn't depend on doctors so much and give something healthy and natural a chance we would all see there is something better that works.. I believe with all my heart this will be the thing that changes the health of the sickle cell generation.. GOD bless

    October 8, 2012 at 11:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Shakir Cannon

    T-Boz,
    You've always been an inspiration for not only myself but the entire Sickle Cell community. I remember as a child watching your videos thinking that if you can do all of that then I can do anything!
    As an adult I feel accomplished, yet I have more that I hope to do in the future. I recently was married and we had our first baby girl in April. I have started in being an advocate for sickle cell as well. I advocate on bringing awareness towards a few wellness products that I've been taking that have helped me tremendously with managing my care.
    I will be looking forward to your new show next year on TLC. Take care!

    Thankful,

    Shakir

    October 8, 2012 at 13:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Aaliyah

    I like tlc and I have sickle cell and I want to see tboz and chilli I am a kid if I saw tlc I would hug chilli and tboz when I see them I listen to tlc almost every day I like all of there songs i wish I could see tlc.

    May 24, 2014 at 12:38 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.