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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.


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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.