Editor’s note:  WSA Summer 2017 Student Intern Shatoria Evans sat down with Pastor Breonus Mitchell of Mt. Gilead M.B. Baptist Church as part of a 2-part interview series.   We chose Father’s Day weekend to publish the first part of the interview, as a tribute to the courage Pastor Mitchell has demonstrated through his wife’s cancer diagnosis and sadly, her passing.  A devoted husband and father, he shares his story as a co-survivor.

Shatoria: Tell us a little bit about yourself, Pastor Mitchell, and how cancer has touched your life, particularly with your wife?

Pastor Breonus Mitchell

Pastor Mitchell:  I am Breonus Mitchell, the pastor of Mt. Gilead for a year now. Cancer touched my life with my late wife Kisha. Kisha was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer at the same time we found out that she was pregnant with our second child who I am now raising. Cancer not only touched my life when she was diagnosed, but with her passing as well.  Raising two boys is a challenge. Kisha was a “who’s who.” Of course, she sang background for Mandisa and CeCe Winas, she was a first lady of a church, a hair stylist, and just a wonderful person.  She inspired so many people with just her life. Very recently  Mandisa talked about her on Good Morning America and in People magazine there was article about her a few weeks ago. She inspired a lot of people.

Pastor Mitchell’s wife Kisha

Shatoria:  What are some of the unique challenges your wife diagnosis brought to your life as a father and a spouse of a beloved with cancer?

Pastor Mitchell: Well, when she got diagnosed it was a challenge, because you don’t know what to say, you don’t know what to do. I remember the first chemo. I only missed one. She got diagnosed in Dec 2012, we had Brenan in 2013, and she passed in 2014.I missed one chemo due to traveling and preaching.  I would have to preach, go do a revival, leave come back here to be with her for chemo, catch a plane, and go back and finish a revival. I did not want her to ever go through chemo without me being there so I missed one out of all she went through. I think you just don’t know what to say or do. Her first time having chemo I remember she looked at me and said, um “Bre is it any way we cannot go through this?” and I was like, “Nahh we are going to have to go through this one.”  You just don’t know what to say, I mean you don’t know what to do except be there. You offer all the support you can offer, but it was challenging because she was pregnant at the same time. So, it was really challenging, as we were balancing chemo and prenatal issues trying go through all of that that, and trying smile through it all. All while knowing that the cancer she had was severe and very aggressive and her life expectancy given was very short.

As a father, for the most part it has just been challenging. For me, the trying to be everything for the boys and trying to move forward, but at the same time making sure that their mom is always honored. I have a baby who was a year old when she passed, so he basically never knew his mom. So, one of the challenges is that every time you have to say something to him about who she is or who his mom was, it’s emotional for you because you try to put it to rest. but I’m never going to be able to put it to rest because of him being so young.

Shatoria:  What advice would you offer a spouse who is a co-survivor?  What would you advise them to do or what to say to their loved one?

Pastor Mitchell:  Grieve under all circumstances. For me, who just lost a spouse, I would say get some counseling. I went straight to counseling and it helped me because I was around other individuals who went through the same thing.  It’s good to hear other stories and to know that you’re not by yourself, but it’s okay to cry. Probably the biggest thing I would advise is to try and f to get those final thoughts and words from your loved one, and know what they want. I knew clearly what she wanted for our boys, as we had that conversation. Also, take care of yourself. Rest, exercise, eat right, and besides taking care of yourself I think the biggest piece of advice is grieve. I couldn’t do it publicly all the time, but I did grieve, I can remember Sunday after Sunday I had to preach, but I would get home shut the door and let it out.

But, what to do and say to a loved one is get those thoughts to know where they are. I didn’t have to put my wife to rest wondering how she felt about me the life and I could go back to one of my favorite memoires was she sent me a text message the week of and said ” Bre if I had to do this all over again and had to live my life all over again I do it exactly the way we did it” you need to hear that, because it’s those personal conversations that get you through the rough times. That you know they loved you, that you know they’re at peace with what going on.

So, have the hard conversations and just encourage them that you’ll be there until the end. I was there until the very end, and she literally passed in my arms. It’s okay to put things on hold and it might cost you some things, but it’s worth it. The last women’s conference she had was called “Free to be Me” and I think that’s a good piece of advice:   Be free to be yourself and don’t try living up to others’ expectations. Ignore what everyone else says and honor your loved ones wishes and make sure you and your spouse have that conversation. I would encourage you to have those conversations and tell them you love them and that you will miss them.  But move forward.   My wife’s words to me were to move forward.

Shatoria:  Thank you for sharing that great advice.  It sounds like you found some ways to cope as your wife fought her battle and after she passed.   Before we finish part one of our interview, are there any other closing thoughts you would like to share?

Pastor Mitchell:   Ask questions and encourage your loved one to write a letter that you can read years later. Make an agreement that you won’t read it until a few years later after they have passed. Other thing is to accept the reality. I’m a preacher, I’m a man of faith, and I preach the gospel.  I believe Hebrews 11:1, but that there was a reality there.  We had gotten as far as we could go.  Also, things that didn’t hurt me before she passed did hurt me afterwards.  One of the most hurtful things I heard that didn’t hurt when I first heard it, but did after she passed, was that she was healed because she in heaven now. That was probably the most hurtful thing that I could hear at the time because my sons had to hear it, and I didn’t want my sons to wonder why did mom have to be taken to heaven to be healed? Why couldn’t she have been healed here?  Be prepared for people who mean well and that things not meant to hurt may sometimes hurt.

Shatoria:  Pastor, thank you for sharing your very personal thoughts and experiences.   It helps others to hear from people who have went through something similar, just as you described when you first went to counseling.  Your story will touch others and help them see that they are not alone in their experiences as a co-survivor.