Monique Earl


I became a mom at the tender age of twenty-one. The first in my family to earn a college degree. A joyful and serendipitous encounter with my husband inspired a cross-country move from my native Los Angeles to Williamsburg, Virginia. For over twenty years, I built a career in the often-mercurial halls of City government, cultivating relationships and gaining trust at every level.

But exactly seven months ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC), the most aggressive and invasive form of the disease. Without a doubt, this uncomfortable experience is a transitional bridge to what will be my new normal.

March 1, 2022. A day that started like any other. 5AM boot camp, rushed home to get dressed, took the usual Slauson Blvd to get my seventh-grader, Milan, to the bus stop. Handed her a mask as we said our goodbyes, then made the familiar trek to work in downtown LA. Sitting at my desk with five minutes to spare before a Zoom call, my cell phone rang. Kaiser Hospital. Quickly, I answer, feeling confident the biopsy I took had come back benign. “Probably a cyst, or something”, is what I told myself. The nurse on the other end said, “It’s breast cancer, Mrs. Earl”. Calmly; just like in the movies. And just like in the movies, my whole world stopped.

Cancer happens to other people. Not me. Besides, in case the universe had not noticed, I’m booked and busy. I recently took on a transformative new role at work. I sit on multiple boards, not to mention I am a wife and the mother of an incredibly gregarious pre-teenager and two young adults.

As I prepared my body to start chemotherapy, I prepared my heart and spirit, too, forcing myself to examine my way of being, my lifestyle, and my priorities. Everything was up for scrutiny and overhaul: relationships with family, friends, co-workers, diet, career, and self-care.

I switched to a pescatarian diet, and I began enjoying long walks in my Leimert Park neighborhood, and started meditation on my living room floor.

When my weekly treatments started, my art curator husband, Larry, and our youngest daughter dotingly took on the role of caregiver. And to my complete surprise, I took on the role of care recipient and active listener. I anxiously awaited their arrival home  to hear the latest middle-school gossip and happenings in the art world, holding on to their every word.

I spent hours researching the many ugly truths about my diagnosis, and the grim statistics are staggering. TNBC affects women of all races, Black women are more likely to get diagnosed under the age of fifty, not receive adequate treatment, and die from this more aggressive subtype. Black women are 41% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women and experience the lowest 5-year survival rate of any race or ethnicity. While I uncovered many socioeconomic and health disparities on the cancer journey, the biggest gut punch was the lack of awareness around this type of breast cancer.

The silver lining in all of this, Sistahs, is that we do not have to die from this illness. While there’s certainly not a cure on the horizon, early detection does save lives, and goes hand in hand with choosing a healthy lifestyle.

With a favorable prognosis, later next month, my treatment will end, and I will move on to the remaining aspects of my care plan.  I also transitioned my role at the City to continue my passion for public service in the private sector.

This life chapter with cancer has taught me many things. Staring mortality dead in the eye forced me to consider my legacy, and the gifts I want to leave behind. My lessons have been plentiful, but the journey has also brought valuable life lessons for my three beautiful children, too.