Gaylord Daniels was at his wife Tamika’s side when she was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer in 2012 at only 37 years old. The diagnosis came as a huge shock to both of them and the looming threat of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy, and radiation seemed too much to bear. The days ahead would be filled with challenges neither one could foresee at that terrifying moment in the doctor’s office, but Gaylord made sure Tamika knew he would always be by her side, no matter what.
Romance in the Dining Hall
Gaylord and Tamika met in a dining hall on an Army base in Hungary in 1999. Gaylord heard Tamika talking with a group of women and, intrigued by the way she spoke, went over to introduce himself. The two had lunch later that day and a relationship blossomed. When they eventually parted ways, she to a base in Seattle and he to Texas, Gaylord thought that would be the end of their time together.
“I didn’t really think it would go beyond that,” he said. “But when I got to Texas I started getting phone calls and we ended up in a long-distance relationship for several months.”
When Tamika was home in North Carolina on leave Gaylord went to visit her. An old-fashioned man, he bought a ring and asked her parents’ permission before he proposed. He dropped to one knee in her family’s living room and asked her to marry him. By then Gaylord was stationed in Chattanooga, Tennessee, so the two decided to get married there at the Hamilton County Courthouse, just the two of them.
The Dreaded Diagnosis
A year or so after they were married, the couple welcomed their first son, Xzavier. Several years later their second son, Jabriel, was born. Gaylord worked as a contractor for the government and Tamika worked as a paralegal and with Child Protective Services. The family settled in Dinwiddie, Virginia, outside of Petersburg.
Gaylord was in Afghanistan when Tamika called and told him she had found a knot in her breast. He encouraged her to schedule an appointment with her doctor but figured it wasn’t a big deal. A week later Tamika called again to say the doctor had encouraged her to bring a family member to her next appointment. Gaylord flew home without telling Tamika, and when he arrived at the house early in the morning she thought she was seeing a ghost.
At the appointment Tamika was given a dismal 5% survival rate. “The news was hard to take,” Gaylord said. “We were all in shock. I wanted a chance to beat the disease so when Tamika decided to have a double mastectomy, I was fine with it. As long as I still had her, nothing else mattered.”
Gaylord stood by Tamika through her chemo treatments and surgeries and held fast to his faith in the Lord. Tamika’s mother also contributed to her care, traveling often from her home in North Carolina to be with her daughter in Virginia. “It was a rough time for us but Tamika always knew I was there for her,” he said. “Bottom line, I wasn’t going anywhere.”
The Darkest Day and the Brightest Night
The diagnosis and subsequent treatments weren’t easy for Tamika. Afraid of what the future might hold, she attempted suicide at her home. Her sons noticed she wasn’t breathing so they called Gaylord and a neighbor. Tamika was taken to the hospital and pulled through.
Gaylord knew the battle she was facing wasn’t easy and he hopes that by talking about his wife’s suicide attempt that others experiencing the same despair won’t feel so alone. “Those kinds of thoughts are going to come and will have to be dealt with,” he said. “Tamika was really crying out for help. She was tired and she needed help.”
Although no one knew it then, Tamika was soon to find the help she sought. The day after her suicide attempt she went to the Beyond Boobs! Pink Carpet Gala. Mary Beth Gibson, co-founder of Beyond Boobs! and a breast cancer survivor, had communicated with Tamika prior to the Gala, but she had no idea about Tamika’s suicide attempt until that night at the event.
“It was destiny that brought Tamika and Beyond Boobs! together,” Gaylord said.
That night at the Gala Tamika met other young women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She also found inspiration when the Boober! calendar models were honored and the next year’s Calendar to Live By was unveiled. Then and there she decided to become a calendar model herself so she could inspire others.
BB! also offered Gaylord a great deal of support. Prior to the next year’s Pink Carpet Gala, where Tamika was honored as one of the models for the 2014 calendar, the couple attended a party held at a fellow Boober’s house. There he met other spouses and partners who understood what he was going through.
“Beyond Boobs! didn’t forget about the men and their needs,” Gaylord said “The men are going through everything with their wives and they need support, too.”
Like Father, Like Sons
Gaylord’s mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer when he was young and he remembers watching everything his father did to help her through her illness. As the father of two young sons, Gaylord was acutely aware his boys would witness everything he did for Tamika and that his actions would impact the men they would grow up to be.
“They saw her good days and her bad days,” Gaylord said. “At one point Xzavier wouldn’t go to our bedroom for two whole weeks. I showed up at his school to take him to lunch and we talked about what Mama was going through and where his mind was. That evening he came in the bedroom and said ‘Hey, Mama.’ This was during the last month or so before she passed when she was really weak and she had been waiting for him to work through things and come to her. She said that she knew her baby would come through eventually.”
In August Beyond Boobs! organized a three-day weekend at the Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg so the Daniels family could be together. Tamika didn’t feel well, but Gaylord encouraged her to go and try to enjoy herself. While Tamika went out with fellow Boobers! to spend quality time with friends and get her nails done, the boys played in the water and Gaylord relaxed poolside with a margarita. The family spent the rest of the long weekend in their hotel room watching TV and playing games, just spending time together. The mini vacation turned out to be the last one they would ever have as a family.
Tamika passed away on September 23, 2015. “Her liver was shutting down,” Gaylord said. “That day we knew we needed to start preparing for the end.”
It was a Wednesday afternoon and the boys had just arrived home from school. “I told my youngest son, Jabriel, to go up and sing to Mama,” Gaylord recalled. Jabriel complied, singing the gospel song Take Me to the King at his mother’s bedside. As Gaylord watched he saw a teardrop form in Tamika’s eye and roll down her cheek. By that point she was too weak to talk. “She hears you,” he assured Jabriel.
Tamika was buried in her girlhood home of North Carolina. To keep her memory alive, Gaylord and the boys continue to talk about her and how she might have reacted to something that had happened during their day.
“We have lots of photos around the house,” Gaylord said. “And we have each other for support.”
Some days, though, Gaylord doesn’t know who is raising who. “I feel like I’m supposed to be there to support them because I’m the father,” Gaylord said. “But when I break down and I apologize my oldest ends up comforting me and telling me it’s going to be OK. When I say I’m sorry he tells me I have nothing to be sorry about.”
Gaylord and the boys are taking their loss one day at a time. He keeps their routine as consistent as possible and makes sure the boys stay involved with extracurricular activities. Jabriel plays on a football team and Xzavier is part of a group for future black business leaders. The family also keeps in touch with Beyond Boobs! as part of their healing.
“I am especially thankful for the calls from Mary Beth offering words of encouragement and talking about how she and the other Boobers! miss Tamika, too,” Gaylord said. “I want to continue to support the group because I am so thankful for everything they did for Tamika after her diagnosis and for me and my boys.”