Song of Survival

Photo by malcolm garret from Pexels

I had to take medical leave when my Allagille Syndrome symptoms started to get worse.

However, while I was on campus for the Fall 2018 semester, I met one of the most outgoing, amazing people that just happened to live right down the hall from me. Her name is Dominique Cheney, and she talks enough for both of us.

Dominique Cheney

I had never met anyone with another set of demanding chronic illnesses before. She wasn’t going to let her illnesses or anything else stop her from getting her degree. She’s been through more than enough to make anyone give up on college and life altogether.

She’s had six concussions, her father and grandmother passed, and her mom has endured cancer radiation and multiple surgeries — all while dealing with her own handful of chronic illnesses and holding down a job.

Through all of this, she’s still adamantly gone to class, studied, completed homework and projects, and aced exams. She’s pursuing a Bachelor’s in Drama Performance with a minor in music.

If I had to describe Dominique in one statement, I’d say, “She’s a strong ass black woman.”

College costs a fortune. Many see it as an investment, others see it is a setup to be in debt for life. Unfortunately, a lot of students find themselves scrambling for funds with deadlines breathing down their neck. Dominique is one of them.

She has tried everything, even getting a cosigner for a bank loan, but nothing has worked. In order to complete her final year of college, she needs $5,000 before this Friday, August 16th.

The fact that she even has to ask for money to go to school breaks my heart. I’ve had my own scares with paying for college, but luckily my grandmother had some money put aside for emergencies. Soon an idea slapped me in the back of the head. Why don’t I share her story? I asked her if I could interview her. She excitedly agreed.

Dominique laughing. She laughs a lot. She always has a smile on her face.

Brian: What made you decide to go into drama? What about it pulled you in?
Dominique: I was always a dramatic child. I used to watch Wishbone on PBS and when he did William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, I fell in love. I would recite the Hamlet Monologue with a toy skull at age 6 to my friends and family. I sang along to The Phantom of the Opera in the car. I have always been outgoing and flamboyant in a way. I have always had a need to make people feel happy anyway that I can. Maybe it’s the Preacher’s Kid in me.

Brian: What kind of classes do you have to take for a Drama degree?
Dominique: I have had to take acting classes, movement classes, I have learned how to create sets and costumes. I have learned a small amount the history of theatre and how to truly look at a play through play analysis. I also have to learn how to apply makeup correctly because a majority of actors apply their own makeup until they make it really big.

Brian: What illnesses do you have and how do they impact your daily life?
Dominique: I suffer from Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) which is a neurological disorder that directly affects my heart. My body does not like talking to my brain so I end up fainting a lot. Since the age of 14, I have sustained 23 concussions. I get brain fog and forget mid-sentence what I am doing.

I also suffer from Elhers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS). It is a connective tissue genetic disorder. To put it simply, my body does not make enough collagen or glue to keep my joints and skin in place. I sprain easily and dislocate. I am very flexible but I also am very tired as it takes a lot more energy to keep everything in place. My rib pops out from time to time, which does get annoying.

Then I have Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS) caused by the EDS, but it only bothers me when it is raining. I also have Reynard's Phenomenon, which is poor circulation that makes me cold. It is associated with EDS too.

Brian: What does a school day look like for you?
Dominique: It takes about two hours to adjust to waking up. Then I have a quick meal and drive to Stone Center where most of the drama classes are. I attend classes then maybe work in a shop for a show. I get home around 5 and take a nap or eat before rehearsal for the show or choir. Then I go back to my dorm to do work. After I rest and then bed.

I take a lot of naps throughout the day, but I am trying not to anymore. It’s hard because I ache like someone who is 50, but I’m half that age.

I do have to be ready for fainting at class, so I have my salt, Gatorade, a granola bar ready at all times. I wear hoodies even on days when I want to look cute so if I have to lay on the floor during class to take notes my head does not touch the floors.

I have a card made telling my professors not to call 911 unless certain things are happening to me. I also have at least three people in every class to “revive” me if I faint in class. And I can get notes from as well.

Brian: Is this the first time you’ve had to pay out of pocket? Why didn’t FAFSA and federal loans pay for everything?
Dominique: This sadly is not the first time I have had to pay out of pocket. I graduated High school in 2011 and went to Kent State University that fall. I suffered about five concussions that semester alone.

I was advised to take a medical withdrawal so it would not upset my GPA. I was hesitant because I didn’t want my money (loans) to go to waste. They assured me that it would not count against me.

Now years later I have learned that it has counted against me. I am in debt over my head because of my illnesses. I had to withdraw from full semesters two other times because my health was that bad. When I moved to Alabama I took a year off to look for a new school and found a home at JSU.

Due to the fact that I had to retake so many classes. I faint more during certain times of the day and had not figured that out until much later. They cut off my funding. I fought to get it back several times and succeeded, but I did use it all. I paid a whole year out of pocket from the money my father left me when he died. I only have $1,000 left of it, and I am going to use it for school.

If I were to fight again for federal funding I would only get $300 at this time, which doesn’t even cover a one credit hour class.

It’s just been really hard since 2016. My grandmother had a defibrillator installed and just started going down from there. My dad died in 2017 right after I visited him.

My grandmother died in 2018 three days before Christmas all while she was trying to buy a house for us. My mom has had brain tumors and radiation to deal with.

My younger sister has Asperger’s and has had a hard time readjusting. I have been driving back and forth from home in Birmingham to school to help my mom any way I could with all that was going on. Thank God we have a house, my sister has a job, and my mom has good healthcare.

There has to be a silver lining to every cloud, and I WILL find it. Ever since I started the GoFundMe campaign I have just had a huge outpouring of love. My friends may not have been able to give, but they shared the link and each time I cried with what they wrote. I just wish I could give back to them the love they have given to me. ❤

Here is the link to Dominique’s GoFundMe.

If you can donate, it’d be much appreciated. If you can’t donate, please share. Share it with your family, friends, and followers. If anyone should be able to graduate this year, it’s her. She’s been through so much, and she never gave up. Don’t let this stop her. I have also written about Dominique before.

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