This week’s warrior in the Spotlight is none other than Chaznee Brown. Besides holding down a full time job as a secretary in a genetics clinic and completing 3000 licensure hours to become a counselor and therapist; Chaznee also runs an active Sickle Cell advocacy group in the Bay area, California. She is a woman of many hats, and wears them all so well. Read on to learn more about Chaznee.
How old where you when you found out you had sickle cell?
Considering I was born with sickle cell my parents knew about my condition a few days after I was born. Over the years I slowly began to learn about my disease however, I did not realize the importance of it and the risks I would be faced with now as an adult. Every year I learn more about my body, my disease, and how to work with both.
That is such a statement. Over the years I have learned more and more about my disease as well. I’ve always believed that when you stop learning, you start dying. How did your childhood and your parents influence you in your choice of career?
When it was time to graduate high school I had the pressure on me from my parents (so I thought) that I had to do something with myself. My older brother went to college so I automatically thought I had to attend college too. As a child I was never happy. I have been able to pinpoint why and over time I’ve realized it was related to my sickle cell although I blamed it on my family life until I reached maturity in adulthood. I had a wonderful life growing up in which consisted of both parents at home. However, my unhappiness then lead me to go out of state for college. I didn’t want to be near home. I didn’t want to listen to the many limitations that were against me about attending college 3,000 miles away from my family. I just wanted to be alone and figure out who I was.
I got accepted to Fisk University in Nashville, TN and graduated Class of 2005 with a bachelor of arts in Psychology. My original plan was to be a nurse when first arriving to Nashville in 2001. After failing biology and math I decided to change my scope of practice. I began looking into what other majors/degrees were available to me and I didn’t want to change schools and delay my graduation. Therefore, after doing some research I chose the field of psychology. I chose this field because I never knew what depression was and therefore once I knew of the definition I automatically applied it to my life and had a name to all the feeling and emotions I was struggling with throughout the years of being at home growing up. I knew I had a place in psychology because it was a part of me. Psychology was me and I just knew I would help others like myself, not just with sickle cell, but depression too.
I fought though many struggles while away at school. I returned home after graduation and applied to graduate school three years following. I now have a master’s in counseling/marriage, family and child therapy. Now that I am on this journey of establishing my non-profit I plan on applying my degrees and background of psychology and counseling and using it to my advantage and to help and encourage others within the sickle community by creating support groups for sickle cell adults which is an area of need here in the Bay Area of California. Hopefully within the next year or two I will embark on another journey to gain my PhD.
My non-profit is called the Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation of the East Bay. I am located in the Bay Area of California in which I established this foundation to advocate for sickle cell disease, bring awareness to my community, and establish a support group for sickle cell adults considering the Bay Area is lacking in this area. I have began to establish partnerships with the American Red Cross and Global Village for Health. I am the poster child for the American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter’s Blue Tie Tag program in which encourages the African American Community to donate blood specifically for sickle cell patients. Global Village for Health is an online based community for African-Americans and the many health matters we face and are genetic. I am working on many projects between the two along with the CDC’s Rush Program Panel in which has been established to allow the CDC to work with community based organizations in an effort to find what the sickle cell communities needs are and how to treat each patient.
Thank you for addressing depression and sadness in regards to sickle cell. Many go through it, but few talk about it. Moving along, it sounds like you have alot on your plate! I’m almost hesitant to ask you the next question. What do you do for your current job? What kind of experience and schooling does one need to get your job?
After graduating from Fisk in 2005 I returned home due to my sickle cell. Since my return I have obtained a Master’s of Counseling (MSC/MFCT) while working full-time as a secretary. I am currently a Marriage & Family Therapist intern and was recently working at an adolescent substance abuse treatment center as an intern. I would like to transition into working with children and adults living with a chronic illness such as sickle cell anemia or any other. I believe my passion to work with individuals living with a chronic illness is bigger than me and is my reasoning for why sickle cell is apart of me.
In order for an individual to become a therapist one must do what I’ve done by obtain a Bachelors and a Masters degree specifically relating to marriage & family therapy. One must as well work as an internship in which one can gain hours for licensure, submit the appropriate paperwork, and then sit for boards once a total of 3,000 hours are met including supervision by a license professional. Becoming a MFT is a process that I am still in the middle of as I am working toward gaining all 3,000 hours to sit for the boards but I believe this is my future, this is my path in life, and I am just enjoying the ride.
How were you able to cope with school and sickle cell?
Coping with school and my sickle cell became very difficult over time. For a while I attempted to “pretend” as though my sickle cell was not a factor and it didn’t bother me. Within the last year and a half I’ve been in and out of the hospital every month. [stextbox id=”grey” color=”000000″ bcolor=”2c1ce3″ image=”null”]My sickle cell took a toll on me and numerous times I was told that maybe I should take a break from school and rest. I however, knew I could push through it all but in the end my body paid for it. I recommend that a person to really listed to one’s body and if time is need to rest and recuperate, then that is what the person should do. School will always be there![/stextbox]
That is so true. Listening to your body is one of the precepts of sickle cell. So Chaznee, describe a typical day on your job.
On a typical day on my job as a secretary I answer phones speaking with patients and medical professionals, book appointments, work on specialty projects, create charts for patient appointments, and support genetic counselors with specific tasks.
On my job as a therapist, I recently ended an internship in which consisted of co-facilitating a community outpatient group working with a group of 8 clients ranging in age from 13-18 who are referred to the program for their substance abuse though county probation offices. Within group I am working with clients on behavioral issues and attempting to get to the root of their substance use. Outside of group I am documenting in charts on progress my clients have made or the lack thereof.
You are such a busy woman Chaznee! How do you manage SCD and still maintain a thriving career?
Now I know the importance of resting. Even though I want to stay active all the time I know my body cannot keep up with all my thoughts and ideas. When I am rested I work more efficiently. When I am drained I am no good. Therefore, I’ve realized that rest is a key factor and at times and I have learned to say no. I as well believe that when the Lord gives you a vision of what it is He has for you, He will provide and there is no point in pushing something that is already meant to be. Patience is of the essence!
Have you noticed a difference in how your coworkers treat you once they know you have SCD?
Upon my co-workers knowing I have sickle cell disease I was not treated any differently. I am fortunate enough to work in a field with knowledgeable and understanding individuals. Working with genetic counselors, geneticists, therapists and others has made talking about my sickle cell and what I go through easy. Although at times I have some reservations because not all are sympathetic or the fact that I’ve been ill so much has put a strain on some but that does not stop or discourage me however it gives me the opportunity to educate.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to join your profession that has sickle cell?
For anyone wanting to become a therapist I would recommend taking the time to recharge often. Working with patients in the mental health perspective can be draining as transference and counter-transference can take hold. If the therapist is not careful it’s easy to become tangled up within the client’s problems and the client can finds ways, especially depending upon the diagnosis, to manipulate the therapist. Therapy is an occupation to take seriously and without the proper training the therapist can do harm to his or her client. Even as a secretary it’s important for the sickle cell patient to take the time to take care of one’s self. Secretarial work can be just as draining as any other occupation. People often don’t realize is that majority of the time secretaries are the backbone of any office group as secretaries hold everything together and everyone runs to the secretary in the need of assistance.
Has sickle cell limited any areas of your life?
Sickle cell use to limit me during my childhood when I wanted to run and play. Now as an adult my sickle cell does play a factor at times. Considering the past year and a half have been my worst I realize I am not as spontaneous as I use to be. I find myself often needing to plan things out. Once I am comfortable in my own home I don’t want to leave because the day just totally drains me now matter what it is I am doing. I find myself being more of a home body now, which is not always a bad thing. Being hospitalized on a monthly basis has as well played a part in my life. After staying in the hospitalized for days on end and then having to recuperate from the hospital stay—this takes a toll because it’s starting to take longer and longer for me to bounce back from each hospitalization.
When you do reach obstacles in your life, what helps you through it?
When I reach obstacles in my life I find that prayer, writing, and even sometimes crying gets me though. I grew up in church so I believe prayer is the best way to go. I love to write and I make sure I keep a journal in order for me to writing out all that I am dealing with and it gets me though. Even though nobody reads my entries just getting it out on paper makes me feel better. I believe that crying is not a weakness and sometimes we all just need a good cry.
Do you have regular pain (more than 2x a week)? How do you cope with this when you are working?
Yes, I struggle with pain almost every day. Currently, I am doing transfusion every 3 weeks. My hemoglobin drops so quickly that by the time I get blood it’s time to recharge all over again. As I stated before I am in the hospital every month or sometimes every other month. My sickle cell is truly taking its toll on me and I am praying that it gets better and not worse. At times I can cope with it while I am at work but not always. I have been away from work so much due to being ill that I am surprised I still even have a job. I have been on and off disability and have exhausted all my sick, vacation, and any other time given to me at work. I just continue to hope and pray that I will get back to my old self in which I hardly missed a day’s work except a few weeks out on the year instead of a week or more every month.
What medications do you take when you are in pain?
When in pain, Dilaudid. For minor aches and pains I take 600mg of Motrin.
What is your daily medication regimen?
On a daily basis I take Hydroxyurea 500mg 3 times daily, Folic Acid, and a Multi-Vitamin. One day soon I will being taking Exjade for the iron overload—I’m not feeling that.
Yeah, iron overload is a bee! How has sickle cell affected your personal life? For example, are you in a relationship, do you have kids, etc.
At this time my sickle cell has not played much of a factor to my knowledge regarding my personal life as it relates to relationships with men. I have however noticed that my sickle cell has played a big role in friendships. Some people I once considered my friend weren’t able to handle my sickle cell and the many hospitalizations it comes with. I never have friends come to visit me when I would be in the hospital as I guess the numerous times were just too much for them to handle. Any boyfriend that I had in the past would visit me however it has been a long time since I’ve been in a serious relationship. I hope to have children one day but also want to be married first as well. I’ve struggled in the past with pregnancies because of the lack of knowledge I had about needing treatments to have a successful pregnancy. I have lost two pregnancies over the years and I pray that the next time I become pregnant it will be with my husband and I will make sure I advise a high risk perinatologist.
Looking at the 14 year old version of yourself, what would you tell her if you could…?
I would tell her no matter what I am beautiful! My illness and my body do not define who I am internally.
Is there anything else that you would want to tell other sickle cell warriors?
Never allow your illness to define who you are. Consider your disease a blessing as we all have been chosen for a special purpose and all we have to do is tap into that purpose and do what it is we are called to be/do.
Thank you so much for doing this interview Chaznee!!! I know you will achieve great things in your life, and impact the sickle cell community in a huge way.