Harrison County

Gulfport teen says cancer taught her to feel beautiful

LaQueria “Brittany” Washington was in no mood to face the world.

She felt so tired from chemotherapy, plus her eyebrows and hair were falling out, and her normally smooth ebony face erupted in pimples.

Her mom, April Washington, wanted to take a picture. The 17-year-old objected, even though Snapchat selfies and Facebook photos of her fashion ensembles were as ingrained in her life as food and sleep.

“I said, ‘Don’t feel depressed,’ ” April Washington recalled. “‘Your body is art. Don’t ever be ashamed of it.’”

What her mother said clicked with Brittany. She started documenting her cancer journey on social media with photos. All her posts are public on Facebook, where she goes by “Brittany Monique.”

“I can’t believe my hair actually gone,” she wrote Aug. 22 across a video that showed her skull balding in patches.

Something wonderful started to happen. Thousands viewed the video. Many shared. People commented she was beautiful and told her to keep her chin up.

“Can somebody teach me how to do my eyebrows?” she wrote Aug. 30. “My eyebrows disappearing.”

In addition to the bumps and fatigue, chemo nauseated her and caused painful sores in her mouth.

Brittany was diagnosed in May with choriocarcinoma, a cancer that originates in the uterus. She had complications and was hospitalized at the University of South Alabama Medical Center. She started chemotherapy over the summer at USA’s Mitchell Cancer Institute. They said she would need the treatment through December or January.

Her mom took leave from her job as a housekeeper at Margaritaville Resort Biloxi so she could homeschool Brittany, one of three daughters, because the teen’s immune system was too weak for crowds.

Brittany loved to work because she was good at saving money, and she liked to shop with her best friend, Shaniquel McCoy. She hated giving up both her jobs at fast-food restaurants, but she was just too sick.

Insurance covered medical expenses, but Brittany started a GoFundMe account to help with travel expenses to Mobile, where she underwent chemotherapy for five days every other week.

“I wish that I was able to work, but I can’t,” she wrote on the page. “Even $5 would be helpful.”

She had reached $435 of her $1,000 goal Friday morning.

Shaniquel promised Brittany, in person and on Facebook, that she would be there no matter what.

On Facebook, Brittany started posting pictures of other teenage girls with cancer who had shaved their heads. She wasn’t quite ready.

Brittany posted Sept. 10: “People keep asking why I haven’t cut all my hair off yet y’all don’t understand it’s actually cool to be able to see something actually change about yourself I wanna see ALL my hair fall out & then start all the way over!

... I literally have just baby hairs sitting on top of my head, I don’t even have edges.”

Finally, Sept. 16, she shaved off what was left of her hair, with live video showing the results. She watched, wide-eyed, as the comments came in. She tracked her stats like a professional ballplayer: 7,200 video views, 262 likes, 52 shares.

And she challenged Shaniquel to shave her head, too. When the “likes” on the challenge hit 800, Shaniquel agreed.

They posted an after video.

Editor’s note: Warning — post contains adult language and gestures.

The stats on Shaniquel’s wall Friday: 1,046,774 views, 359 shares, 313 comments.

Meanwhile, April Washington had put her daughter on a special diet: No pork, red meat or acidic foods; lots of alkaline water.

Brittany’s chemo went better than expected. Her blood levels have returned to normal. She was able to stop chemo early and will return to Gulfport High on Monday.

She and Shaniquel are into wigs these days. Brittany might wear one Monday. It depends on the outfit she chooses.

The positive reaction on Facebook, plus her mother’s unqualified support, have boosted the teenager’s self-confidence.

She wants to study architecture and interior design. She wants to do so many things.

As their hair grows back, Brittany and Shaniquel have decided to “go natural.” No chemical products, no perms.

“People were saying that I am beautiful and everything,” Brittany said, “so I feel beautiful about myself.”