Jae is a lifelong friend of mine. She and I share a birthday, men’s shoe fetishes and wit. We also share passion and creativity in all forms. However, there is one difference that makes her my hero: She is a champion survivor. She is HIV-positive and now cancer-free; she has survived all types of cancer. She has battled enough health scares to have her own brand of courage. She fights valiantly, lovingly, brilliantly and with graceful transparency.

You don’t walk into a battle knowing or even understanding the dynamics in full. Sometimes life thrusts you into war, where you must decide to fight or die. Jae has had many a war; she has endured death in all colors. The most beautiful thing about her is that no matter where she was on the arc of survival, she always had time to love and always remembered her friends.

We met in church over 20 years ago and have laughed, sang and cried through seasons of love, loss and betrayal. A thing to remember about Jae’s capacity to love and fight for her friends is her determination to do so at her best and her worst. There was a time when we had to intervene on her behalf in the hurricane of her drug addiction. She stared at us from her couch with eyes so full of pain and love together that we could barely look at her. As we left her home, she held each of us tightly, even though she’d disregard our concerns and use the very next day.

Thankfully, hope waved in her favor as she entered rehab soon after. It was her love and friendship that met us as she completed her program and came back home to us and what led us to support her eventual battles with cancer. When Jae gave us the news of her breast cancer diagnosis, we were saddened. Jae quickly encouraged us to make love the center of the crisis and asked us to make molds of our breasts with her before surgery. This creative cohort included jokes, laughter, tears and lots of hugs from Jae. We reflected on the gifts that we had the honor of keeping and honored her for the gift that she was losing to save her life. She led the way as we returned her love and later strengthened us all with her jovial journey of recovery.

Jae takes life and makes her challenges glorious works of art. She later began creating jewelry for her friends while receiving cancer treatment. Her journey as an HIV-positive woman of faith fighting breast cancer inspired us all to live healthier emotional lives, care for our bodies and to make love, happiness, worship and creativity a daily regimen. She fights valiantly, lovingly and beautifully. She is a living wonder.

Jae now stands tall, and continues to create joy and inspiration through her art and ministry. She gives the same warm hugs that she did 20 years ago, along with the same smile, passion, shoe fetish and wit. She is now cancer-free and advocates aggressively for others in pain and need. She is a gentle wind in the storm, a ray of rainbows in the press of life. She is a living epistle that knows how battles can throw you against the rocks and spit acid into your weeping eyes. She has been thrown, shaken, shredded and spit upon. Nevertheless, she is here, still standing, still surviving and still winning. : :

Isai Efuru

Isai Efuru is a native of Newark, N.J., and hails from a legacy of singers, ministers and musicians. She published and performed poetry while a student at Rutgers University, and continued to write poetry...