- Associated Press - Saturday, October 15, 2016

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) - With a lace cap covering her head and tape securing her nails to her fingers, Mwende D. Muoti sat hooked to drugs that turned her tongue green, weakened her cuticles, caused her hair to fall out and drained her of energy.

During the chemotherapy treatments - Wednesdays were the worst - scheduled to coincide with her lunch break, she would wonder: “Do I have enough paid time off to stay home for the next two days? If I don’t, what bills do I need to pay and what bills can I put off because I’ll be too sick to go to work?”

“I got to thinking about how many other people were in the same situation. When you’re sick and you’re going through chemotherapy, the last thing you need to worry about is how to pay the bills or if you have enough gas in your car to get to treatment,” Muoti said.

So began the Journey of Faith.

Headed by Muoti, a breast cancer survivor, the nonprofit organization devoted to meeting the immediate needs of cancer patients recently held a Journey of Faith Breast Cancer Walk at Delano Park.

Every cent raised from the walk and the organization’s gala in November will go to cancer patients’ transportation, food and utility costs.

“Every ministry I have ever been a part of I have done out of compassion, but Journey of Faith, I do it out of my experience. When compassion and experience come together, it is powerful,” Muoti said.

Muoti felt robbed of power when a mammogram detected a 1.5-centimeter mass in her left breast. Tests would reveal the mass as cancerous.

In August 2015, the Lawrence County native, mother of four sons and grandmother of five, became one of the 250,000 women and 2,600 men diagnosed with breast cancer every year in the United States.

“I should’ve been prepared. In June of last year, I woke up at 4 a.m. for my prayer time and I heard the Lord tell me to schedule a mammogram. My heart skipped a beat. A few days later, I heard the Lord tell me, ‘You’re going to come out on the other end of this.’ Even with that, I was not prepared,” Muoti said.

She ranked the day of her diagnosis as one of the darkest days. As she returned to the Morgan County Courthouse, where she works as a law librarian, Muoti struggled to swallow and breathe. In her friends, family and church, she found support, comfort and peace.

“I knew about her initial concern and how she felt the lump and was going to get a mammogram, but when the word ‘cancer’ came out of her mouth, it almost broke me. I’ve never felt that way before,” said Grantland Steele, Muoti’s youngest son. “We prayed a lot. We prayed that all of us would remain faithful and that God would give Mama a testimony she could share.”

Through the lumpectomy, reconstruction surgeries, eight weeks of chemotherapy, six weeks of radiation and follow-up exams, Muoti’s friends and family stood by the woman they described as faithful, loyal, giving, strong and courageous.

When she could not button her shirt following her surgery due to swelling, two of her sons pushed the bathroom door open and said, “Mama, we got you.” When, after her second chemotherapy treatment, her hair fell out in three brushstrokes, her son shaved the few remaining strands.

“Her courage and faith in God amazed me. She praised the Lord as much on her bad days as she did on her good days. She never wavered in her faith,” said friend Cheryl Coleman. “My role was to be there to support my closest and dearest friend mentally and emotionally. Sometimes that meant running to the store and stocking up on grapes, ginger ale and Ensure, the only things she could eat.”

Three times a day - just like medicine, Muoti said - she read scriptures and spoke affirmations aloud. “I shall live and not die and declare the works of the Lord.” Psalms 118:17.

After her second chemotherapy treatment, the treatment that robbed her of her hair, the idea for Journey of Faith began to take root.

“I was doing all this crying and I was so upset. I looked in the mirror and said, ‘You know what, Mwende, quit crying and get on with it. Crying is not going to make this go away. You’ve got to go through this journey,” Muoti said. “That’s where the name comes from. The scenery does not look good, but the destination is great.”

The ministry became cemented in Muoti’s mind when she received her first scarf. Gently holding it to her cheek, there was a wave of emotion to flood over her. She knew supporting breast cancer patients physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally would become her ministry.

The Journey of Faith ministry incorporated earlier this year, Muoti organized a benevolent board and GracePoint began collecting canned food to distribute to recipients.

Muoti hopes to raise $10,000 from the walk and the gala and start distributing gift cards and funds to those in need in January. The gala, a night of music, comedy and food, will take place Nov. 18 at GracePoint Church. Tickets cost $35 for an individual or $60 for a couple.

“I put my own money up front so that we don’t have to pay anyone back anything. Every dime raised will be given to breast cancer patients,” Muoti said. “I thank God for cancer research, but what separates Journey of Faith from others is that we are meeting needs locally. We are going to put food on the table. We are going to pay the bills. I want somebody who comes to us heavy to leave relieved.”

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Information from: The Decatur Daily, http://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/index.shtml

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