Pink Warrior: Joi Dreams
Story by Liesel Schmidt | Photography by Jonathan Thorpe
Special thanks to Bowlero Arlington
When she was given the news that she was cancer free in 2020, Joi Dreams just had a double mastectomy and reconstruction surgery. But, as hopeful and life-giving as those words were, Dreams still had a seed of doubt.
“The report from the tissue samples came about a month after my surgery, after I’d already been told I was cancer free,” she says. “Anxiety is a real thing after a cancer diagnosis, regardless of what you must do procedure-wise. You are ecstatic to know you are cancer free, but that damn anxiety doesn’t allow you to enjoy and rest in it for too long. Every pain, pimple or bump, unusual period or anything that seems slightly suspicious can cause the fear to come back. Thankfully, this subsides.”
Dreams remembers vividly the November day she was diagnosed in 2020. “I was eating lunch with my son upstairs from my salon and my cellphone rang,” she says. “I saw it was the office where I have been getting mammograms for six years and when I answered, the woman on the phone said, ‘Your results are back. You have cancer.’ First, I was numb. I listened to all her instructions, but heard nothing, and I hung up the phone not knowing what to feel. I walked downstairs to start working on a friend who is also a client. As I started her relaxer, it hit me—I have cancer! My knees buckled and I began to cry.”
Dreams’s friends and her faith saved her in that moment. She realized she had the strength to face the incredible battle before her. And so she did, with surgery to remove the tissue where the cancer cells—ductal carcinoma in situ—had been found.
Three years after hearing those words, she is, indeed, cancer free and actively advocating for other women to get exams and not to be afraid. “I was and still am just grateful to be cancer free, to have an amazing group of friends that are more like family and to keep doing what I love,” says Dreams, who owns Joi Dreams Salon in Alexandria. “Prayer and fasting were both a huge part of my recovery. I had a prayer partner that would call me to encourage and speak words of life over me weekly. I learned to allow others to help. People always have told me I am strong, but I never took the time to think about what that meant or if I actually was strong. After my diagnosis and recovery, I have been able to see the grace and strength God has given me. Cancer was a chapter in my life that God got me through, hopefully being better for myself and others.
“My life has always been about doing my best to be helpful to my kids, family, friends and whomever seems like they need help,” she continues. “I never thought about it. I needed help. I see me now. It is still a work in progress, figuring out how to do for myself the way I do for others, but I see myself now and [I see] that I have to take time for self-care."
Living her life now, Dreams sees how things have changed for her over the past few years. “Life post-cancer is a new beginning,” she says. “It is my opportunity to enjoy every aspect of this gift called life. I love that I am healthy and alive and that I am surrounded by people that love and see me. God got me here and I am so thankful for that.”