StreetWise vendor Melinda Rogers is in remission after battling cancer off and on for 20 years, sometimes homeless and always alone.
Rogers, who has badge number 200 as one of the magazine’s earliest vendors, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995. Since the tumor was in stage one, she had weekly chemotherapy for six months through Cook County Hospital and did not lose her breast. Then and now, she had Medicaid. Sometimes she could afford copayments, sometimes not. Access could also be a problem.
“Address and IDs are the hardest things. You can’t get nothing without them.”
Rogers and her twin daughters were homeless, sleeping in Grant Park and intermittently in hotels. The 1995 cancer diagnosis made her give up. “Going through that chemo, throwing up, losing your hair was rough. It made you not want to do anything.”
In addition, Rogers was diagnosed as schizophrenic and bipolar, for which she receives medication.
The mother of one of her daughters’ friends took in the girls in while Rogers battled the disease. “When they needed something, she would come down to where I was on the streets or the Roosevelt and St. James Hotel before they tore it down.”
Although there are places to stay and counseling for people in her situation, Rogers said she chose not to participate in them because of her mental state.
She stopped selling StreetWise and panhandled for money to get food because she knew she needed to eat to compensate for the chemotherapy. She did not frequent soup kitchens or shelters because “people running these soup kitchens and shelters feel they are better than you are. Either do as they say or you do not eat. You are balancing attitudes and then your own. So basically, I stayed by myself. If you are by yourself, to yourself, you don’t have to worry about nobody hurting you.”
However, the streets were not sympathetic, Rogers said.
“I didn’t know people could be so cruel. Men would say, ‘If you would come into the alley with me I can help you.’ I am down but I am not hopeless. Women would say, ‘I can’t do anything for you. Go and get you a man.’ Thinking about a man was the farthest thing from my mind.”
The breast cancer went into remission but in 2002 Rogers was diagnosed with stage II stomach cancer, which she beat with 18 months of chemotherapy.
Her mindset was much the same as during her earlier cancer. “I had become totally depressed. I was in that ‘I don’t give a damn’ mood. Whatever happens, happens. It was God’s will, not mine. If I died, if I lived, whoopee. I just didn’t care.”
The turning point came in 2011 when one of her daughters brought her home. “She started talking to me; she started crying and I started crying.”
Rogers connected with the StreetWise vendor services manager and another vendor who became a friend, Lawrence Brown. She returned to selling the magazine at Adams and Michigan and at VanBuren near the Board of Trade. Years earlier, when she sold the magazine at the latter spot, a customer mentored the girls and provided help. They are now 28 and in graduate school; one wishes to become a psychiatrist and the other a forensic attorney.
Recently, Rogers found housing on the southeast side through her church. She has started caring more in the last three months.
“I am seeking God more. I had quit seeking Him. Little by little I am accepting things He said in the Bible, listening to different preachers. Prayer works. God is good all the time.”
By Suzanne Hanney, StreetWise Editor-in-Chief