Longtime activist’s brain tumor scare creates community conversation 

Photo by KingDemetrius Pendleton Nekima Levy Armstrong

Nekima Levy Armstrong soon will return to her normal routines as a local civil rights attorney and social justice activist. She is close to full strength after recovering from surgery that removed a benign tumor against an optic nerve.

The 46-year-old Levy Armstrong has been a familiar fixture in the Cities over the years, but during the summer she was uncharacteristically out of sight. Last week on her social media account she made public the reason for her absence.

“I take the work seriously and my passion for the community seriously,” Levy Armstrong told the MSR last week. “But I also wanted them to know why they haven’t seen me or I haven’t been as visible. I thought that it was important for me to share the journey that I’ve been on.

“My only symptom was blurry vision in my right eye,” she said. “I attributed it to using the computer on my phone and needing glasses. I didn’t even know that was a symptom of a brain tumor.”

Once doctors informed her of the tumor in September, Levy Armstrong underwent surgery within a week. The attorney-activist stressed that she doesn’t want to rush back into action until she feels that she is at full strength. “My initial recovery period after the surgery was six weeks. So technically, after six weeks, I can go back to full-time employment and carry on whatever activities I feel comfortable doing,” she pointed out.

“But for me personally, I’ve been taking it slow because I want complete and total healing or restoration, and also to be able to take the time to listen to my body.”

To her surprise, her revelation about her health last week also created another community connection. “I just had to go to the place where I felt comfortable enough and felt recovered enough,” Levy Armstrong said. 

“People were tuning in and connecting, sharing their stories of medical crises that they face—people who I had no idea, who either battled cancer or battled brain tumors or other conditions, or people who are close to them.

“It became like a community conversation around a sensitive topic,” she said.

A brain tumor is serious business, and even though doctors told her it wasn’t cancerous, going undetected can lead to other health problems in due time.

“They [the doctors] probably would have never found it unless some other condition occurred,” Levy Armstrong said. “I was told that there are some people who have brain tumors who have no idea that they’re there. And as long as the brain tumor is not posing a problem to the individual, then it can go undetected their entire life.”

Another lesson learned: “I guess having this experience has shown me that there’s not enough research about the causes of brain tumors and the symptoms of brain tumors. 

“We have to protect our health and just be more vigilant and more proactive. People have a right to distrust the medical profession based on what has happened to us [Black people] historically. At the same time…we have the power to seek the medical care that we deserve, and we should demand the right to be treated equitably and fairly when we seek medical care, be treated humanely, and have our dignity intact.

“So, I would encourage people in our city that may have something abnormal that they’re experiencing to go and get checked. And to find a doctor that they can trust.

“We could be putting our own health in jeopardy by not seeking a second opinion and being more vigilant in making sure we have a battery of tests,” Levy Armstrong concluded.​

Correction: This story was updated Dec. 22. 2022 to correct the month that Nekima Levy Armstrong was informed of her tumor from July to September.

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