black women

Iyanla Vanzant Nearly Lost Everything, and then Her Daughter Died of Cancer

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by Liku Zelleke

Inspirational speaker Iyanla Vanzant is no stranger to pain. Although she speaks to ordinary citizens of strength and finding love and peace in their lives, she has been through some very rough patches in her own life – and almost didn’t make it through.

Vanzant was the host of her own show, she had multi-million dollar book deals, she owned her own home and most importantly she was married and had a child.

And then she lost it all.

First, her show got cancelled. She lost all her book deals, her fortune and even her home. Then her marriage fell apart. But the worst was still to come: on Christmas day, 2003, Vanzant lost her then 30-year-old daughter, Gemmia, to a rare form of colon cancer.

All this pressure drove her to the brink. She had nearly given up when she discovered her daughter’s journal.

“It saved me that I read it,” Vanzant said on Oprah Winfrey’s “Super Soul Sunday.”

Vanzant says that she had taught her daughter how to keep a journal and record everything happening in her life. Although she started young, Gemmia really got into it after she fell ill, she says.

Gemmia was 18 years old when she went into ministry and was ordained. Her writings were of a spiritual nature, that her mother says put her life into perspective despite the pain and the losses she was going through. “I needed to understand… she was my greatest teacher,” Vanzant said.

“I couldn’t think I could sustain another hour,” she said.

She shared a part of the journal that she says opened her eyes and made her realize that there was a purpose in everybody and everything:

Father, I know you have great things ordained for me. I know you have ordained me to do great things. I even know that some of the things you have planned for me I will not be able to do in this life. This body is just physical. The greatness you have for me is of a spiritual nature – a nature I may never find in this body.

Gemmia wrote entry in October, and two months later, she passed away.