Road to re-election littered with setbacks
Adams fought through Lupus diagnosis and the death of sibling
When local news stations reported that the people of the North Ward had selected City Council member Denise “DD” Adams for a second term, Adams was overcome with emotion.
The city native made her way around the living room of her Marlowe Avenue home with tears in her eyes, embracing friends and family members as they cheered and showered her with congratulations. For Adams, who took office in 2009, the election was far more than another step in her political career. It was the spoils of a hard fought victory, a symbol of triumph over great adversity.
“I was just thankful. I was thankful to my family and to God, particularly, for giving me another chance, and to friends and supporters – everybody that helped me,” said the 59 year-old. “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit concerned (about the opposition). I just thank God that I got another chance. It was pretty humbling.”
This year has been a difficult one for Adams and her family. In January, Adams lost her sister, Rita Adams Harris, to COPD. It was the fourth sibling she has buried, including her twin sister Inese Williams, who died of an aneurysm in 2000. Both Adams’ parents are also deceased.
“We’ve seen a lot of death, my sisters and I,” said Adams, who pays homage to her loved ones’ memories with a “Wall of Mourning” in her home, where she displays the hats she and her family wore to the funerals of those closest to them. “My family used to be kind of big – it was nine of us – and then all of a sudden, everybody started leaving.”
In addition to the grief she suffered at the loss of her sister, Adams was fighting her own health battles. Since fall 2012, she had been struggling with nausea, fatigue and loss of appetite.
“I knew something wasn’t right, I just couldn’t put my finger on it,” said the Morgan State University alumna. “…I was just sick. It was hard to define.”
At first, Adams, a high performance team coordinator for Johnson Controls, wrote her discomfort off as a virus or temporary illness, but as the months wore on with no relief in sight, she began to seek professional help.
“I started going to the doctor and they couldn’t find anything wrong with me. They thought it was the flu,” she related. “…Nobody could tell me what was wrong.”
By the spring, Adams, who had always been physically active, was a shell of her former self. Her hair was falling out, she had lost 30 pounds and her energy levels were at an all time low. She struggled to perform the tasks she had always loved, from cooking for her family to serving on boards and commissions in the city. In April, she developed lesions on her chest, which her dermatologist determined were the result of lupus.
“When she said that, I felt some relief because I’m thinking, ‘Now that’s what’s wrong with me,’” she recalled. “…I’m like, ‘Okay, I can fight this. It’s like diabetes or anything else, I just need to manage it.’”
Doctors began treating Adams for lupus, but her condition continued to deteriorate. She was out of work for all of April, with the exception of the two days when she had City Council meetings. After the second Council meeting that month, Adams returned home completely spent.
“All I could think about was ‘If I could just go to bed, I’d feel better,’” she said. “I went to bed and I never really got up. I have three cell phones and all of them died in the bed. I really didn’t want to be bothered. I really didn’t want anyone to know how sick I was. I really didn’t want to deal with it.”
Fortunately, Adams’ family is close-knit and her younger sister Tanya Adams was keeping close tabs
on her. After 24 hours without hearing from her, Tanya went to check on Denise, panicking when she encountered a dark, silent house.
“When I came through the door, it was like dark, so I started hollering ‘Denise!’ and she didn’t answer,” related Tanya, a teacher’s assistant at Kimberley Park Elementary School. “I hoped I didn’t find her dead.”
Tanya said she finally found her sister in her bed, dehydrated, semiconscious and battling a 103-degree fever. She called 911 immediately.
“I looked like someone from a third world country,” Adams declared. “I tell her all the time she saved my life.”
Adams was rushed to the hospital, where doctors discovered the source of her nausea: her appendix had been leaking toxic fluids into her system for months and required surgery. During the surgery, doctors found a benign tumor on her appendix and had to remove the organ entirely. It was a shock to the patient, who had always been healthy.
“I had never had anything more than a cold or the flu all my life,” she said. “…I’m just thinking to myself, ‘What’s next?’”
Adams came through the surgery and was released, but would be forced to return to the hospital twice more, first for the pneumonia she developed a day after her release, and later because of inflammation in her chest caused by the lupus. Tanya patiently nursed her sister back to health. It was a long process for Denise, who was so weakened by the illness that she required a walker to get around, but in time, she began to regain her former energy and zest for life.
“I’m just glad that Denise is better. I’m just glad that she ran (for City Council) and she won – that’s what she wanted,” Tanya said. “I’m just glad that Denise is back.”
As someone who had always prided herself on her busy life of volunteerism and public service, her illness forced her to take a step back and reevaluate, said Denise, who is already beginning to work as a lupus awareness advocate.
“I began at that point to see how fast I had been moving through this world,” stated Adams,who was honored last month with the 2013 Fierce, Fearless & Determined Award from the She Can Make it Foundation. “You’ve got to know when it’s time to stop. What I did was I ran into the wall, and I was stopped by a higher power.”
The experience has prompted Adams to make some big changes in her life and her career. Effective Dec. 31, 2013, she is retiring from Johnson Controls, after nearly 17 years of service, to devote her energy to the Council full time. Armed with the wisdom of her harrowing experiences, Adams, who was sworn in as a member of the North Carolina League of Municipalities last week, says she is truly making her comeback, and she’s better than ever.
“I feel fearless. I feel like I can do anything – nothing can stop me,” she declared with a grin. “I am being driven by something bigger than DD Adams now. I have been given another chance, and I’m not going to waste it. Life is short, and I’m going to live everyday like it was my last.”