Every other week, singer-actress Camille Metoyer Moten has a party and invites 2,000 of her friends. Facebook friends.
She calls them her Prayer Warriors, a mix of close friends and relatives, buddies in the theater community and fans of her frequent cabaret bookings.
Camille is one of the most accomplished and versatile singer-actresses in the city. The party is a chemotherapy treatment in the wake of breast cancer surgery.
About 10 to 15 Prayer Warriors typically show up at the Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center, at Camille's invitation, to pray over her. Then they laugh so much together that the nurses occasionally have to shush them.
At a recent chemo party, a fellow patient was impressed when she saw the Prayer Warriors place hands on Camille's chemo machine and ask God to kill all the bad cells, and only the bad cells.
So impressed, in fact, that she wheeled her chemo machine over and asked them to pray over it, too. Another patient requested chemo treatments only on days Camille and her Prayer Warriors were around.
Camille Metoyer Moten is doing the big C her way.
Her way is all positive, with a capital P. And rock-solid faith, with a capital F. God is in charge.
So what if chemotherapy has caused all her hair to fall out? Camille continues to book cabaret gigs, and she only uses a wig when her bare head gets cold. The rest of the time, Nikki MiNoggin, as she's dubbed her bald pate, appears au naturel.
So breast reconstruction is a drag? She turns it into a running online commentary that laughs at the experience — and makes others laugh along with her.
Chemotherapy sessions? Her postings about them inspire her Facebook followers, present for the treatments or not, and even her doctors and nurses.
Camille is determined. Determined to stay positive on her journey to wellness. Determined in the knowledge that God has a plan for her. And maybe that plan is to lift up others in their faith and in fighting cancer.
There's evidence that it's already happening.
On Facebook, her Cancer Free Babe postings draw lots of attention — typically a hundred-plus “likes” and scores of comments. Fellow actress Kim Jubenville Carlson posted that Camille's running commentary was “like going to church at the Funny Bone.”
Sometimes it is just like that. A June 5 posting:
“I am so enjoying going out and about with Nikki MiNoggin. The reactions I get just keep me so entertained! There is the smile of 'Oh, that poor woman must be dying,' to the 'How quickly can I avert my eyes to not look at this bald-headed woman?' Honestly, I think some people are going to hurt themselves. Can your eyes fly out of your sockets? Cuz I think that's gonna happen to someone. At the grocery store a woman came up to me ... and said, 'I like your cap.' My cap? Did she think I was wearing one of those clown head things to make you look bald? ... I giggled through the rest of my store venture. God allows me to just keep on enjoying life like nothing has changed. Only He can do that.”
Dr. Janet Grange, who has specialized in breast cancer for 10 years, said she's known few patients so confident that they wait to follow a path consistent with their faith, doing what they believe God is directing them to do even in the face of something as scary as cancer.
Many patients, Grange said, get overwhelmed into extreme action, such as a double mastectomy, or so frozen in fear they can't act at all. But a patient who really believes good things are going to happen helps it all turn out that way.
Diagnosed in April 2012 during a routine checkup, Camille declined a quick surgery. Instead, she asked God for guidance. Through a friend, she found Grange in Papillion.
This was the path God wanted her to go on, Moten says now.
Together, she and Grange chose hormone-blocking treatments to shrink the tumor. By December, Grange said the tumor had shrunk as much as it was going to. Time to get it out.
But she had singing gigs booked. She was starring in “All-Nite Strut” at the Omaha Community Playhouse. Surgery would wait a bit longer.
The Playhouse run ended March 31. Camille had a mastectomy of her left breast April 3.
Along with the slow-growing, estrogen-loving tumor, doctors found a smaller tumor of a more aggressive type in the same breast. It was caught very early. The lymph nodes were clean. Chemo, and then radiation, will minimize the odds of the cancer's return.
When Camille told her oncologist, Dr. Geetha Palaniappan, that she knew beyond a doubt God had chosen her as her physician, Palaniappan hugged her with tears in her eyes. Then she asked Camille to pray for her other patients, because her prayers obviously get through.
Grange said Camille's faith, her positive attitude and her insistence that she be in charge of her choices all have improved her outlook.
No, Grange said, removing the other breast was not advisable. Breast cancer turns up in the other breast in just 8 percent of cases, usually younger women or women genetically predisposed like actress Angelina Jolie.
But doctors will keep a close eye on Camille the rest of her life.
Her deep faith, and her approach to battling cancer, may surprise caregivers and friends, but not those closest to her.
Born in Omaha, she grew up near 27th and Manderson Streets in north Omaha until sixth grade. Her father, Ray Metoyer, was president of the Nebraska Urban League. In fourth grade, she was arrested with him during a march on City Hall to protest segregation at Peony Park.
Camille said Ray moved his family west, closer to his work as a counselor at Boys Town, because the white schools had better textbooks. She was one of just two black students at Morton Junior High. She graduated from Burke High and got a degree in English while also studying music at Xavier University in New Orleans. She met Michael Moten at Xavier — he liked to hang around campus to meet girls — and married him just before graduation.
Camille's family-teaching job at Boys Town brought the young couple to Omaha in 1979. Playing Mary Magdalene in “Jesus Christ Superstar” at the Orpheum in 1982 relaunched her love of the stage and singing, and cabaret jobs soon followed. She has won the Omaha Community Playhouse's top acting award for the title roles in “Evita” in 1986 and “Funny Girl” in 1993.
Camille's older sister, Lanette Moore, recalls an introverted little girl who suffered through scoliosis, appendicitis, a broken wrist, a tonsillectomy, the death of their mother from brain cancer when Camille was a senior in high school, and the 1979 murder of their father by a worker he had fired.
Camille suffered quietly, Lanette says. Eventually, she says, it helped Camille blossom as a woman of faith, connecting to the sufferings of Jesus.
Lanette was with her when she was diagnosed. Camille's immediate response: “I'm confident whatever lies ahead, God is ready to lead me through it.”
The whole family has strong faith, said daughter Temia Moten, 32. Camille's confidence has helped Temia and her older brother, Michael, be confident. Worrying, Temia said, is not part of her mom's character.
Of course, Temia admitted, there are drawbacks. Camille had to practically be tied down to a chair to keep her from returning to her treadmill right after surgery. Resting is not her strong suit. Camille now knows she'll feel fine on chemo days, but two or three days later she will have no energy and need to lie down.
But going without a wig, that's just like her, said husband Michael. People might assume she loved her hair (she never did), but she had contemplated shaving her head even before diagnosis. It would make a statement. She's an independent thinker who doesn't care what others might think.
Camille and Michael renewed their faith when the party life on Xavier's campus grew stale and they began studying the Bible together. Michael became a minister in 1993 and started One Way Ministry at 60th Street and Grand Avenue, where he is pastor.
Staying busy, that's just how she is, Michael says of his wife. Her only real concern is the 10 pounds she gained because of steroids in the hormone blockers.
“She's comfortable with who she is, except she wants to be skinny, a size 3,” he said.
Not long after surgery, she made him stop cooking so many wonderful meals for her.
Pianist-composer David Murphy, who has been Camille's cabaret accompanist for four years and recorded CDs with her, has been to two of her chemo parties. He recalls a singing gig at First-Plymouth Congregational Church in Lincoln soon after one of them, when Camille had no energy and wasn't feeling well.
Camille's June 18 Facebook post about it:
“I prayed that my physical frailty would not interfere with the spirit as I sang to that congregation. ... As I sat waiting to sing, I contemplated lying on the floor. ... But when they called my name, the angels lifted me from my seat, carried me to the microphone and sang the songs for me.”
She's never sounded better, Murphy said. “Over the Rainbow” got a two-minute standing ovation.
She snored in the car on the way home.
Blood tests reveal that her white count has never gone down, unusual during chemo. Her doctors, she said, are excited that she's trying to do what she needs to do.
“They don't hold me back. I wouldn't let them, anyway.”
Whatever the outcome, Temia said, God has a purpose.
On July 11, Camille posted this on Facebook:
“Prayer Warriors, you did it again!!! Bone scan results — clear of any new disease!!! Thank you for your prayers. All praise to Jesus. Yay!!! God bless you!!!”
The post drew 335 likes and 65 comments in less than 24 hours.