Remember Princess Imani in 'Coming to America'? She Was Diagnosed with Cancer & Bravely Overcame It

Fans know Vanessa Bell Calloway as the actress behind Princess Imani Izzi in the 1998 movie "Coming to America."  Years after, she battled cancer and ultimately overcame it. 

Vanessa Bell Calloway started her career as a dancer, but she shifted to acting where she starred in the likes of "What's Love Got to Do with It," "Shameless," "Saints & Sinners," and of course, the classic comedy "Coming to America." 

Fans of the movie were in for a treat after Calloway and Murphy reprised their roles as Prince Akeem and Princess Imani Izzi respectively on "Coming 2 America." Although she's remained active in the industry for decades, she actually underwent a minor setback when it came to her health.

GOD'S SUBTLE REMINDER

In 2009, Calloway felt as if something was wrong. She described the situation saying that one day, she felt as if God was whispering in her ear, telling her that something was wrong. 

Even though she wasn’t in any pain, she asked her physician to get every test possible, so he ordered a CAT scan, blood work, and a mammogram, which she was supposed to get four months before that visit to the doctor. True enough, she was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma, an early stage of breast cancer. 

THE TEST RESULTS

Unfortunately for Calloway, her assumptions were right. A nurse called her a couple of days after the tests were done and said there were suspicious calcifications in her right breast. 

At the time, she realized that God was warning her about that. She was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma. In her own words, it meant that “the abnormal cells in the milk ducts have fallen out into the tissue to invade the rest of the breast. It’s stage zero of breast cancer.”

UNDERGOING A MASTECTOMY

Doctors made her do a lumpectomy twice, but even the second surgery didn’t eliminate the problem. In the end, she had to undergo a mastectomy. Upon finding out, she revealed that she was angry. Speaking about the situation, she said:

“I had a hard time coming to grips with my condition, but my husband and sister turned it around, reminding me 'it’s just a breast. Let it go.'"

THE OUTCOME

Thankfully, the surgery was a complete success. Apart from getting rid of the malignant cells in her breast, she got reconstructive surgery too, where a plastic surgeon used skin from the soft tissue on her waistline to replace it.

As for what she's learned from the situation, she revealed it's not taking life for granted. She adviced for others to take care of themselves and to regularly check in with their doctors to make sure everything is on track.

Vanessa Bell Calloway attends the Premiere Of Focus Features' "Harriet" at The Orpheum Theatre  | Source: Getty Images

Vanessa Bell Calloway attends the Premiere Of Focus Features' "Harriet" at The Orpheum Theatre | Source: Getty Images

LOVING HER LIFE

Years later, Calloway is living her best life. In fact, she admits to waking up worry-free, sometimes even forgetting that she once had cancer. Aside from her work, Calloway is a happy wife to Anthony, whom she's been married to since 1988.

This August, she marked 12 years since she started having annual mammograms since her bout with cancer. She encouraged other women to undergo the same test to make sure everything is right and well in their bodies. 

A WOMAN OF POWER

In 2019, she was recognized as one of the "Women of Power" at the National Urban League Conference. Along the honorees were Kimberly Blackwell, Marilyn F. Booker, Esther L. Bush, Freda C. Lewis-Hall, and Tanya Pratt. 

Ultimately, the actress shared through her speech on that day that being recognized validates the fact that she's working hard to be the best person she can be. It is also a reassurance that the path she's chosen is inspiring others enough to take note of what she's doing. 

Now, fans can see her most recent work on "Coming 2 America." Although she initially wanted the role of Lisa and not Imani, she didn't want to pass up on the opportunity to star alongside Eddie Murphy and the rest is history.

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