Joyce E. Brooks lives by a simple motto: “It ain’t over.”
That’s gotten her through the tough days, including when she was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago. At the time, Brooks was a 42-year-old wife and mother of two. The doctor explained that Brooks had stage-one cancer, and she remembers thinking, “This cannot be real. I don’t have time for any cancer! I was not expecting that.”
Brooks, now 51, said she kind of zoned out.
“I went to the parking deck, called my husband, and told him. He assured me that it would be alright,” she said. “I went home, and I began taking a deeper look at the things around me. I looked at my children like, ‘When did you get out of the stroller?’ I felt like I had missed out on some stuff. It was just a punch in the face.”
At the time of her diagnosis, Brooks was at the top of her game. She was working as an electrical engineer, earning a six-figure salary. Her diagnosis changed her outlook on not only her life but also her career plans.
“Cancer was like my wakeup call, and at that point my passion for the corporate world disappeared,” said Brooks, who is now an author and motivational speaker. “I started making decisions based upon a bigger picture—and that’s faith and family.”
In February 2009, doctors told Brooks she was cancer-free, and she worked until retiring in 2012, which is when she published her first book, “Self-Inflicted Overload.” All seemed well as Brooks promoted the book, traveled the country giving motivational speeches. Then in 2014, she got a life-changing call.
“It was a very normal day,” she recalled. “I was getting ready to print and publish my second book when I get a phone call from Brookwood Medical Center telling me I need to come in.
“I get there, and the doctor says, ‘I’m sorry to inform you that your husband has died.’ Again, it’s like, ‘Huh? What did you just say?’”
Her husband of 14 years, Birmingham Fire and Rescue Chief Ivor J. Brooks, had died of a heart attack.
“You hear the words ‘Your husband has died,’ and it’s almost as if your whole world stops,” Brooks said. “I had just talked to him, … and then he was just gone. It was a harder pill to swallow … because now I’m alone and wondering what I am going to do. How am I going to raise these boys? … I had to constantly remind myself, ‘It ain’t over.’”
Brooks said her husband would be proud of her progress.
“‘Brooks,’ that’s what I called my husband, would probably say to me a phrase he used with his firefighters, ‘Go make it do what it do,’” she said. “So, if he were here, he would be telling me, ‘Girl, you are making it do what it do.’ Knowing that helps me.”
Brooks published her second book and turned her trials and tribulations into encouragement not just for others but for herself, as well.
“I found out my book was helping me, too,” she said. “How could I help other people if I couldn’t help myself? When I write my books, I always say if it doesn’t help me and motivate me, then it won’t do it for someone else.”
Brooks also had to think of not only of herself but also her sons, Jae and Matthew. They began going to grief counseling.
“I did not want them to think that because their father was no longer here, that was reason to give up or not do their best,” she said. “No, you have to keep going. We always only asked of them to do their best, and I was going to make sure they continued to do just that. My son Matt played football, and when his dad died I saw him starting to slack off in [his sport]. I said, ‘Oh no, we’re not going to do this.’ I didn’t want him to say, ‘I’m not good in football because my dad isn’t here to throw the ball with me.’ So, I threw it with him. It ain’t over.”
Brooks—who holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of South Alabama and master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Alabama at Birmingham—is the owner and managing member of Brooks Consulting LLC, which has a mission to help businesses and organizations gain a competitive advantage by offering specialized programs.
Most recently, Brooks published her first children’s book, “Mr. Brown, Will You Please Open the Door?” She was inspired to write the book after a visit to Phillips Academy for a career day event.
“I asked the kids what they wanted to be. One young girl stood up and said she wanted to be a cook, and her classmates laughed at her,” Brooks said. “That caught my attention, and I told her, ‘You will be the best chef in the world, go to the best culinary schools, and make the best food.’ … I was just trying to encourage her because that kind of thing can break a person’s spirit. I left there that day and thought, ‘I need to address this. I need to write a story so that children can read it and be inspired by it.’”
“Mr. Brown, Will You Please Open the Door?” follows a girl named Destiny, who is trying to go through the door of possibilities. Each time, she is stopped by the doorkeeper, Mr. Brown, but at the end she learns she is more than able to walk through the door. This book, Brooks said, can help both children and adults.
“All of my books are written to encourage and inspire, and to remind individuals that it ain’t over. Enjoy today, and don’t wait.”