There is something to be said about true courage in the face of adversity. It’s canonized in Hollywood, but the true-life heroes rarely get recognition. And though you may be hard-pressed to get her to admit this, Jacqueline “Dr. Jackie” Walters is actually an exception to that reality. The “Married to Medicine” star has created a name for herself as a modern-day champion of women’s medicine and breast cancer survival. And people are taking notice.
As she took some time away from her rolling out cover shoot to reflect on the journey that brought her to this moment, she was both poignant and humbled by the ups and downs of life that have added to her intricate, beautiful journey.
This is Dr. Jackie, unscripted.
When we see you on set, youíre always so full of life and energy. Is that person more Dr. Jackie or Jacqueline Walters?
The person you see on set is Dr. Jacqueline Walters, who shares Dr. Jackie with the TV world. In essence, they are the same person with the exception that Dr. Jackie doesn’t always share the more comical side and oftentimes is a little more reserved.
Dr. Jackie/Dr. Jacqueline Walters both have and share with the world her upbeat energy and wisdom. They both make lemonade out of lemons and always see the glass half full. They both rarely ever show much weakness and manage change and don’t let it manage her. Dr. Walters and Dr. Jackie both possess an unspeakable joy, which is “being happy no matter what the conditions” are. This is how Dr. Jacqueline Walters was able to survive and work full time through two bouts of breast cancer and being told she was infertile.
It’s been interesting watching you open up your life to the world in such a big way. Did you ever see your life playing out this way growing up in Mississippi?
Not in a million years could I have ever said I would have seen myself on a reality TV show. I always knew there were few people who possessed my work habits [and] ethics and I knew that kind of work ethic could take me far, but I never ever thought I would open up and allow anyone into my private life. I knew I had a purpose but never identified exactly what it was, especially not sharing it with the world on TV.
Does fame pull on you to the point where you ever consider leaving the medical profession altogether to just focus on stardom?
Yes, the new celebrity status has certainly opened up doors that come with offers that I could pursue even more and almost daily. However, I love seeing patients and I absolutely love surgery. I do feel maintaining relevance in what I am known as a celebrity for “Dr. Jackie” requires that I stay in the medical profession. Could I one day see myself cutting back? Certainly. I could one day see myself with limited hours but never not being a practicing physician.
What about your patients? Has the dynamic changed with them now that you are Dr. Jackie?
At first, my patients, friends and family were all very reluctant, [thinking] being on reality TV would damage my image and change the person I was. They all worked hard trying to convince me how horrible this would be for me and my relationships with them. Once they saw the show and started to see season after season, that I was changing reality TV and others’ lives and it was changing me then I became the pride and joy. The change in my practice is most people wanna talk about the show and each episode. I have patients who come from other states to be a patient. Patients often think they know me much better than they would know other doctors and talk to me like we are acquaintances.
I can imagine that you are forced to interact with people you are hesitant about letting into your inner circle. How do you decide who gets in and who stays out?
You are exactly right. I am asked to interact with people who I am very hesitant to let into my inner circle. I often watch how these people treat other people and speak about other people. I watch for consistency, honesty, integrity and actions. I [follow] what Maya Angelou [said]: “When a person shows you who they are the first time, believe them.” I allow friends and acquaintances in in stages. To be a friend in my holy of holiness, you have shown yourself worthy as an outer court and then inner court friend. I now express what I want and need and then watch to see if I get what I need. Most of my friends’ value has been shown in my tough times. My mind fragments their behavior and my heart puts the pieces all together to help me determine who gets in.
Is it a foolproof method?
Absolutely not foolproof because I have certainly seen in people what I called all the right qualities to find out that they were and certainly should’ve been “seasonal friends.” I’ve learned a lot, which is basically I am responsible for teaching people how to treat me by not allowing them to do to me what I wouldn’t do to myself. I now don’t allow others to be the darkness that overshadows and steals my brightness.
Let’s talk about some of your earlier relationships in life. You’re a proud member of your sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. How has this affiliation helped to shape your life?
I absolutely love my sorority, AKA, and have always intended to be an AKA, even before going to college. My father was a member Alpha Phi Alpha, which of course directed me toward AKA. Watching the ladies of AKA started in elementary school and was probably very likely who helped shaped my ladylike traits. I always saw these ladies as women who were smart, pretty and lived a life of discretion. They were soft but strong warriors who “made things happen with excellence.” I have always wanted to be an AKA.
The affiliation has helped to shape my life with the sisterhood and networking that comes with being an AKA. I have met some of the most amazing women in my life who were members of AKA. It’s like having millions of sisters and not knowing you have them.
Do you also feel a shared sisterhood with all women?
I believe in my oath that I took and any woman who has earned the right to be called an AKA as is written is my sorority sister. She’s earned the right to expect my help and wisdom but also to give to me hers. However, like all sisters, we may [not] all see eye to eye but have to keep loving each other.
You have been very vocal about how your two-time triumph over breast cancer and how it changed your life. But if you had to look at one other life-defining moment, what would it be, and what impact has it had on you?
One other thing in my life that was a defining moment other than breast cancer twice is the day I accepted that my father actually had Alzheimer’s. I took him to a neurologist and [saw that] my dad [was] not able to count backward [and he didn’t] know he [wasn’t] in Mississippi but instead was in Atlanta. My heart immediately changed at that moment. I had lost my dad but watched him sitting right before my eyes. I struggled with anger and sadness because the man who had loved me first and the most [wasn’t] capable of loving me because he was losing his memory of who I really was. I also struggled that my other family, my support system, [wasn’t] equipped to help us care for this man we called daddy. I felt like I was all alone but looked around to see that there were people who supported me and my dad through what I knew as a medical doctor had no beautiful end to it. Not only could I never have my own biological child’s unconditional love due to infertility rendered by breast cancer and chemotherapy, now I don’t have the man who loved me unconditionally. It was at that moment that I learned to give unconditional love. My dad’s condition oftentimes made it hard to love him unconditionally, but [I] learned how he and my mother must have felt about loving me. I had been changed by breast cancer but seeing my dad go through this made me experience unconditional love. I realized that my heart feels before my mind can think. I knew I could not control what had happened to us but what I did and I do know is I can control my choices. I choose to [be] joyful and work hard to show my dad and everyone around me love. The one thing I knew I could do to hold on to my dad and my life was to do everything I do with love.
Interview by DeWayne Rogers
Images by Raphael Baker
Makeup by Ashley Gray
Styled by Eileen Resurreccion