Quiana Parks is a storyteller. Her art mimics music as each image she creates evokes an emotion based on a specific moment or song she’s experienced, like a portrait from Parks’ #theunDone project titled “Tina’s Girls,” a dedication to her sisters and mother based off of Nina Simone’s “My Baby Just Cares For Me”.
The Patterson, NJ native is also known as a disc jockey, responsible for giving club-goers and event attendees a diverse party soundtrack. The multi-hyphenate’s clientele includes Nike and Neiman Marcus to Tiffany & Co. and NYC underground hotspot Boiler Room. At just 30 years old, Quiana Parks has already racked up a bevy of titles under her belt but one takes precedence over all: cancer survivor.
“It was a scary experience because I didn’t realize how much of an impact it was about to have on my life,” Quiana tells her sweat. about surviving Lymphoma cancer. “It was embarrassing because I felt violated and I no longer had dreams or set goals anymore but I always try to find the light in situations and now I’m where I am now.”
In 2014, Quiana Parks launched DJ For A Cure, a movement aimed to educate the public on blood cancer. DJ For A Cure was inspired largely by a conversation Parks had with Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts, who battled and beat breast cancer, and encouraged the then-shy Parks to use her platform to share her experience and raise awareness about cancer especially among African Americans.
As she prepares for her upcoming third annual DJ For A Cure event, her sweat. caught up with Parks to discuss her personal journey to wellness and her DJ For A Cure fundraiser.
her sweat: Talk a little about your battle with cancer.
I found a small lump on my neck by my collarbone which was the initially the size of a pea then within a matter of two weeks it grew to the size of a gumball. I went to the doctor and they ran a few tests and after, the doctors were saying it was probably just a small lymph node or an infection. Eventually, they did a biopsy and then I found out I had blood cancer. I was 19 at the time in college and I remember my friends asking me, “What is that?” and playing with the lump because it moved but it didn’t hurt so all my friends were fascinated with it. I started chemotherapy and three hours after my first chemo treatment, I ended up in the hospital and that woke me up to what was going on. When they first told me, I thought “Wow, I’m finally gonna go on Oprah” like, maybe now Oprah will answer one of my emails. [Laughs]
I started to lose a lot of weight and lose my hair, and I didn’t look like myself – it really took a toll on me and I didn’t want to tell any of my friends or family about what was going on. I didn’t tell anyone until after the cancer was gone; people didn’t even know my hair was falling out because I wore hats and scarves.
How long was your battle with cancer?
I had cancer for a summer. I was diagnosed on May 7 and in August, I think August 31, because Kanye West’s second album [Late Registration] dropped that Tuesday.
What role did music play throughout the process?
I listened to Kanye West’s first album [College Dropout] the entire time especially the song “All Falls Down” – you know that part when he says, “She had hair so long that it looked like weave/ Then she cut it all off, now she look like Eve.” That line alone, I was just like [Kanye West] gets it, he gets me. When it came to my self-esteem, that song alone is him talking about a woman who’s self-conscious and he’s not even going through what I’m going through. Me losing all my hair and all that weight, I did feel very self-conscious and vulnerable during that time because this thing came and took over my life and didn’t ask me any permission. So Kanye West did help me get my self-esteem up.
When I was going through my depression stage, listening to M.I.A’s “Y.a.l.a” and her basically saying she’s about to come in this building and tear it up. The confidence in music and dancing to the words was my outlet. I would go into my room and turn up M.I.A or at the time, Azealia Banks had come out with a song called “Fuck Up the Fun.” I’m also a huge Britney Spears fan so I would literally go from listening to M.I.A and Britney to Tye Tribett. My music taste is all over the place but it really lit up my world.
How else did you remain positive during your experience?
It took years to finally break free from that negative mindset. It wasn’t until I was 27 years old that I moved past it and I’d say, DJ For A Cure, definitely helped me. DJ For A Cure was the first event I did as a DJ but the first event I did as a survivor, period. It was an event I did years ago in Patterson, NJ called We Run Cancer with all the ladies from church. [Laughs] I was convinced that it would help me move past it and it did not. I went through a mid-20s crisis where I was just breaking down and I didn’t have dreams and didn’t set any goals – I wasn’t happy. Mediocracy was always my biggest fear and I realized I was really settling. I broke then but eventually I started to put myself first then DJing kind of found me. I felt like I didn’t have anywhere else to turn to but music and art.
How did you find your calling as a DJ?
During that time, I was spending a lot of time by myself and I was freelancing as a graphic designer when someone that I was working with who was a DJ invited me out with him one night and one night turned into every day. I got to wear my Jordans and wear a t-shirt, and no one bothered me and I didn’t have to worry about guys cat-calling. I can be myself in the DJ booth. On top of that, I realized the power a DJ has over a crowd and how a DJ can make a person’s day and light up their whole world by just playing a song. There was one particular mix that DJ Mos did where he went from “This Is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan to “How We Do” by The Game and 50 Cent and my whole world lit up. I went home and told my dad about how it, and eventually I started practicing on my dad’s turntables and now I’m here.
Your dad’s a DJ?
Yeah, he thought I was kidding when I said I wanted to be a DJ. In the beginning, he was like “Let’s see if you actually want to put this work in” and then I actually started to really practice every day for hours. My dad has been DJing for like 40 years so during the holidays, his DJ friends would come over the house and we’ll do cyphers. We’ll all spin back-to-back and he’ll be like, “Yeah, that’s my daughter right there.” [Laughs]
When did you launch DJ For a Cure and what inspired the event?
In 2014. When I went through my cancer, I wasn’t very open about telling people what I went through. Then when I did the We Run Cancer event, I became a little more open but I still wasn’t ready. At the time, I was interning for DJ Kiss and she was DJing on Good Morning America as one of their resident DJs and I met Robin Roberts. Being there that day and seeing [Robin] celebrate her cancer birthday, which is when you donate your birthday to cancer awareness and it’s like don’t say “Happy Birthday” to me, but today’s a celebration for the people who are surviving.
Also, after you beat cancer, it’s like you’re born again so she was celebrating that. Robin kind of convinced me to open up about my experience and after that I just went full-blast. I became even more open after I realized the impact I had on the people who were at DJ For A Cure. I didn’t do it alone; I had my sisters and one of my best friends, Kerry, and we’ve been doing this for a while. We realized the impact it had on the community, especially the African-American community. A lot of blood cancer patients need bone marrow transplants and only seven percent of Americans are signing up to be a possible match for a patient, and the African American bone marrow the most diverse. A lot of us need to sign up and we need to shout it from the rooftops so now we’re really trying to push this event and work with DKMS who focuses on bone marrow donations.
Describe your workout regimen and diet as a busy woman on the go.
My workout is pretty simple: I live on the fourth floor. [Laughs] I’m a member of this gym around the corner from me so I go every so often but my roommate Katherine is a pilates instructor and we do pilates once or twice a week. I’ve tried everything from yoga to tai chi because I don’t like weights. I’m a pescatarian – on and off because I like bacon – and I cut out dairy and take my vitamins every day. I eat six meals a day: three meals, three snacks.
Who is your personal fitness shero and why?
Nope. I can’t lie and say I’m super into fitness. I’m not. I hate quinoa, I hate running, I can’t run because I get cramps. [Laughs] Just going up my stairs makes me exhausted. There’s certain things my roommate, Katherine, does that I’ll copy.
What is your favorite workout song?
Britney Spears “Work Bitch” and “Y.A.L.A” from M.I.A are my favorites. I’ve always loved Britney Spears. In that song, she’s saying “You betta work bitch” and it’s basically her giving you a high-five. To see Britney Spears go from being on top to being labeled as “crazy” and hitting the bottom then to come around full circle, “Work Bitch” is just an example of that.
DJ For A Cure will take place on March 23 at the W New York from 7 to 10pm.