to mark the moment
between girlhood and womanhood.
No poofy dress.
No goofy dance.
No playlist of the times.
Instead, on my birthday,
I was gifted a battle-weary 44-year-old mother,
Graciela Garza De León,
in a hospital bed,
woozy from surgery,
That day, tíos y tías, primas y primos,
they all stood next to her,
a clump of well-meaning
I heard someone say she was lucky to be alive.
Did I imagine it?
Did she hear it?
I stood to the side.
Hoping to hide,
to disappear into my personal brand of emotional paralysis.
In the weeks leading up to that moment,
between diagnosis and Incision Day,
I’d watched my avoidant father, brother, and sister from a distance.
I told myself that my family needed
Except I lied by pretending
I could stay dry
through the tempest.
I was always more transparent
than I thought.
No poofy dress.
Just a cotton t-shirt and denim shorts.
No goofy dance.
Just a shrinking violet frozen against the wall.
No playlist of the times.
Just my mother ignoring
the fawning of her family
and putting the spotlight on me.
“Mija, ¿cómo te sientes?”
In asking me how I was,
in posing such a simple question,
my mother’s voice became a squeeze of lemon
on a cold sore.
I was never as invisible as I thought.
In front of the whole family,
I splattered into the thousand oceans below us
into a sorrow
that could now fully consume me.
I was a sobbing mess, finally.
Tía María, the house of fortitude, persuaded me to sit.
The nurse came into the room.
My tía pointed to my drowning body and told her,
“She’s a very smart girl.”
The nurse nodded sympathetically at me. “I can tell.”
My throat swelled.
My capillaries churned.
My brain waves buzzed.
You don’t know me.
I should have shoved the hurt in deeper.
If I had just been a better daughter, God would let me keep her.
I can still savor the salt on my cheeks from that day.
I can still feel the coarse texture of cheap tissues on my nostrils.
I can still hear the soft brush of family members putting their fragile hands in their pockets.
In the years following–
The tangle of inevitable role reversals.
The visits of family members who adored her before she was a wife.
The inflamed arc from mother and back to child before the last silence.
Nearly two decades later,
my mother’s magnetism remains.
She is here
when a hummingbird looks through my window.
When I put my hands in my lap.
When the clock strikes 10:21.
And also, when I play my Rocío Dúrcal playlist.
When I do goofy dances while I clean.
When I put on a va-va-voom dress
and her shape looks back at me
in the mirror.
If I stay really still,
I can time travel
to that birthday
and put my arms around teenage Violeta:
“You don’t need to bargain with God.
You don’t even need to be a pristine daughter.
You just need to love your mother, learn from her.
And if you’re gonna challenge her, do so with respect and curiosity for her side of the story.
Above all, thank her
for the kindest versions of her
and the most cacophonous.
Cos loving the most
versions of your mother is how you learn to love the same versions of yourself.”
Here’s to healing.
Here’s to balance.
Here’s to growth in illness.
Here's to not hiding anymore.
Here's to making space
for the dark and the light,
the calm and the bite,
within the inner child and
inner mother in all of us.
Don’t take it from me, but you might want to
put on your comfy clothes.
Play that cozy song.
Let your inner blood fam
break out dance moves from decades ago.
I mean, who’s really watching anyway?
Violeta (vee-oh-LET-uh) Garza is a multilingual poet, weaver, and artist from the Historic West Side of San Antonio, Texas. Her mother passed away from breast cancer in 2005 after a 9-year-battle. Violeta can still feel her mother’s presence while playing cheesy Mexican love ballads from the 1980s.
“You have cancer"; three words that make your heart stop.
To tell our love story I need to go back to 1994 when Ruben and I first started dating.
We were in our early 20s and planned for a beautiful future together. What we couldn’t have known was that Ruben would be diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease shortly after we began dating. Ruben’s doctors informed him that one day he might need to be placed on dialysis or need a kidney transplant. We were devastated but we went on with our lives and got married October 10 th of 1998. Eight years after his diagnosis Ruben’s doctors informed him that he was getting close to being placed on dialysis and we should start looking for possible kidney donors.
As Ruben was being tested, to see if he was a good candidate for a transplant, the
search was on for a kidney donor. Ruben’s brother was tested because the possibility of
a good match is usually greater with siblings. Unfortunately, his brother was eliminated
as a donor candidate halfway through the process.
An unexpected but perfect match was what I was referred to. I went through all the
necessary physical and emotional pre-transplant screenings. Once I was cleared and
approved as a donor the date was set. December of 2003 I gave Ruben the gift of life
by donating my kidney to him.
After the kidney transplant we were elated to discover our new normal. We did face
some challenges with Ruben's health but through it all we seem to find that in some
ways our new normal was more rewarding and gratifying. We felt better equipped to handle anything life brought our way. Until Labor Day weekend 2019 when we heard those three words, “You have Cancer”.
Our whole world came to a complete stop. We were devastated, in shock, and fearful of
the unknown. I asked God, “Why my Ruben? Had he not already been through
enough?” I felt helpless but not hopeless because Ruben made me promise to never
give up hope. When the doctors informed me that he may not survive my Ruben asked
me to look into his eyes and he said, “Laura I need to see that you have not given up
hope that I will get better”.
We had our whole lives ahead of us but sadly on January 14, 2020 my Ruben took his
When we took our vows we truly meant “to have and to hold from this day forward, for
better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish,
until death do us part.” I choose you Ruben and I would choose you over and over again. Without pause,
without doubt, in a heartbeat I would always choose you. You will forever be my always
until my last breath.
I thank God for bringing us together and for allowing us to experience the most amazing
love. A love that was so deep that it makes this loss hurt so much.
I miss Ruben Noriega every day and I talk about him all the time. I often think back to
the person I was before Ruben passed away. She and I have very little in common
anymore. I think of the hurdles she had to jump, the mountains she climbed, and the
cliffs she fell over. She’s been knocked down, and risen many times; and at least a
dozen in her lifetime. I can see her in my memory so clearly, but I can’t feel her
anymore. She lived a different life than I do; with, different dreams, and a radically
different daily life.
I wish I could tell anyone who is grieving that there is a formula to get through grief but
there is literally no way around grief, you just have to let it take you under, drown you,
and then you have to let it change you. It’s hard and exhausting, but worth the work (I
Although life doesn't last forever, love is eternal. Cancer has not separated my heart
from yours my Ruben. I will honor you all the days of my life. Cancer you will never win
because true love will always prevail.
My story has been both a blessing and a curse. But, my story is a success story. In my
kaleidoscope journey of breast cancer, I' ve grown beautiful wings and I've become a
beautiful creature. I have gracefully fluttered from one garden of breast cancer
survivors to another relying on their sweet nectar of love and support. And, I am
thankful for their kindness and generosity.
Diagnosis #1: 2007
"You have Lobular Breast Cancer", I was told by the Radiologist. I could not comprehend
what I was hearing. I sat in my car in the parking garage. Where should I go? What is
going to happen? Who do I contact first and what do I even say?
I called my two daughters, Marilyn and Barbara, and we came up with a plan.
After we processed this frightening diagnosis, I contacted a recommended Breast
Surgeon and Oncologist. I opted for a Bilateral Mastectomy, with Breast Reconstruction
Expanders and Silicone Implants. My surgery and chemotherapy were a success. And
soon thereafter, I made the decision to retire from a local Telecommunications
Corporation with 29 years of loyal service.
I did not adjust well to retirement. So, I studied and became a Certified Prosthetic
Fitter. I derived great personal satisfaction from fitting other breast cancer survivors in
beautiful and supportive specialty bras and post-mastectomy prostheses. It was also
very rewarding for me to fit them with stylish wigs and hairpieces. I enjoyed helping
them on their journeys, and helping them feel healthy and confident.
Diagnosis #2: 2013
Once again, the curse of breast cancer descended upon me. In 2013, I was diagnosed
with Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer. And I started again with more rounds of
Chemotherapy, Radiation, Hair Loss, and Side Effects. My Oncologist thought I still had
another good 5 years, or more, ahead of me. But my life would depend on Herceptin
infusions, once every three weeks, for the rest of my life. I was devastated, hopeful, and
I immersed myself into the San Antonio Breast Cancer Community, volunteering for
many local and national breast cancer organizations, foundations, fundraisers, and
telethons. For my service to the local breast cancer community, I was featured in SA
Because of my recurring breast cancer and my Stage 4 classification, my life and
metamorphosis journey have more meaning and more value. I don't waste time. I look
for beauty. And, I search for strength, love, and support from my breast cancer
Diagnosis #3: 2022
I had no idea when I registered to participate in the Cancer Chronicles that the curse of
breast cancer would descend on me for yet a third time.
But, I'm m still looking for beauty. And I am blessed …
"How do you become a Butterfly" Betsy asked.
"You must want to fly so much that you're willing to give up being a caterpillar "
BIOGRAPHY: BETSY ACHILLES
1. I am Betsy Achilles. I am a three-time breast cancer survivor and thriver.
2. I am a strong and clever woman. And, I am thankful for my amazing life and all
of those who have been a part of my life.
3. My beautiful daughters, Marilyn and Barbara, are my pride and joy. They, too,
are strong and clever women who encourage me every day in my colorful,