The message I want to send with my story is to not take the love you share with someone for granted.
I acknowledge that this message may sound like a cliche, a cliche being an idea, expression or action that has been overused to the point of it becoming boring and unoriginal. But to that notion I say if I have heard this message many times before, then it must speak some Truth, and with that said how can the Truth ever be boring or unoriginal? And so with my message and acknowledgement in mind, I want to share with all of you a specific event that occurred the day when my bride, Tracy, shared her diagnosis with me.
We were sitting at the restaurant Pappadeaux, like we had many times before, when the gravity of what my wife was going through hit me. I have been affected by many things in my life, but only one other time have I felt the way that I felt on the day that Cancer entered the scene.
It was the fall of 1999, and I can remember the exact moment when I became aware of my depression. The recognition started from the top of my head and made its way to the tip of my toes. I recall, sitting in my black Nissan Sentra that had a manual transmission, smoking a cigarette at the intersection of Mulberry and 281, waiting to turn left, when I looked out my left window and noticed dry brown grass blowing to the left because of the wind, when the feeling started. For days, no matter what I did, I could not shake the feeling. As I worked through my depression, I found the source to be trauma perpetrated upon me in my youth. Unfortunately, before I could heal, my wife at the time took my children to NYC and abandoned me. When I became better, I vowed to never treat someone the way I was treated in my time of need.
During my reflection for this writing, I came across this image created by a professor from the University of Northern Iowa named F Echeverria that spoke to me.
“The seed in the ground that rots first, but becomes a beautiful, fruit giving tree at the end”.
The seed that rotted in 1999 is exactly what needed to be so that I could be what Tracy required 23 years later. In numerology, 23 signifies new beginnings, revolution, and transformation.
Sitting at Pappadeaux was a new beginning and the second most consequential day in my life. I knew it was a big deal because my senses were heightened just like in 1999. When the weight of the diagnosis hit, the tablecloth at the restaurant was whiter than I ever observed, the bread crumbs were more noticeable and the swirls in the butter seemed to capture what was going on.
The feelings that came over me were twofold: a concern for the future and regret for a past that I squandered with my wife.
With tears in my eyes, I apologized to my bride for not appreciating our relationship more when there was no cancer. I told her that I wished I had that time back, and I vowed to take care of her.
While our future looks good, for the most part; I just wish that my sense of urgency for the for the relationship with my wife was as pronounced before the cancer as it is now.
Hello, my name is Beatrice Garner, and I am a two times Breast Cancer Survivor and a mother to a boy and girl twins. My journey started on June 20, 2011, when I got that dreaded phone call from my OB/GYN doctor. He said Beatrice, you have breast cancer. I fought back the tears because my daughter was with me at the time, and we were driving down IH-35, heading back home from being out all day. Oh, boy, that was a long ride home. I didn’t want my daughter to know but when I looked over at her she already had tears in her eyes. The more he talked the angrier I got. “How is this so” I stated, “I did everything I was supposed to do. He assured me that I was in good hands. Later, a breast biopsy showed I had triple-negative breast cancer stage 2b. Triple-negative is a very aggressive form of breast cancer. It appeared first in my right breast. While there’s never a good time to get cancer. This was the worst time for me to get this diagnosis because my daughter was pregnant with my first and only grandchild. There was no way I was going to miss his birth. Being there for my grandson became my motivation besides I already had a baby shower planned for my daughter. I told my surgeon there was no way I was not going to be at the baby shower. At that time, he informed me that surgery would be on 07-05-2011 the day after the holiday, not a day later.
My grandson was born a week after my mastectomy. So, with God’s grace, I was there to see his birth. Remission for me lasted for almost ten years. The first time I had cancer it appeared in the right breast but now it was back but on the left side. Just like the first-time surgery was done first followed by chemotherapy. Radiation was part of my treatment plan on the first go around but not part of my treatment plan during the reoccurrence. The first time it was at stage 2Bright before it was getting ready to travel to other parts of my body or metastasize. I was able to find the knot while taking a shower. The reoccurrence was stage 1A. It was caught earlier stage the second time and was detected by a mammogram. It couldn’t be seen by the necked eye. Both times I had surgery first followed by six rounds of chemotherapy.
My second diagnosis was given to me on my birthday 01-20-2020 during the pandemic. This was the worst time ever. I often told my friends who I met in chemo by the way. “I don’t know what I ever do If my cancer was to come back”. Well by God it returned almost ten years later and guess what? I was once again victorious because of my faith. There wasn’t going to be any giving up. Cancer has made me stronger and has creased my faith in God. My strength comes from him above. Life is not fair but as that old saying goes “When life gives you lemons make me lemonade.” Things could have been very different. I have now involved with three support groups that have helped me in different ways. Some help with bras, wigs, and support meetings. These are all beneficial to me because I suffer from depression it was hard to mustard up the energy to fight. I was either giving up and dying or keep relying on God and continuing to fight. I made new friends while on my journey that I met from being active in local support groups.
Having strong faith, good friends and support groups all played a hand in my recovery. My message to everyone going through or that has been fighting cancer is to first rely on your fight and keep a positive attitude. It’s okay to have bad days but don't stay down. Instead, pull yourself up by your bootstrings because I time to put on your big girl panties and tackle the world. If I can do it so, can you because HE -- God -- doesn’t give us more than we can bear. (1cornitans 10:14)
My message: Letting go of what lies behind.
Metaphor: With a journey, there are times when the paths are unswerving and times when they twist and turn. There are uncertainties, bumps and craters along the way. There are also often glorious surprises and exciting revelations along the way that I may never have savored if it had not been for the pathway that was laid-out before me on the afternoon of Friday, November 18, 2022; When I heard the words, “you have cancer”.
After receiving the diagnosis, I felt overwhelmed and was in disbelief. As my doctor continued to speak, like the verse from the song Comfortably Numb, by the English rock band, Pink Floyd, I could see his lips moving, but I could not hear a word he was saying. I immediately called my husband Robert to share the news. I returned home a short while after where he was waiting for me. We embraced, cried, talked about our fears, concerns, this dreaded journey we were about to embark upon and then we decided we must eat! So, off to Pappadeaux we went. As I delighted over the picture of the dish on the cover of the menu, I immediately opened it to review the price, as I typically do, $39.95, oh my goodness, no way, that is too expensive. I sat back, paused, then looked at my husband and said, “if this is how my life is going to end, I am going to start eating well!” Not only did I ordered that dish, I had dessert too! A NEW WAY TO EAT!
My surgery for bilateral inguinal lymphadenectomy, was scheduled on Thursday, December 8, 2022. We shared the news with our children and small circle of friends. They were all extremely compassionate and supportive. In trying to show every sign of strength we assured them we were optimistic and hopeful as well. However, the few weeks leading up to it were filled with fear, anxiety, despair, stress, regrets and a multitude of other emotions.
Now to speak about death, I died and buried myself at least a thousand times leading up to that day. Although the thought of dying does not scare me, my thoughts were; I don’t want this to be part of my story. This cannot be how it ends. I have so much life left to live! I’m ONLY 60 years old! It was in these moments where I felt the heaviness and smothering of regret.
My surgery went well and now it was time to return home only a few four hours later. After a brief review of my discharge summary with the post-op nurse, we were out the door and on our way home. Now, having worked in the healthcare industry for over 40 years, I felt somewhat equipped to navigate these waters along with my husband. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was the level of dependency, loss of modesty and limited mobility that was suddenly my new reality. Things such as standing up, sitting down, using the facilities, showering, changing bandages, dressing, undressing, and more left me with overwhelming feelings of vulnerability and violation. Seeing my physical body was daunting, cumbersome and sent me into a state of panic and sadness. What felt shameful and humiliating for me was a feeling of a new level of intimacy for my husband Robert, my rock. It took me some time to come around to this, but on purpose, choosing to acknowledge my blessings by seeing the light instead of darkness, what once was shattered, GOD then used it in remolding us to make our marriage stronger and even more beautiful. A NEW WAY TO SEE.
On December 21, 2022, twelve days post-op, we received the news from Dr. Szender. The surgical pathology report showed that all lymph nodes were negative for metastatic carcinoma. My drainage tubes and bulbs were removed that day as well, what a relief! Back to Pappadeaux’s we went to celebrate this wonderful news! And yes, I indulged once again. No menu needed this time.
I didn’t want to have cancer and I realize my life will never be the same. There is no part of my human brain that thinks cancer is fair for any precious person who receives this diagnosis. I had to decide I didn’t want this reality to be a broken piece of pottery wasted on the ground or something I kept in my hand that hurt me more. I had to take it and entrust it to the Lord. I am working diligently on letting go of what lies behind; fear, anxiety, despair, stress, insecurities, regrets, negativity, busyness, confusion, doubt and unhealthy relationships. The more I purge the more I am able to breathe, the more weight I feel lifted, the more I am able to see a new life and the more joy I find.
I am so grateful for my small circle of family and friends. Their love, compassion, encouragement and presence has helped to sustain me for such a time as this. I am now on a journey to find out what makes me kinder, what opens me up and brings out the most loving, generous, and unafraid version of myself and go after those things as if nothing else matters. This is where I turn my maybes into yeses and my somedays into today. A NEW WAY TO WALK.
I would like to say thank you to Methodist Cancer Care Rehabilitation Center and Curtain Up Cancer Foundation for the opportunity to participate in the Cancer Chronicles Writing Retreat. It has been an amazing experience. One I will never forget.
“Let your faith be bigger than your fear” is a saying that’s derived from Hebrews Chapter 13, Verse 6. It is also the scriptural message that became my inspiration after being diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2011. Just a year before I turned 60, I noticed a small lump in my right breast. I kept thinking it would magically disappear. However, after a week of mentally wrestling with myconcerns, I scheduled a mammogram. Following that mammogram, a sonogram wasimmediately done. I was told that the suspicious mass was solid, dark, spiky and “looked like breast cancer.” A follow-up biopsy was recommended. I was alone at thetime . . . speechless and thinking, “Not me, not in my almost-perfect life.”
I was happily married, had kids and grandkids, and was enjoying life to the fullest! At the time, I was pursuing one of my passions – stock car racing. My two grandsons called me “Racecar Grandma.” How cool is that? I didn’t actually race cars, but I helped manage the racetracks. I worked from home during the week, and then I’d hit the road for the racetrack on weekends. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my priorities had slowly shifted away from my family . . . and God.Most of my weekends involved being at the racetrack for many hours, and I had to misslots of family functions. And, I was just too tired for church on Sunday mornings. I was doing what I loved, and I thought that my life was complete. But everything came to a screeching halt the day I got the dreaded phone call from mygynecologist. My cancer diagnosis shattered the very core of my being. After crying tomyself for about 30 minutes, I knew that I would soon be in a fight for my life. And then I began to pray, praying harder than I’d ever done in my entire life. I quickly realizedthat the things that I had taken for granted had suddenly become the most importantthings in my life. God and family became center stage, and I knew then that I needed them more than ever.
I saw my surgeon that same day and scheduled my surgery for a mastectomy on my right breast five days later.Then my oncologist told me that I would be getting a year of chemo treatments becauseof my HER2 positive tumor. Going through chemo was, by far, one of the hardest timesof my life. I was bald, battling constant diarrhea and very tired all the time from severe anemia, along with neuropathy in my right arm from the removal of ten lymph nodes. And, worst of all, I realized that I was no longer whole, missing my entire right breast. It wasn’t all bad though. Today’s drugs really helped control the nausea and vomiting from chemo. My total lack of appetite and frequent diarrhea helped me lose a lot ofweight – but that’s certainly not a diet that I’d recommend to anyone! On the positive side, I enjoyed wearing “bling caps,” which helped make my hair loss a bit more bearable and fun at the same time. Best of all, I didn’t have to shave my legs andunderarms for months! Near the end of my chemo treatments, I was finally able to get a blood transfusion that really helped with my anemia and fatigue.
Through it all, I realized that I was truly blessed because I had been given anopportunity to survive my disease with some effective treatments. I had also grabbed God’s hand and renewed my belief in him, returning to church. On weekends when I worked at the racetrack in Kyle, I had arranged with a hotel in Buda for a late checkout on Sunday morning, giving me time to sleep late and still go to church. About halfway through my chemo treatments, I decided to take a short leave of absencefrom the racetrack. I was able to put my focus back on my family again. I had begun tosee God’s plan for me and understand why God had given me such a tough healthchallenge. Yes, He had certainly gotten my attention, and He was guiding me every stepof the way to get my life back on track again!Metropolitan Methodist Hospital downtown, the site for my mastectomy, was also inGod’s plan for me. Metro had formed a new Breast Center during the same month ofmy diagnosis. I still brag about being its first patient! I got a lot of support from theNurse Navigator, who really helped me understand my cancer and coached me throughthe trials of my cancer.Following my chemo, I scheduled removal of my other breast and DIEP Flap reconstruction surgery on both breasts in April 2013, followed by two more proceduresover the next year.
Finally, my long, tough journey seemed to be getting better. I felt complete again, andmy life was slowly becoming normal again after 2-1/2 years of procedures, surgeries,and treatments. However, I had a nagging fear about the possibility of a recurrence. Could I ever go through all of it again? In May 2014, I went on an ACTS retreat with my church, and that’s when Iadopted my “faith over fear” perspective. I learned that God is in control. Sometimes it’s hard to see it that way, and I pray that I will continue to fulfill His plan in my life’s journey.During that same year, I had a strong calling and made a big decision to pay forward all the support that I had gotten through my breast cancer journey. I felt the need to usemy experiences and talents to help other survivors.So, in February 2014, I became a Blue Bird volunteer in the Metropolitan Methodist BreastCenter, and I feel I’ve been given an amazing opportunity to learn more about mydisease, while helping others to understand it also.I formed a support group, Metro’s Pink Warriors, that is still active today. I’ve alsohelped over 500 breast cancer patients over the past 9-1/2 years. Whenever I can, Italk with the survivors about the importance of faith in their journey. I’m also on theBreast Program Leadership Team at the hospital, and I attend a bi-weekly conferencethat continually helps me to expand my knowledge about my disease.I’m happy to say that several of my patients have become dear friends. Little do theyknow how fulfilling it is for me to help them go through the challenges of their breastcancer! We often cry together, laugh together and even pray together. I feel trulyblessed to have answered God’s call to serve, and I know that I’ve been given anincredible opportunity to help my fellow survivors and make a difference in their lives.And I always keep the start of the hospital’s Mission Statement in mind, “Serving humanity to Honor God.”Going forward, I hope to remain focused on my faith, my family and friends, and my internal drive to make a difference in other people’s lives through my work at the hospital.And yes, I feel my life is almost perfect, yet again. My husband and I will celebrate our50th anniversary in March, and I’m now closer than ever to my kids, grandkids, and therest of my family. I’m also very active in my church and have formed some verymeaningful friendships there . . . love you, Leslie.
My stock car racing days are behind me, but like every experience I’ve had, they are part of who I am today. Sometimes I think of cancer in terms of racing. Amongst all the races I’ve been involved with, cancer was the biggest race of my life . . . an Enduro race, if you will – full of chaos and unpredictable obstacles. A test of teamwork and endurance.All in all, my breast cancer journey has brought so many good things into my life. Best of all, it has taught me the importance of making time for both God and family in my life. I go through each day saying to myself, “Let your faith be bigger than your fear” . . . and I share that message wherever and whenever I can.Thanks for listening to my story.
I am Healthy . . . . for My Age
I grew up a tall and very, very thin child in a not so tall, not so thin family. My mother would take me to our family doctor to find out why I wasn't gaining weight. And after examining me and running tests, the doctor said that, although he agreed that I was very thin, I was otherwise healthy. So to appease my mother, he sent me home with vitamins and iron pills to see if they would help. They didn't. And to this day I can still remember the awful taste of those pills and syrups.
In my 20 and 30s I had good health insurance but seldom used it except for the years I
remembered to schedule annual checkups. Then in my mid 30s, the first breast lump
appeared. I had surgery. It was benign. Great. After that, I remembered to schedule yearly
mammograms. And it wasn't long before fluid filled cysts in both breasts started appearing. I was given the option to either just monitor them or to have the fluid removed with needle aspirations. I opted for the latter not knowing it would become an annual ritual for about 15 years. Sometimes the cysts in my breasts totaled up to 25, if not more. My doctors were amazed. Doctors said my cysts were fueled by estrogen and they would probably stop with menopause. That did turn out to be true. When they found calcifications, they said they seldom turned into cancer. This turned out to be true for many years.
In April 2012, I had a mammogram and was notified that all was clear or in their terms the
results was "uneventful". Then in October of that same year while reaching with my left hand to turn on a lamp, I felt a strange sensation on my left breast. I did a self exam and felt a small lump. This started me on my trajectory into the land of cancer, a strange foreign land. When I told my primary doctor about my cancer diagnosis, she put her hand on my shoulder and said, "I have high hopes for you because you are very healthy." I really hoped that was true.
After three horrible appointments with what I felt was a brash, uncaring and unsympathetic
young female doctor, my family doctor recommended I switch to a surgeon who had recently operated on her mother. As it turned out, he was one of the many surgeons who had treated me for cysts while he was part of another medical practice.
Even though he confirmed the previous surgeon's diagnosis and treatment options, he added the caring support and calm demeaner that I so very much needed at that time.
With my long history with breast cysts, I felt it was best to have a double mastectomy. The
surgery on my cancer breast went smoothly but it did not on my non-cancer breast. Due to continued infections, I had to undergo about 4 outpatient procedures until all was resolved nearly 12 months after my initial cancer surgery.
Since that time I have been trying to educate myself on cancers, the language of cancers and both current and future treatment options. I may never need to know this but who knows. Maybe yes. Maybe no. Oh God, I hope not. So now, as I am approaching 10 years since that day I was told "It's cancer", I go to as many follow up appointments with my doctors as they and my insurance will allow. I attend as many women and cancer health fairs as I can and do all the free screenings. When WellMed calls me in every year to do additional screenings, I always say yes. Friends and family just shake they heads as they think I have gone completely overboard with all the testing. Maybe they're right.
WellMed assures me that they send all my extra test results to my primary doctor but she says she never gets them. The WellMed doctors take time with me and are very patient, even asking, "Anything else you want to talk about before you leave leave?" Finally I have found a place that understands my need to know.
Recently I saw a new doctor to discuss my latest blood work. After listening to my concerns and discussing them with me, she patted my hand and said "I have high hopes for you because you are very healthy . . . for your age."
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,
People think I’m a COOL GUY.
I’ve hung out with Michael Jordan before college basketball games at North Carolina. I flew jets off aircraft carriers, dodged missiles and never screamed or whimpered once. I’ve done some really cool stuff with Navy SEALs, but I can’t tell ya much about it. And I’ve strummed Bruce Springsteen’s guitar while the E Street Band played “Born to Run”.
But you gotta trust me on this one: there’s nothing cool about cancer.
Believe it or not, as I stand here, I don’t even like to talk about cancer.
Like, Let’s move on, you know? But I’ve found cancer never completely leaves us, and I think bearing witness – here and now before you - is the greatest weapon we have against this cruel disease.
In retrospect I think keeping silent about my cancer was a twisted way to be cool about it. I had been getting regular blood tests to look for prostate cancer. (For the record I never had any other indication I had cancer - it was simply a consistently abnormal number from a blood test. And I’m amazed that lots of men don’t get a PSA test - you know! IT’S ONLY A BLOOD TEST!
Finally, I had a biopsy – and it confirmed that I had Stage 1 prostate cancer. But the doctor reassured me that I had time – that conveniently suited this cool guy’s denial! So rather than going under the knife, I watched and waited, and I indulged in New Age mysticism and Oriental medicine – and the cancer was halted for a while.
I suppose my daily discipline of mediation and tea ceremonies didn’t hurt, but over time my PSA was starting to rise again, so I got another biopsy; this time the cancer had progressed to Stage 2. I almost waited too long. Only dumb luck saved my life. At that moment I realized a few things: I knew no amount of herbs, acupuncture, mediation or crystals were going to heal me. Also, I knew I needed help, so I began to reach out to friends and family and built what I called a “SYMPHONY OF SUPPORT” .
I found that once I put out there, there was a sense of relief in revealing the secret; – and I found a new sense of strength from growing a team of support.
I learned that people generally follow the emotional lead of the person with the illness. I would not believe in naïve happy endings and I would not wallow in chaotic crisis. I was going to fight this methodically; I would be the smart, BRAVE FACE of this battle. But let me clear - I was no saint. I went through the emotional cycles of denial, irritability, anxiety, and depression. But with the support of my symphony, I decided not to fight or hide those emotions;
I allowed those emotions to flow and express themselves.
I tried to be open and explain these feelings to myself, my family, my friends, and my symphony. I found that generally men don’t talk about these things easily so most of my symphony of support was comprised of women. But I must point out there was ONE MAN who generously shared with me his own experience with prostate cancer and some intimate details of his happy, post-treatment life.
And I found a CANCER LIBRARY that provided me information to make informed choices; and there was a humor section! I found there are actually some good jokes about cancer! “Do you know the best way to get gum out of your hair? Chemotherapy.” “What did the cancer cell say to it’s neighbor? Mind if I join you?”
But anyway, what I learned is that sometimes you need to ask for support, for help. We’re human- even men are human and need help sometimes even though its hard to ask for it.
Perhaps the biggest help came when I unexpectedly met a special woman - and I fell in love. After reluctantly telling her about my cancer, her love & support never wavered. She kept my attitude positive, tolerated my mood swings, and painted a vison of a sexy & exciting future together.
Navigating our health care system is hard enough but selecting cancer treatment options is a daunting task. I seriously considered going to Mexico, but their “cash up front” policy gave me pause, so it basically came down to two options, surgery or radiation. Both options have high rates of success but either way, I was looking at impotence and incontinence (either permanently or temporarily) and sterility (which would be forever).
My final treatment selection was based on a conversation with a doctor who thoroughly answered my questions, respected my knowledge, explored all the risks, and satisfied my concerns. In the end I chose to have my prostate surgically removed.
My symphony of support continued to help me through all the major recovery milestones. My parents provided me a place to recover surrounded by love and even allowed my dog Clint to sleep in the guest bed with me. My girlfriend, who is now my fiancé never left my side from day 1. And praise God, follow-ups revealed there are no lingering cancer cells. YES!
However, I did not walk away unscathed. Prostate cancer is especially emasculating. While I no longer depend on Depends, I do cross my knees extra tight when I sneeze and hope for the best!
While my surgeon saved my nerve cells which allowed me to continue enjoying sex… I STILL GOT IT, BABY! We have to plan for it… unfortunately spontaneity is a thing of the past.
While I have my sperm safely stored on ice in a reputable sperm bank, I call and check in on them regularly because I’m so worried someone’s going to accidentally thaw them out or maybe give them to someone else or something like that...
And while the cancer is gone, I worry about its return.
Going forward, there remain unknowns about body image, physical dysfunction, potential complications, insurance market uncertainties, etc, but I cannot control those concerns and will simply have to deal with these issues when or if they come.
I’m not going to pretend my cancer experience compares to the horrors others have endured. But any encounter with cancer will have a profound impact on your life. My past ideas about manhood have been transformed; luckily, I am “woke” enough to see a path forward toward a new definition of manhood.
My passion is more than the sum of any body parts, but it lies in my imagination, my soul, and my love of life itself. Now I actually see how this experience has made me a “better man” – with deeper relationships, self-knowledge, humility, and intimacy.
I continue my daily prayer & meditation practice
I continue placing my faith & trust in God.
I have a higher sense of mission & purpose.
I don’t curse my fate; instead every morning I count my possibilities.
We talk about being a “CANCER SURVIVOR” – as if it’s a past event, a distant battle won - but I now appreciate that we are all “SURVIVING CANCER”. The battle goes on.
I really don’t care what other people think is cool, but I think these new scars of hard-won wisdom are the best part of me.
We set goals in our journey through life, and charge with purpose until we achieve them. In our path we keep adding milestones, brought up by life; that all powerful force that claims we must rise to every challenge. But what happens if we leave that life token aside and dedicate that time just to sit with your inner self and chat. I have told so many mothers as I discharge their NICU graduates to make sure to follow up with their own health needs as “mom needs to be healthy to be able to care for her baby”. I just never said that to myself once I became a mom.I was compliant with my breast screenings as much as any women undergoing treatments for infertility would. All that came to a halt when my beautiful son arrived at 6 months of age, giving me the right to claim the title of the only profession I ever declared as a child – Mom. Since his arrival everything changed, as it should. But by focusing on his needs, I neglected my own. Had it not been for the spending money we would receive from the reimbursement for my cancer screening, I might not be here today. We have not completed that trip to Disneyland but have traveled beyond magical places at the happiest place on Earth.I look back at my life as travel albums. We now keep these images in digital folders, available for access at any time as needed. There are some folders I go into because they remind me of times spent with travel partners. I am grateful for those who have been part of my crew, even more so of those who have stayed aboard. My health journey has been filled with challenges since early in life. This made my mother feel confident that I would beat this just like everything else. I look at the folder that holds the images of the event that led to the Aha moment. The electrochemical discharge that allowed my brain to register my recently acquired qualifier. I am sure that the event has been a pivotal point for many, but the moment I sat in that leather reclining chair, anticipating being hooked up to my chemotherapy infusion was when I processed that image. I had seen that picture many times before, but with me playing a different role. I had provided comfort and support to patients and caretakers in need, including members of my family that belonged to the club I joined in 2013. As a member I was surrounded by fellow patients who shared stories about their diagnosis, treatment, and mundane life events. I entered the room still seeing them as “the other” but the moment that needle pierced my skin I drew the picture for the new entry in my health journey album with the title “I am and forever will be a cancer patient”. Before that day I had overcome the challenges of leaving things aside to complete my diagnostic process, initiated hormonal treatment, and completed the surgical intervention that was expected to be curative in my situation. I had even brushed the border of transition to another form of energy. I remember that rainy day when a friend who was visiting after my post mastectomy drainages where removed. She feared hurting me as she closed the new support bra I needed to contain the hemorrhage that had spontaneously emerged as I was eating a bowl of delicious cinnamon cereal for dinner. She followed me to my room when she saw that the warm fluid, I felt running down my side was too red to be “just fluid”. As a physician I knew I was in danger once the tiny wormy vessel started shooting a high-pressure stream of blood that reached the bathroom vanity as soon as I removed my bra. I remember telling my friend “don’t worry about hurting me, if we don’t put pressure on it I might die”. Since then, we always joke that we are truly blood sisters. I left my “successful recovery” album behind, feeling cold and wet due to the tropical rain that was responsible for her staying late in my home. I remember that once I reached the car, I started telling my husband to make sure my son knew who I was. Surgery had taken cancer away. The small vessel that decided to direct my attention to the fact I was “the patient” almost took my life. I even had issues accepting the patient role during my emergency surgery, a fact my plastic surgeon shared with my husband as I was telling him how much I loved my surgeon. My husband responded that he would not be jealous because he was sure it was the anesthesia talking. Dr. Toro responded that I was only given deep sedation, which allowed me to keep giving him instructions during the procedure. I went over every detail in my mind thinking what I had done wrong. Still my GPS continued re arranging the route around the fact that I would need to fill the box of my new chronic illness in every form moving forward; that undeniable fact did not hit home until the club at the infusion room welcomed me to their conversation.
I made it a point to take charge and responsibility of my health journey, with an excellent team of facilitators to support me in the process. The decision to place me in the infusion room was made jointly between me and my oncologist, based on the evidence provided by the genetic testing performed to the misbehaving tissue once removed. Other storms ensued along the way. At the time and to this day I have been fortunate to have chosen a group of peers that are open and up to the task of bringing their expertise to propose the best route, while willing to re calculate as needed. Specially to accommodate the needs of the one person who will carry the weight of the result of any decision, me. But there is a heavy weight that comes along with being that patient. Taking a principal role in the decision-making process caries the responsibility of being the captain at a time when you might need to allow yourself the space to be vulnerable. At the end of the day, having my vulnerability shine is something I have been known for all my life. As a child my siblings would call me “mantequilla en palito” because I would cry when faced with emotionally charged situations. As an adult I know that having the strength of being transparent about your humanity is different from allowing yourself the grace to be human. And human we are, we make mistakes, we grow, and yes we get sick and learn to be patient. We might even be threatened to be tied with a pashmina to force us to be still if we fail that lesson.
I am Maribel Campos, Mario’s mom, Mrs. Santiago, la nena de Pepito y Puruca, a driven, empath, who has difficulty letting go. I still get anxious when I schedule my medical appointments, fearing what might be found. I try to take care of myself, although that plan is not evident by my agenda. That is a work in progress that made me realize that all my projects would require multiple lifetimes to fulfil, thus comfort in engaging others and enjoy watching them set sail on their journey. And yes, I am a cancer patient that will pardon myself every time I fall and rise stronger every time, enjoy the breeze, the laughs, the snores, and the joy of my health journey.