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It wasn’t the end, it was just a new beginning.

As I sit on my couch rushing through homework, I realize it’s been exactly one year and 2 days since I sat in this very same spot, crying and watching Keeping Up With The Kardashians. No, my boyfriend didn’t break up with me. And no, I wasn’t failing school—although I wish I that was the case, because nothing compared to the news I had heard earlier that day.

I had a persistent cough for a while and my mother (being my mother) began nagging me to make an appointment at Health Services. Rolling my eyes, I called a nurse just to get Helena off my back (P.S. I love you, mom). The doctors wanted to see me right away, which led to multiple trips to and from St. Joseph’s Imaging Center and Health Services. After five hours of boring waiting rooms and complete oblivion, the doctors finally filled me in, “You might have cancer.”

Long story short: My tumor, which I so cleverly named Hefty Helga (please excuse me, I took a lot of drugs), was the size of a cantaloupe. After visiting two doctors, undergoing three biopsies, and spending two long weeks patiently waiting for pathology results, my family’s Floridian surgeon expressed how rare my case was and refused to perform surgery. My parents and I travelled from Florida to Alabama in search of Robert Cerfolio, the man who saved my life, my friend, and my McDreamy. Within a week, Cerf removed two thirds of my left lung and finally confirmed that I was cancer-free. If you’d like to read more about my experience, scroll down the page or head over to the archives.

Anyway, after two traumatic months, I decided to recover while returning to school. You’re probably thinking, “She’s crazy,” and I laugh because I don’t know how or why my parents allowed me to make that decision. If I were in their shoes, I would have certainly said no. Did I make the right decision? Who knows but ever since then I’ve never felt like “Teresa.” Let me explain.

Firstly, having to re-expand your lung capacity isn’t easy. I struggled night and day for nine months, performing breathing exercises before bed and holding my spirometer close at all times. In extreme temperatures, breathing is no longer instinctive—instead it becomes an exhaustive job. I haven’t ever gotten rid of the mucus built up in my lungs and I have a post-nasal drip that just won’t go away.

Secondly, I had never thought of myself as an anxious person until I did surgery. Whenever my mother panics I yell at her and tell her calm down…now from my own experience, I know it’s easier said than done. Upon returning to school, continuous panic attacks kicked in. Every four months, my anxiety strikes out so hard I lose feeling in my legs, arms, and face. Clearly, I need to see a psychologist but that takes a serious amount of vulnerability I haven’t achieved yet. I’ve also tried noticing the triggers and managing them myself, which helps a little but not enough.

Thirdly, I had always been a lively, vibrant person who loved being friends with everyone. But in some sense when I was given a second chance to live, I cut so many people out of my life. For a former people’s person, I just don’t hold true to that description anymore. Maybe, however, that’s for the better. I learned who my friends are and who they aren’t. Even though I smile with everyone, I know who my heart deems important.

For a smoother sailing ship, I believe I probably should have seen a psychologist during my recovery time. I’ve noticed the lack of societal acceptance in admitting to mental issues, including anxiety and depression with my own experience. This stigma makes people drown in their grief and sorrows. I’ve written about it in my classes. I’ve read about it in other illness narratives. And I’ve also noticed it in my daily life. Recently, I’ve been engaging in activism for extra mental health support. Care needs to be more accessible to survivors and people living with illnesses and conditions without stigma attached to it.

Through my own difficulty in finding a medium to express myself and my experience, I hope to help others as I am planning an event (which I’ll write about in March) that’ll serve as a form of therapy for women living with breast cancer, and to also celebrate the lives of survivors and honor and remember those who have passed. I just sent in an application to  volunteer with Make-A-Wish too.

I’ll admit, I purposely keep myself busy—focusing on the day’s duties helps to forget about all the worries in the world. While it may be tough to recover from an illness, I know there are brighter days ahead. It just takes time. One year may seem like a long time to you but it’s flew by for me. My scar still tainted light pink, my heart still filled with unease, and my lung still pushing boundaries to expand, it feels like Nov. 12, 2013 just passed yesterday.

I’m beyond grateful for a second chance at life and love. The world has developed a whole new meaning in my eyes. As I dodged a bullet, I made a promise to myself: help those who were once in your shoes. And it’s a promise I plan to fulfill.

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Meet My New Friend Aria

Every child deserves to be healthy. They don’t smoke, they don’t drink, and they certainly do not welcome cancer into their lives… It just happens.

Hearing the words, “You have cancer” is horrifying. But hearing “Your child has cancer” is even worse. The parents of cancer patients carry heavy hearts.

Today I had the honor of meeting Aria, a 7-year-old cancer survivor, and her mother.
ImageAria woke up with a twisted tongue when she was just 5-years-old. Her parents, both physical therapists, knew that something must have been extremely wrong. They rushed her to the closest hospital. After doing an X-ray, her doctors found a tumor in her brain. Her parents had the option of either taking her to a local Syracuse hospital or to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN. They chose St. Jude and never regretted the decision to do so – not for a hot second.

Aria’s first trip to St. Jude was heartbreaking for her parents. When they boarded the plane, her mother saw a boy Aria’s age with scars covering his bald head. She instantly broke down in tears, “I kept thinking, ‘That’s going to be Aria.'”

After the plane landed in Memphis, they travelled the St. Jude in the hospital’s complimentary shuttle. The young, bald boy and his mother ended up sitting next to Aria and her family in the bus. The boy’s mother started to cry and told Aria’s mother, “When I saw you crying on the plane, I hoped… I really prayed that you weren’t going to get on the shuttle… I really did.” They both found comfort in each other, shared their stories and became great friends. (Unfortunately, the young boy passed away three months later.)

As soon as she reached the hospital, Aria had a few tests done and went to bed. That night, life-changing decisions were made. “The doctors never want to put a child’s life at risk. It’s always about what’s best for the child at St. Jude. And if anything could harm them, it just isn’t done,” her mom said. The medical professionals at St. Jude had never seen a case like Aria’s. They wouldn’t touch the tumor until it grew larger. They sent Aria’s family home and told them to return in 3 months.

On her second visit to St. Jude, Aria was told that she only had a few months to live. They found that the tumor was surrounded by liquid and had been growing in her neural stem. This is rare. 

Luckily, her doctors removed her tumor with fewer difficulties than expected. But, the nerves on the right side of Aria’s body were damaged. She also had to change the hand she wrote with and she fell behind in her education after missing 90 days of school. But, who can complain when she’s alive, right? Now, her parents do physical therapy sessions with her and with each passing day, they see improvement.

Her case was special, and she too is a very special girl. She’s a survivor, a fighter and an inspiring young woman. After two surgeries and endless support from St. Jude, Aria was able to be visit my sorority Delta Delta Delta today. The Philanthropy Chair Chloe Font threw Aria a perfect princess-themed tea party. When I asked her what she loved most about coming to TriDelt, she smirked and mumbled, “The cookies!” SHE’S ADORABLE.

None of this would have been possible without St. Jude and the help of Delta Delta Delta’s fundraising over the past couple of years. In November 1999, TriDelta made St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital it’s national philanthropy. In 2005, TriDelta raised $1 million to build the hospital’s Teen Room, a room filled with board games, video games and other fun things (Fun fact: No one over the age of 18 is allowed in the room). In 2006, St. Jude asked TriDelta to raise $10 million in 10 years. We blew their expectations out the water by meeting the $10 million fundraising goal in 2010. IT ONLY TOOK FOUR YEARS. In 2010, we were asked to raise another $15 million in 5 years. Guess what?! It only took TriDelta 3 years and a half to meet that goal.

That’s amazing.
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We’re not only saving lives at St. Jude but we’re also saving lives everywhere else by funding breakthrough research. We’re essentially helping doctors find a cure for cancer.

St. Jude gives Aria’s family and many others ENDLESS support. They pay for everything so families are able to focus on the most important thing: providing love and support for their child without having financial stress. It costs $1.9 million per day to run St. Jude and no family ever sees a bill. Aria’s parents have tried to pay St. Jude back and the hospital will not accept their money by any means. St. Jude pays for their housing, food and air fare. They even pay for extra baggage fees in the airport.

St. Jude is a place where everyone fits in. Aria was given a home – a place where she has friends who are going through a similar experience to her. Being a part of this is indescribable.

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Help Dani Help Others

I know how scary it is to have something wrong with your body without actually understanding what it is. Knowing that someone else in the world shares the same or a similar experience as you is extremely comforting, but very rare in some cases.

Luckily, the Internet has encouraged breakthrough support for those suffering with rare illnesses and diseases. Let me tell you, this can make a HUGE DIFFERENCE to those whose lives are at risk.

After a gruesome ATV accident in the Middle Eastern desert, a friend of mine Danielle Cosgrove suffered an injury to her leg which called for an amputation. After many surgeries, the doctors were able to save her leg. But due to severe nerve damage, she developed CRPS/RSD (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome), in which her body helplessly goes through Chronic Neuropathic Pain. In other words, for every little bit of pain we cry over, she feels it 100 times worse.

When she was first diagnosed with her disease, she had no idea what it meant. She, like everyone else, turned to Google for answers and discovered that there was little to no information on CRPS/RSD. And the information that they did have on blogs and forums was misleading and extremely negative. Dani has taken the alternative route by finding a way laugh through her pain. She has done remarkable work to positively spread awareness about her disease with the use of social media.

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She plans to take CRPS/RSD advocacy to the next level, and has already begun to do so with her blog, TheProject3x5. She was just nominated for a scholarship to marieforleo’s B-school for modern entrepreneurs. She made a video about her experience in hopes of winning the scholarship. This will only make her dream come true by spreading awareness for those suffering with her disease–providing a helpful hand that was not available to her.

By viewing, liking and positively commenting on her YouTube video, the greater the chances are that she will win the B-school scholarship.

Sharing is caring! Spread it around on Facebook and every other social media platform (including Twitter). Please make sure that however you decide to share, you put:

1) the hashtag – #winBSCHOOL on it
2) her name (Danielle Alexis Cosgrove)
4) the video link – http://youtu.be/HdMCg7y9Hk0
3) and then this link as well – http://joinbschool.com/

Faith Is One Hell Of A Thing

There are few things I remember happening right after surgery. The drugs were kicking in and I said things that I would never be able to recall having said. There is one thing that I do remember though…

I was being pushed down a hall of white bright lights. I couldn’t see much. Fuzzy shadows surrounded me. I felt the warm comfort of someone’s hand intertwined with mine.
Ah, a mother’s touch. There’s nothing more comforting.
I had to tell her something. There was something on my mind. I couldn’t sift through my thoughts though. I wanted to cry. I tried. I couldn’t. I felt guilty. Disappointed with myself. Then the words came to me, “Mom, I haven’t been going to church. Ever since I went to university, I haven’t been praying. I haven’t been with God. This is why this happened. It’s punishment, Mom. It’s punishment.”

Looking back on it, after so much time has passed, I realize that I was wrong. If it weren’t for God’s love, I would have never made it. Ever.

Was it wrong for me to believe that God was punishing me? Probably not. It seemed rational at that point in time. This is a struggle that many people face in light of illness, death and other complications-making the decision to push God away or pull Him closer. Most of the time, people lose their faith. I almost lost mine.

My uncle spoke to me about making God a priority in life and his words changed my perspective on everything. He said, “God does not punish. He is forgiving. God protects us from all evil. He protected you from evil.”

The world fell into place. Whatever Helga was, she was evil and by God’s protection I am alive today.

I couldn’t attend Sunday mass while I was in the hospital, but mom and dad asked people from the church to bless me. They came multiple times. They all had faith and optimism-something that I not only needed, but also wanted.

I prayed every night before bed. Every single night. Dad said his prayers. Mom said her prayers. Heck, from what I heard all of Trinidad was praying for me.

My aunt was generous enough to open her house to the public and host a mass in my name. When I saw how many people showed up, I cried. So many different personalities and strangers held hands and prayed in unison. For me. It was not only my struggle, but the struggle of my loved ones as well.

I should never have to repeat this, but there is power in prayer. I don’t care if you believe in Buddhism, Zionism, Judaism, Christianity or whatever, just know that there is always a force of greater good looking out for you.

I have a guardian angel. One that clearly loves me. Being alive still shocks me everyday. I only made it through because of God’s love.

I’m living proof that prayers work. Never push God away. When things go wrong and you need guidance, pull God closer. He will protect you.

I stop everyone who says, “Oh, you’re so lucky to be alive.” They’re wrong. I am blessed.

The Untold Ending

If you read my blog from beginning to end, you would realize a huge chunk of my story is missing. I never wrote about leaving the hospital. 

Every time I think of the last 5 days I spent in that jail, I tear up.

I couldn’t write about it. I couldn’t even speak about it.

I couldn’t find the words to express freedom and joy. How do you describe something that is just so damn sweet? How?

For those of you that know me, and even those who do not, you know that I’m very open. However, speaking about leaving the hospital has been something that I’ve kept to myself. It was such an emotional time and I will never be able to explain it perfectly, but I guess this version of it will have to do.

Here goes…

The untold ending that brought a new beginning:

                                        

13 DEC., 2013

It’s been a week since surgery. We haven’t heard a word from the pathologists.

Cool.

                                        

15 DEC., 2013

It’s 6:30 a.m. and there’s a knock at the door. Ah, they’re on time – as usual.

Every single morning at exactly 6:30, two or three of Cerf’s nurses check up on me. It’s SO early and I wish they’d let me get some damn sleep, but I quickly open my eyes hoping to see my man, Dr. Cerfolio, with the rest of his crew (I haven’t seen him since surgery. He went to complete his master’s degree in Orlando, FL, but he’s back – finally!). 

He’s not here though. I feel sorta sad but I get over it quickly. There are greater matters at hand.

“Any word on the pathology?”

Silence.

“Not yet.”

                                        

16 DEC., 2013

It’s noon. There’s a knock. No one walks in or opens the door.

Weird. 

Dad gets up and does the job.

Cerfolio and his ENTIRE team are standing by the door. Casual.

I can’t read his face, and for the first time since I’ve met this handsome, Italian man, he’s not smiling.

“Well… We still don’t know what it is… We will probably never know… But, what I can tell you is that there are no signs of malignancy…”

Dead silence filters the room. We’re just listening to him blabber on… Or hearing would be a better word to use. I pick up faint mumbles but nothing is clear or makes any sense.

Mom nods.

Dad nods.

Aunty Christine nods.

“Teresa,” Cerfolio calls my name and I snap back into reality. “You can leave the hospital tomorrow and continue life as usual.”

I have no words. I just nod.

He swoops me into his arms and whispers, “I love you. You have to tell everyone your story. You have to tell them.”

I nod and I hug him back. He gives me a kiss on the cheek and leaves.

As the door shuts, the silence breaks with mom and dad’s cries. They just tightly embrace each other and cry.

I silently sit and watch them. I don’t know if to smile. I don’t know if to cry. I don’t know what to do with myself. I can’t even move.
There are no words to describe this.
There are no words.

Aunty Christine starts choking back her tears and does a really cute dance…Well, that does the trick.  I begin hysterically crying. Bawling is a more appropriate term.

Dad looks puzzled. “No smiles? You should be smiling!”

I can’t even look him in the eye. I keep crying. I’m struggling to catch my breath.

This feels surreal. Up until minutes ago, I thought I was dying – I genuinely thought there was no hope for me. The past two months have been a complete and total nightmare. A never-ending, dark tunnel. And FINALLY, there is an end to this shit and there’s a light somewhere.

My parents call my grandparents, my uncles, my aunts, my cousins. The phone doesn’t stop ringing. They must have spoken to 30 people so far, and I still haven’t stopped crying.

Relief. Relief. What a freakin’ relief. 

I am crying because I am happy. Happy is an understatement. The fact that I don’t need to count my days is such a relief.

***

I finally catch myself a few hours later.

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Dad has taken it upon himself to break the law because, well, why not? This is definitely a valid excuse to drink!

Homeboy thinks he’s cute. He smirks and takes a swigs out of his “Starbucks” cup.

He has everyone laughing, which is liberating – finally, a genuine laugh.

I haven’t felt this relaxed in weeks although you would have never known that I was sick or upset. I had a smile on my face 24/7. I put up a front for the people that loved me the most – my family and Jeff. I couldn’t look weak. I had to be strong for them. I needed to be strong for myself.

photo 5 (2)Every tear I saved over the past two months came rushing out earlier today.
The world is whole again.

I watch mom, dad and aunty Chris laughing. I’m finally able to smile again and actually mean it.

Life is one funny roller-coaster ride.

                                        

17 DEC., 2013

Today’s the big day. I’m moving out.

UAB has been home for 12 days. I have had impeccable care from both my parents and my nurses. I really couldn’t have made it without them. As much as I want to leave, there are so many memories and friends that I have made here. I’m going to miss this place.

Dad comes back from the hotel with my suitcase. I begin packing my things and I’m thinking, “I’m leaving the old Teresa behind and taking the new Teresa with me.”

I’ve changed so much. You can shake your head and be like, “Pshh. Two weeks is nothing. Teresa’s the same girl,” but I would totally disagree. Spending two weeks in the hospital changed my life in ways you could never imagine.

And the waiting game is a bitch. Waiting to hear if you’ll live or not is traumatizing. I’ve had so many emotions bottled up. Will I be able to associate with my friends in the same way I always have? Will I still be bubbly? Will I still be me?

Who can I talk to that can actually understand my situation? Sure, my parents and my aunt were with me, but no one will ever understand what I went through.

Life is no joke. You never know when the big guy up there will call your name. You really have to smile, laugh, fall in love, and enjoy the little things that make life worth living extraordinary. Every single second of every minute of every day.

I hug the nurses, I grab my bags and I’m ready to bounce.

photo 1 (3)

The nurse escorts me out of the hospital (on a wheelchair, that is). As she reaches the door, I glance behind one last time and smile. This place was way too good to me. UAB, you saved me.

But it is time to leave. (YAY!)

I step into the real world and I’m like a pig in shit. Literally.

We take all the little things for granted. My first breath is long, sweet, and filling. Fresh air is a gift from God. It’s a gift that I am even able to breathe with my own lungs.

Mom thinks its too cold and yells at me to get inside the hotel. I totally ignore her and continue taking deep breaths of fresh air.

I’m caught up in my own world. I close my eyes and lose myself in nirvana.

Check-Up

Jan. 8, 2014

I’ve had a dry cough for as long as I could remember. After surgery, nothing changed. I still cough a lot. Most of the time phlegm comes up (TMI. I know). Otherwise, it’s been good.

I usually take a daily nap or two. I only take one or two Ibuprofen tablets per day (sometimes I forget unless the pain is actually noticeable).

Pushing yourself can be a scary thing when your mind is on a different tangent to your body. My body hasn’t been capable of doing much physically, but my mind hasn’t stopped running. I think this mindset is something I’ve adapted from CrossFit – the more you push yourself, the more results you see. This could definitely be a bad thing, however, luckily, I have only seen positive results. Or at least that’s what I think.

Tomorrow I have a checkup with my surgeon, Dr. Cerfolio, before heading back to school.

Some may say, “School?! What?! A month after having major surgery?!”

Uh, yeah. I’m a busy woman with things to do. Gotta get back on my grind.

My appointment with Cerf will determine whether or not I should or should not actually go back to Syracuse.

I’m praying for the best.

                                       

Jan. 9, 2014

Today’s the day.

I’m pretty excited to see the man that saved my lung (and my life).

He walks into the room and happiness runs through my veins. He’s such an amazing person. His smile warms my heart, and his hugs provide the greatest source of comfort – they’re so full.

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He’s also pretty handsome which can’t ever be a bad thing, right? The picture says it all.

His smile is plastered on his face. Literally. 

He’s at a loss for words… He pulls up my x-rays… Suddenly, I’m at a loss for words too.

Below, you can see the last x-ray I did before leaving the hospital.

lung 2

That white cloud of whatever-you-want-to-call-it on the right side of my chest is where my lung used to be.

Cerfolio spent 4 hours in the operating theater trying to save my lung.  He was only able to save a little bit of it of the lung. Now, there’s only one fifth of it left. Tell me if you can see it, because I definitely do not.

Fluid had accumulated in that space, and the x-ray led many doctors to think that I had developed pneumonia. They advised my surgeon to send me back to the ER to remove what’s left.

Cerfolio said no. The others said yes. Cerfolio said no again, and his way goes. After all, he does know best.

This is what my lungs look like now:

lung 1

Cerfolio knew that time and God would heal all. He knew. 

There’s not a lot left, but it’s there!

IT’S THERE. LOOK AT IT!

It’s a huge difference.

I look around the room. Every single person is smiling.

After such trying times, we deserved some good news. This is definitely good news. 

You need to see the two photos side by side.

photo 2 (5)

Do you see that?!

Some may say I’m lucky. I say I’m blessed.

Time to go back to school and enjoy my life in new and exciting ways.

A New Year, A New Me.

I’m over people who make stupid resolutions.
This year, I’ll stop biting my nails.
This year, I’ll stop getting blackout drunk and making out with randos.
This year, I’ll continue using deodorant.
STFU.

Surely, you can also argue that some people make totally impractical resolutions.
This year, I’ll get a promotion.
This year, I’ll end world hunger.
This year, I’ll learn how to speak whale.
No… You STFU too.
There is no way you can control these things.

I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions. If you’re trying to better yourself and your lifestyle, then you should do that every single day, whenever you spontaneously think of something – not just because it’s a new year.

                                        

When death stares you in the face, everything changes. I mean, everything. I don’t only want good health, but I want a better, pure life. So, here I am making 10 promises for 2014 even though I’m totally against New Year’s resolutions.

          1. God never gives you more than you can handle. Let him in.  In troubled times, I will not push him away, but rather pull him closer. I will look at stress and depression in the face and smile. No day should be miz. Every living day is a blessing. I just need to have the strength to accept things as they come. I am strong. I will only become stronger.
          2. Don’t talk shit about anyone. Just don’t do it. You never know what’s in someone’s heart until you truly know them. Accept people as they are, and if you don’t like them then pray for them.
          3. Fear is a friend who’s misunderstood (thanks John Mayer). I always thought about getting that lyric tattooed somewhere on my body. It’s just so intelligent. Fears are only an act of imagination and if you don’t have the strength to think of it in that manner, then every fear can be conquered and fought.
          4.  Walk more, sit less. When I couldn’t walk after surgery, I broke down. I felt like a child. So fragile. I promised myself, as long as I live, I will walk and stay active. I will also open my mind to new things and discover the world’s wonders. Being curious and learning new things each day will allow me to grow.
          5. Spend more time with family. I am so blessed to have such a large family. Some people don’t even have parents far less for cousins. I’m so lucky to have three grandparents still alive and in better health than me. They have stories to last a lifetime. It’s also important to make them feel special – because they are. If there’s one thing I learned during my days in the hospital, it’s that family will ALWAYS be there. No matter what.
          6. Enjoy life and embrace awesomeness. Most days, I’m tied up in homework or running my magazine. I’m always fussing over something. I never take the time to really count my blessings. It’s the little things that make life so precious. If you haven’t read The Book Of Awesome then you should get off of your ass and head straight to Barnes and Noble. Something so small as putting on underwear as soon as it’s out of the dryer, or walking barefoot in wet grass is what makes life special. We never take it into consideration. Every moment is awesome. I need to recognize that.
          7. Help others. There are so many people in the world with nothing. Rather than throwing coins in fountains and making wishes, you should collect change and donate it to your favorite charity. Every penny counts. More importantly, try not to donate. If you can psychically be present, then do it. Go on the street and help the homeless, go to a school and tutor the illiterate, go to an orphanage and play with kids.
          8. Be positive. A smile goes a long way. Instead of looking in the mirror and saying, “Ugh, I look like a beach whale,” say, “Damn, my eyes look gorgeous in this light.” Identify beauty and the good in everything and your life will change significantly. Buh-bye, negativity.
          9. Be honest. Be honest with yourself and everyone around you. Lies only lead to more lies. If you’re the girl who bursts everyone’s bubbles, at least you’re doing the right thing.
          10. Meditate. I have to do a million breathing exercises and it’ll take months till I feel back to normal. Taking 10 seconds a day to just sit down, breathe and reflect on life can make a huge difference. It also gives me a time to say thank you to God for all that he has done. Happiness will flow through my veins. I know it.

                                        

Right now, all of my friends and most of my family are in Tobago lying on a beach with the sand in their toes and the sea breeze in their hair. They’re all bringing in the new year together.

The rest of my friends are in NYC getting trashed, pouring champagne (or vomiting) all over the club’s floor, and ending the night with a really romantic sloppy midnight kiss.

I’m staying home with my family – home being Florida, not Trinidad.

I guess both Christmas and New Year’s wasn’t what I originally had in mind. But I am with family, and that makes up for the serious case of FOMO I’m experiencing.

What Christmas Means To A Girl Who Almost Lost Her Life

…. And what it should mean to you too.

I am a Christmas miracle.

During my surgery, the doctor called my parents and said, “If this is cancerous, I’ll have to close her up and send her home.” With a tumor the size of a cantaloupe, there would have been no hope for me – even with chemotherapy.

After being discharged from the hospital and driving back to Florida, I made the decision to stay put. I wasn’t mentally or physically able to fly back to Trinidad just yet.

We were lucky enough to find flights for the rest of my siblings to meet us three days before Christmas. And that is what counts the most.

It’s extremely different. It doesn’t feel like Christmas at all – or at least that’s what I thought.

I planned to build snowmen, put up a tree in my apartment and sing carols all November long to prepare myself for a great Christmas. We all know those plans went down very quickly. And my spirit had been shot after spending so much time in a hospital that only had one wreath hanging.

Usually, at home, I celebrate Christmas with all 100 family members on both sides of the family. There are red decorations, red food, and red everything in every corner.

BUT there’s a hustle and a bustle that I did not miss. Where and when did we lose the meaning of Christmas?

We’re always running around, starting mid-November, looking for gifts for this person and that person. We’re always lying on the floor, looking under the tree, and counting how many gifts have our names on it. Who cares?

That’s not what Christmas is about. Christmas is about being with your family, and most importantly being able to celebrate having your family with you. I’m so blessed to even see another Christmas.

Christmas is also about giving. Sure, we should give to those that we love, but what about the less fortunate? There are so many children that Santa never gets to. There are so many people that don’t even have bread on their tables while we make and eat unnecessary amounts of food.

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I kept crying about not being able to go home. I felt guilty and I wanted to be with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins more than anything else in the world. They’re my rock. But, there is good in just having my intermediate family here in Florida. We can really understand why Christmas is so important. What happened over the last few weeks should make our love for each other grow so much more and we can really learn to be grateful for having each other. This gives us time to reflect and build upon our experiences.

I am so happy to spend yet another Christmas with the most amazing people I could have ever asked God for.

Also, I finally got the experience of having a real Christmas tree. YAY!

Open Arms and An Open Heart

Bad days tear me down. Maybe I should say moments instead.

My emotions are all over the place. One second, I’m smiling; the second after, I’m crying,

My hormones are also going crazy. I’m just bitching all the time. Maybe it’s because the nurses are weaving me off the heavy drugs, or maybe I’m just sick of the tubes that have been sticking out of my body for the past 12 days.

It’s no fun for anyone – mom and dad are probably so sick of me.

Get me this…
Grab that for me…
Take me here…
Do this… Do that…

Demands are flying left, right and center. It doesn’t stop.

The worst part of it all is having someone take me to the bathroom. I have the weakest bladder ever so I pee very often – this obviously doesn’t work in my favor when I have so many cords attached to me.

I also feel like a woman in menopause when I get hot flashes. I go to bed freezing cold, and I wake up drenched in my own sweat. It really is an issue.

But how dare I complain?! The woman in the room right next to me has been on oxygen for a month. Her cough radiates and echoes in my room. It sounds like a wet dog cough. The nurses say that she may not even make it.

For those who don’t know, this is Pennsatucky.

There’s also another woman on the cardiovascular side of the hospital floor. She has no family with her. Her husband and her mother apparently don’t care. You can tell that this woman has a few loose screws but no one deserves to be unloved. I swear she looks exactly like Pennsatucky from Orange is the New Black, which is appropriate because we are in prison.

She wonders the halls at all hours looking for someone to talk to. She’s lonely.

She passes time by coloring children’s drawings. Her “art” hangs everywhere in the hospital. She gives them to them to the nurses, other patients, and even the cleaning women. She’s the Frida Khalo of UAB.

Her doctors don’t know what they’re going to do with her as yet. She may have open heart surgery, a heart transplant or some other crazy extreme. Her life hangs on uncertainty.

Again, how dare I complain?

Having such a major surgery and having no support is traumatizing. I cannot even imagine how she feels.

I make dad buy her flowers in the gift shop. I take them to her room, and she drowns in her own tears. I give her a tight squeeze and I leave her room sniffling. We shared a special moment.

There are three things this experience taught me:

  1. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Everyone goes through life experiences that shapes them to be who they are today. You don’t know what people have been through, so just keep an open heart and wide arms.
  2. I am so lucky to have the support I have. Even though mom, dad, and aunty Christine are the only three people with me, I have an army backing me up at both homes: Syracuse and Trinidad. It’s really important to connect to people who are going through a similar situation to you.
  3. If you can lend a shoulder to lean on, a smile to spread or a listening ear, it can make a huge difference in someone’s life.

The Aftermath

Where do I even begin?

Last Friday, exactly a week ago, I had two thirds of my left lung removed. The surgeon said it was the size of a cantaloupe. That’s really very scary.

I originally thought they would have had to remove my ribs, so as soon as I woke up, my first question was what did you do?

I vaguely remember speaking to my surgeon and seeing his shadow. I just nodded and smiled the entire time.

My strength actually fascinates me. My father took a video of me crying. I didn’t cry for myself. There was no self-pity. I cried for those around me. I cried for my aunt. I cried for my surgeon. I cried for the people I love.

                                        

Most of my time in the hospital has been a blur – most of it spent on narcotics that send me to cloud 9, which I really don’t mind.

As soon as I open my eyes, they shut, once again allowing me to fall into a deep sleep.

It seems like a different world. My daily activities consist of eating, taking drugs, sleeping, and doing that all over again. I have no worries and I have no interest in doing anything besides laying in bed and playing Candy Crush. I cast aside any other activity that stimulates my mind because my attention span is all of zero. Anytime I try to type a text, I fall asleep after the first sentence (which usually looks like: inifnirgjifjriw hugatrqftv wfrn).

photo 2 (1)I hardly ever sleep. Every hour on the hour either a nurse, a respiratory specialist or a patient care technician comes in the room to do something with me. The hospital has no clock. They give me injections, and take blood and X-rays whenever they feel like it.

I am Bane.

I am Bane.

I love my respiratory specialists. They nebulize me and then they pass a percussor along my back for 20 minutes. It’s heaven.

I’ve taken so many medications. For a person who never even used to take Tylenol, I’m poppin’ pills like it’s my profession.

                                        

Having been contained in one room for such a long time would give any normal human being cabin fever, but I don’t mind it too much. It’s different. The nurses have become close friends of mine and the only other social interactions I can say I’ve had is smiling at other sick patients as we both make laps around the floor’s hallways. But we’re all here trying to fight for the same thing: life.

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My first steps.

I walk to pass time and to straighten my back a little – after all, I sit in the hospital bed 98 percent of the day. When I get up and go, I go. There’s nothing else to do and walking makes me feel better so I make 3 to 4 laps each time I walk, which takes an hour to 45 minutes. Mind you, I walk so damn slow and I get winded very easily. For a person who ran 3 miles everyday and swears by CrossFit, it’s really depressing to see my body so weary and run down.

I’m the most fashionable walking patient there is. I have my Prada, Gucci and Tory Burch clutches at all times. I wish this was true – a girl can pretend, right? The bags are two chest leak boxes, and the other holds my heart rate monitor.

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I had two air leaks. So, the doctors had two chest tubes connected to the lung through the left side of my torso. Fortunately, the first was removed after 3 days but I still have one in that just won’t heal properly. I won’t be released from the hospital until then. It can heal in two days or it can take 2 more weeks. Who knows what’s gonna happen.

There are no more flights to Trinidad. Obviously this saddens me in so many ways. Christmas is my favorite time of the year and I haven’t even had time to enjoy it or introduce it in any way. I would have been in Syracuse this week finishing my finals, building a snowman and finally decorating my very first real Christmas tree. But, I guess not.

Things don’t always work out the way you want them too, and I get that. I just hope everything works out. I don’t want anything else but to start the new year in good health with the rest of my family.

                                        

Day 1 was like starting life from scratch. I had to learn how to walk and function again. It was very difficult. I was given a few breathing exercises to do every single hour I’m awake to re-expand the lung.

Over the past few days, I’ve seen remarkable progress. Every single day, I’m able to do something new, whether it be something as little as putting on my own socks or sleeping on my side. My scar is almost fully healed and it just adds character (not that I need anymore).

                                        

What I’m thankful for:

  1. Mom, dad and Aunty Christine. I don’t know what I would have done without each of them.
  2. Having a hospital that has room service. Time to feast!
  3. Amazing nurses. Southern hospitality is a real thing, people.