I was born in Cuba and moved to Miami with my mom and dad when I was just 4 years old. We escaped the Communist regime and made a home on Miami Beach. I’ve been blessed with a beautiful and hectic (by choice) life. I’ve worked hard but my jobs have always been fun and entertaining. On the personal side, I danced my way from one relationship to another, not always by choice. I have no children but I mother my friends, their kids, and my menagerie of animals. I live life according to the saying: “Work hard. Play harder.”
Then, on April 10, 2008 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. As you would assume, the diagnosis shook my foundation and brought my very busy life to a screeching halt. I saw my mom’s life and death flash before my eyes: she died of breast cancer when she was only 59. Sadness and fear took over my entire body.
I was sitting in a bookstore cafe with my lifelong friend Lydia when the radiologist called with the news. “You have cancer,” she said. I froze. The entire world began to spin in very slow motion. I put the phone on speaker. She said it again. Lydia and I hobbled to the bathroom for some privacy. I’m not sure what was said at that point….all I could see…was my mom. I was numb.
On the drive home I called my closest friends but every time I tried to speak, I broke down and Lydia had to finish my sentences. I didn’t want to tell my dad yet. How could I? He lost his wife to breast cancer and now his only daughter had it too.
I looked to the sky…it was a bright and sunny day. The world had no clue what I had just learned. And then it happened…peace descended upon me. I was able think clearly about my choices at the moment: either I could wallow in despair and think negative thoughts, or I could do what I usually do: choose joy, be positive, live life to the fullest. I picked joy.
We have only so much control over the events that take place in our lives. But what we DO have control over is how we respond to those events. It’s like a switch in our heads we can choose to flip, to wallow in woe-is-me despair or take the lemons and make triple-layer lemon meringue pie. I made pie! My hips will attest to that.
Five of my friends met me at my house and exactly 4 hours after hearing the words “You have cancer,” I picked up my camera and started videotaping…to their chagrin. They thought I was crazy or in denial. I wasn’t. My decision was made, even though I didn’t know what the “end result” would be. I would turn my healing journey into a celebration of life and I would use it to help others who are diagnosed. I think everyone has their own unique way of dealing with something like this. For me, having a positive attitude and not giving myself any other options is what works.
So off I went on my documented healing journey. I recorded an entire year: through my double mastectomy, 17 sessions of chemo (which I call Sacred Juice), and several reconstruction surgeries. I videotaped tips and advice to help, encourage, and empower others who would go through it after me. Using my dance with cancer to be of service to others gave me purpose and helped me heal.
The toughest part for me was telling my dad. It took me 3 weeks to summon the courage. I went to a spiritual retreat to help me gather the strength, and that’s when I finally broke down. I didn’t recognize the thunderous sobs escaping my body. I didn’t care who heard me. I went down a deep dark hole. I grieved for my mom. I grieved for me. Then it was over. I was free to focus on my healing.
I surrounded myself with love — the love of my family and my friends. I kept away from anything or anyone that was negative or toxic. I gave myself no option other than being positive and looking at this cancer as a gift that would bring about many blessings in my life. And so it did.
In 2010 I created Positively Pat, a health and wellness community. I also brought together a support group, the Link of Hope Sistas, which grows by the day. They are beautiful and courageous women from around the world who are on their own healing journey. We came together organically and today, we empower, educate, and inspire others who are going through a healing journey.
It’s been 4 years since my diagnosis and my mission continues. I just released my new book, The Cancer Dancer — Healing: One Step at a Time. In it I share my personal journey through cancer, plus I offer more than 400 patient-to-patient and caregiver tips to help others on their healing journey.
I was also blessed that Discovery co-produced my healing journey documentary with me. Called The Cancer Dancer, it aired on Discovery Home & Health in Latin America and Discovery Familia in the U.S. Just this week I was notified that my documentary received a Suncoast Emmy Award.
It hasn’t always been easy. Paying the bills has been challenging and getting my body into shape is still a mission. But when I get down, I push myself to move past the difficult moments quickly. My mission continues: to carry this care and compassion into the world to help each other heal and thrive through our words, our intent, our love, our commonality, and our caring.
Maybe together we can all learn to flip that switch to the positive side, every time. It isn’t always easy, but it IS possible.
How do you flip the switch? Did you/are you finding blessings in the midst of your own healing journey? I would love to hear from you in the comment section below.
Sending you blessings of health and happiness, in joy.