Remembering Ita

I met Ita when we were little girls in school, she was a year older than me and a class ahead; frankly, I don’t think we talked much at that age but then we were tweens and teens things changed. Not only were we in the same school but now we were both in the same Pathfinders Club (if you are wondering, it’s like a Christian coed scouts club); we had lots of fun during those years and one thing I do remember clearly, she was always smiling and making jokes! She was great to hang out with!

The years passed and obviously, we outgrew Pathfinders and as expected everyone moves on and pursues their own interests. I would continue to see Ita every now and then at church activities or at her family’s hardware store as my family was building a house. She was always smiling and asking how things were going and we would chat for a while about friends we hadn’t seen in a while and such, it was always great to see her. She was just one of those people that was easy to talk to, super friendly and, I kid you not, she was always smiling. Life took us in different directions and we would not see each other or talk for years. Thanks to Facebook, we reconnected at some point and I could see she was doing well and was still showing the world that ear to ear smile.

I was concerned the first time I saw she was taken to an emergency room due to a hemorrhage and reached out to her best friend because I knew that scenario too well and I feared the diagnosis; a few days later it was confirmed: Ita had cervical cancer. I can’t even describe the feeling you have when someone you know is diagnosed with the same thing you had. This illness is something you don’t want to share, something you don’t want anyone else to have. This illness is not chickenpox; you don’t want “your other children” to get it and get it over with… You just don’t want anyone else to have to go through this. I knew what she was in for and I didn’t want this for her.

I don’t know how this happened but my thoughts went from fear to “let’s get her to Cervivor School Puerto Rico so she knows she is not alone in this”. I wanted her to be surrounded by other women with similar diagnosis and hear stories of hope and meet survivors; thanks to her great friends, Ita came to Cervivor School Puerto Rico and we reconnected.

Maria and Ita at Cervivor School: Puerto Rico 11/19/16

She looked thinner and weaker than I remembered but she still had that great smile! I asked her how she felt and she said “¡En victoria!”; she still had it in her, she was still that ray of light!

That is exactly who Ita was: a ray of light! Ever since I can remember she has been a ray of light! I honestly cannot recall a time I saw her without that smile. I look at her photos and there it is — the big smile. She was so positive and hopeful and this cancer did not change that in her; not matter how bad it got, she still smiled and cared for others. She set the bar high for the rest of us.

I wanted Ita to heal. I wanted her to be a survivor, I wanted her to be done with chemo and recover her strength and live a long life. I wanted that so badly, her friends and family wanted that so badly for her; but cervical cancer took Ita from this world.

As her family and friends say their final goodbyes; I find myself an ocean away thinking of how I will remember this girl I met in my childhood and with whom I shared many fun times but also a bond I never wanted to share with anyone: cervical cancer. I know I’m going to remember her smile, that’s just impossible to forget; but I will also remember her as a woman of incredible faith, a fearless warrior, my brave Cervivor sister who didn’t lose this fight but showed us how to fight with strength, faith, hope, and a smile in the face. RIP querida guerrera, until we meet again.

Maria Franklin is a Cervivor School graduate and ambassador. Read her story here

Cancer Broke My Cup

Sometimes I still can’t believe that I even have had cervical cancer, much less still dealing with the fallout from it-complications from surgery, side effects of radiation. I intellectually know that it happened, but there are moments where I look at myself and my life and go, “Wait…what?” Sometimes I actually look at and feel my radiation tattoos before getting in the shower. Yeah, I know that is weird, but there are times I need to connect with it — I need to stare at my markings, touch my port, my scars- to physically say, okay this happened and to remember just how far I have come. To have a slight even if for 20 seconds-mini celebration that I am here-that I have endured.

See, I believe we all have a choice when it comes to how we are going to look at our cancer, much how we all have choices in how we view anything in life. Are we going to be the cup half full girl? OR are we going to be the cup half empty girl? Before cancer-the answer was easy for me. I definitely was a silver linings person, taking lemons and making lemonade. I have had laugh lines since I was 10 and have always been able to find something to smile about. But enter a cancer diagnosis..enter in chemotherapy and radiation…enter in internal radiation…enter in infertility…enter in surgery…enter in (fill in the blank).Suddenly, being the cup half full chick was not as easy. I had faced some really tough things before, but never was my life on the line. Never had I been told, “You can either do treatment or live for about 3 more years.” Of course, I had thought about life after death, but NEVER had I really truly sat with it as a possibility. And what would treatment look like for me? Could I even do it? I remember sitting there with my oncologist when she was explaining to me where the cancer was, giving me my stage. She started explaining the action plan and what was going to happen to my body. Time stood still as I looked at her mouth moving. Nothing was really the same after.

Now back to that choice. I had to consciously ask myself, “How are you going to approach this?” I was scared of all of the unknowns. I had never even been in the hospital! Was I going to STILL be the cup half full girl? I remember coming home alone that day and crying one of those big cries — where you just lay and cry, and cry, and cry. The kind of cry where you get up and look at yourself in the mirror and your face is puffy and you have a sinus headache. That’s where I was. Half full? I was afraid and devastated. How could I even be a half full girl? I felt like someone had just taken my cup and shattered it on the floor. My cup was broken. Dreams were stolen. I was afraid. Cancer had come in my life like a thief.

Yet. I still had this choice to make. Cancer had broken my cup, but I was still here. Life would never ever be the same, but there was a plan forward. It was a hopeful plan-not without risks and not without pain and loss, but there was a plan.

There is a Japanese art form, in pottery called “kintsugi.” It is a process that embraces damage-where the broken vessels are not discarded, but where broken pieces are mended. The artist takes the ceramic pieces and mends them with a lacquer dust of gold, silver, or platinum. The flaws of the piece are actually highlighted and not hidden at all, often resulting in a piece that is far more beautiful than the original plan. The art form ties in the Japanese philosophy of “wabi-sabi” that embraces the flawed and imperfect, that actually emphasizes rather than hides the broken pieces.

So as I looked at the pieces of my broken cup-this vessel I had plans for, this vessel that was not operating on the original plan; I chose to start picking up the pieces. The cup does not look anything like it did before, but just like in wabi-sabi, the more I embrace instead of hide, the more beautiful it becomes. I have to constantly remind myself of these truths. Oh how I wish, it could be where I just pick it up mend it and move on. For those of us who have faced cancer-we know that it’
truly never “over.” I feel like mending my cup is a daily choice. I find myself even now, while being declared “cancer free” in October, still very much dealing with complications from a life-saving surgery-complications that will more than likely be part of my life in some way from now on. In addition to the reality of “scan-life” and other life altering side effects from treatment. So the question constantly remains for me, for us: Your cup may be broken like mine-will you leave it shattered or will you begin to piece it back together with gold and platinum, turning your brokenness into purpose and beauty? The choice is yours.

We need to talk. We need to have conversations about cervical cancer and prevention. Let my simple t-shirt design, help you begin that conversation AND help me pay both past and current medical expenses related to cervical cancer.

 Unfortunately, I am in need of another surgery due to post radiation side effects, from a life-saving hysterectomy. This surgery will repair significant damage that has been done to my bladder and will require a 6-8 week recovery. Just as with the past leaves I have I had to take, I will not be getting paid during this period. Donations through my t-shirt campaign can significantly help with expenses and you’ll look super cool! There are hoodies and t-shirts for guys and girls! https://www.bonfire.com/start-the-conversation/