To Heather With Love

Dear Heather,

I wish you could see what I see. My best friend, the friend who ‘knows more than more’, who knows me as I know her. My friend who has always been then for me, and vice versa. Both a little stubborn, though I’ve eased up a little over my cancer diagnosis.

Ever since we met, I admired everything about you. The way you dressed, I always loved your Express wardrobe, pinstripe dress pants with a sleek collared top. There’s something about you that I’m sure you never saw. Do any of us truly realize what’s so special about ourselves?

Heather and Jillian

We knew of each other in high school, but became friends when school was through. I remember you telling me you thought I was a bitch because of the scowl on my face from time to time. But, little did you know all the hurt and pain behind it all, and I’m glad you looked past that, and we became friends, the best of friends.

We’ve been through so much together and still have remained at each other’s side. I’ve been lucky to have the same friends for over 20 years; I’m grateful to have you and all our friends. We get along great, and we’re always there to support, encourage, be honest and help one another out.

Heather, Jillian’s Best Friend

You’re beautiful, strong, determined, smart, genuine, caring, honest, lovable, and funny and you come from a terrific family. I admire everything about them too. I wish I had a family like yours; maybe they’re the reason you’re such a good person. They’ve molded you into a stand-up woman, and I know they’re proud because I sure am!

I’ve been dealing with cervical cancer for over three years, and it sucks. You’ve been there since day one, along with your family. Either just checking in, dropping off food, bringing diapers and wipes for Joseph, and anything that was needed you were there to assist. My cancer has been hard on us all; not just me, but my kids, family, friends and especially you. You offered your life if it were possible so I could be with my boys. We’ve cried and hugged so many times saying how unfair this is. But unfortunately, this is my life and my cancer isn’t going anywhere.

Now it’s June 2017 and I’ve tried it all. But none of the treatments are working. I want to live the rest of my life and be happy. My biggest fear was always leaving my boys behind. It hurts like hell. There are days where I wish God would just take me now. The pain of knowing you’re leaving this world without knowing if your kids will be okay is a death sentence itself.

I had my oldest son when I was 20 years old and shortly after I had him, his father and I went our separate ways. I kept Jayden away, for my own reasons to protect him, and I’m sure his father knows that. I know he knows I only want what’s best for Jayden. We still don’t have a relationship, but he knows his son is in good hands. Which brings me back to my best friend, Heather. My family is small, and some aren’t able to care for Jayden for various reasons. He’s a teenager preparing to go into high school, and he wants to be with the friends he knows after I pass.

Jillian’s son Jayden

When I pass, Heather has offered to raise Jayden and be his guardian. Knowing he’ll be with her puts my mind at ease; I know my family will be there to help and support as well. I think Heather and Jayden will make a great team; they’re both stylish, all about their hair, shoes, and snazzy. Maybe one day during one of his football or basketball games, Heather will meet a nice man, who knows? There are plenty of terrific men out there, and I just feel during a sporting event is when she’ll meet her potential next partner, and they’ll grow as a family.

Heather is very special in my eyes; I already know her and what great qualities she has to offer. I know she’ll do right by my son and raise him as I would, if not even better. It’s a lot to take on, there are truly not enough thank you’s or hugs and kisses I can give. But, I promise I’ll be looking down from above trying as hard as I can to guide you both or leave a sign letting you know I’m there.

It takes a big heart to do what she’s doing, but I wouldn’t expect any less from her. You will have my first born one day; he’s very special to me. I know you love him too and that love will continue to grow. All children really need is love and attention, no matter what their age. Never stop hugging them, kissing them, and praising them, this is what they’ll always remember. All the good memories and feelings we leave behind for them to pass down.

Heather, I love you more than you’ll ever know. When I do pass on, think of the fun times we had together, all the silly things we did that drove our parents nuts. Remember that life is short. Live it, be kind, say whatever you want to say, how you’d like it said to you. You’re in control. Look at yourself in the mirror every so often and remind yourself how bad ass you really are. You’ve accomplished a lot and I wish more women could see what you’ve become and how it’s achievable. Never doubt yourself. We have more power within ourselves than we truly realize. Feel it, know it; because I promise you it’s there my friend.

Love, Jillian

Jillian Scalfani is a young 34-year-old mother with an incurable form of cervical cancer. She and her children have a great support system when it comes to her friend’s and family. Read more about Jillian here.

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