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.
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.