It’s been awhile since I quit using the alarm clock; I don’t need it anymore to wake me up. The newborn sunlight illuminates it all, shading all of the figures in my room with pastel, warm, almost-tangible colors. I feel the rough fibers of the rug scrubbing against my feet. My skin shivers at the contact of the satin robe. I wash my face, and I watch the water drops cling to my eyelashes for a fraction of second before they fall and disappear. I see it all. I feel it all. I am alive. As I turn the doorknob, I hear him downstairs brewing coffee. I smile, almost as a reflex. We have been married for 27 years now. I love him, and he loves me.
It was right before my 49th birthday that I was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma a rare type of cancer that is caused, in most cases, by asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a widely used material because of its resistance to heat, electricity, and its ability to be woven. Pleural mesothelioma affects the mesothelium, the cell lining in the internal body cavities, such as the heart and lungs. Like any other type of cancer, this anomaly in the body leads to the uncontrollable growth of cancer cells, creating tumors in several parts of the body. This rare type of cancer is diagnosed to only 3,000 people per year in the United States. It is considerable treatable, but not curable.
I was always someone who talked about the importance of balance in life, about the importance of pro activity, and about keeping a positive attitude towards life’s obstacles. Now that I look back, I can see that one side of the scale was always loaded with work, in my attempt to be constantly creating. Time waste was an unconceivable concept for me. As an architect, I spent a great amount of time trying to get to know my clients: I wanted my projects to be as organic to them as possible. I was aware that the space I’d design would be the environment in which they would live, probably, for the rest of their lives. I always aspire to perfection, and I spend uncountable hours resolving everybody else’s needs, most of the time disregarding myself.
Whenever I decided it was time to go to bed, I realized that I was feeling slight chest compression, and I sometimes experienced shortness of breath. I even used to joke about this, blaming myself for being a profuse smoker as a teenager. It was until my husband told me that he had woken up from his sleep because of my dry coughing, that I decided to see my physician. After several appointments, X-rays and second opinions from several colleagues, he diagnosed me with pleural mesothelioma. His prognosis for my life expectancy was from 15 to 19 months.
I was completely devastated. Ironically, it was because of the weight of this diagnosis that I felt more alive than ever. I had never thought of my life as a finite entity of time. I had built a home: a solid rock marriage with the best human being I could have possibly encountered, and our beautiful daughter, 15 year old Ximena. I love my job, and I have friends that are an essential part of my life. The idea of having a limited amount of time was unacceptable. I was not going to let this obstacle get in the way. I chose not to succumb to my terrible diagnosis.
We tend to fear the things that we do not know, so as a first step, I decided I wanted to have as much information as possible regarding my condition. I had recurrent sessions with both my physician and my oncologist. They decided that a surgery would be the appropriate thing to do, due to the size of my tumor, my age, and the stage of my cancer. They suggested chemotherapy after that. Surgery worked fine, and even though chemotherapy made me quantitatively weak during the first sessions, I was determined to overcome this stage. I had to attend to recurrent appointments with the oncologist to monitor the progress. Despite the improvements shown in the results, my prognosis was always in the back of my head. Time was of the essence.
I started my research on alternative therapies, or complementary techniques. I already knew what chemo and radiation could offer, and the side effects that were involved. I figured I could use alternate therapies, or treat my disease from a holistic standpoint. As I continued my research, I noticed that all of these other therapies made allusions to inner healing, awareness, and balance – a concept that I always thought was present in my life.
The goal was to find medicine for my whole self: mind, body and spirit. We cannot treat individual pieces of ourselves: we are an ever evolving and influentiable entity of life. Taking this into consideration, I changed my diet, after learning that thousands of chemicals and artificial substances are constantly found in our everyday meals, bombarding our immune system with tasks that distract it from taking care of other major and more urgent needs, such as cancer. I also opted for supplements: fruit, vegetable and essential oils became an important part of my regimen. All of the supplements that I took –and still do- are naturally based. I researched other therapies such as immunotherapy or biological therapy, photodynamic therapy, and even gene therapies. I have not used them, but I know they also have a lot to offer.
I learned the power of balance and positive energy. I went through meditation, chakra alignment and acupuncture, just to name a few -meditation is the only thing that I keep until this day. But what I consider as the trigger to my restoration was the power of my mind. They say that we are what we eat, so would it be possible to be what we think we are? We do not ask our brain to keep our heart beating, or to start doing the digestive process after we eat, but what if we feed our brain with the firm conviction that healing is possible? I am completely convinced that we have to treat our body, not the cancer itself. If we do a good job at this, chances are our own body will perform the necessary steps, if not to fully heal, to increase our quality of life and beat our prognosis for good.
My faith is not blind, or at least this is not what the results have shown me. I have survived my prognosis for 4 years now. I know it’s still there, but I’ve managed to overcome the expectations. We humans are all different puzzles, and I know that what worked for me might not work for everybody. I urge you to seek, to research, as many options as possible; do not take anything for granted. Surround yourself with everything that fulfills you, and what you consider is sacred in your life. My story is one of pure love and courage. One of light and belief. History is always told by the strong and the victorious. I like to think of myself as a defeater of death, or even better, a conqueror of life.
By: Velasco, Ines