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Grateful to be alive

Grateful to be alive

The past couple of weeks I had one of the biggest scares of my life—even more terrifying than my diagnosis of breast cancer four years ago. I felt a lump near one of my surgical scars, and an ultrasound showed an aggressive looking image that looked like a recurrent tumor.

As a former oncologist and survivor, I didn’t get the blissful protection of ignorance and denial. I knew that, if this cancer had reappeared despite bilateral mastectomies, two additional margin excision surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and ongoing hormonal blockade therapy, this had to be the most aggressive, stubborn, biggest SOB cancer type—the type you may never get rid off, and sooner than later kills you. If this was true, it meant the countdown timer for my departure from this planet had started.

An Attitude Overhaul

How can I explain my terror? For the two weeks it took from the abnormal ultrasound to getting the results of the biopsy, my world turned upside down. I couldn’t see myself in the mirror without wondering if soon I would lose my hair from chemo, again. In the same way, I couldn’t workout at the gym, or jump on a trampoline with my kids without wondering if in a few months I’d be too weak or sick to move.

The worst part? I couldn’t hug one of my children without wondering if they were destined to repeat my history—lose their mother when they weren’t yet ready to face adult life. Therefore, I can hardly explain the explosion of relief it was to find out the abnormal area was only scar tissue.

Yes, these were terrifying weeks. But even the scariest moments can bring blessings and learnings. In this blog post I’ll be sharing the biggest blessings I received from this experience.

Blessing #1:  A huge Dose of Perspective

I made it a point in my life not to let a diagnosis become my identity. Because of that, I admit I pushed the cancer history away from my mind and showed up to life almost as if in denial. Instead of declaring, “I’m a cancer survivor,” I preferred to think about myself as, “someone who, once upon a time, needed treatment for cancer, and now is done.” I never thought “I’m in remission,” I preferred to think “I’m cured.” 

However, that attitude comes with a down side: when we push away the bad, we forget also about the good. Being alive and healthy had started to seem just normal and natural. I had forgotten how fragile life is and what a mind-blowing privilege it is that all circumstances until now have aligned to lead us to this moment of aliveness. 

God, did I ever complain about stupid little things—like the stock market being down or my car starting to look old? Now, all I wanted was to stay alive. With all my heart, all I wished for was to be around for my children as they entered adult life. I wanted to meet grandchildren, and be there for them and my kids the way my mother couldn’t be.

Blessing #2: A New, Much Deeper Appreciation for my Body

God did I ever see my body in a mirror and complain about it? Did I ever wince at the sight of cellulite, or extra fat on my thighs?

 How could I’ve ever bitched about a body that was HEALTHY, that had stamina, and took me everywhere I wanted to go?—when I remembered so vividly what it was to be bed ridden after a surgery or flattened in exhaustion by chemo? When I had seen my mother, and so many patients with metastatic bone disease ride wheelchairs, unable to move without pain? 

Never, ever, ever again would I speak to my body with anything less than the most absolute love, respect and deep gratitude. Now, every time I see myself in the mirror, I will celebrate every cell and organ that’s alive and vibrant, working in perfect harmony without asking for any praise.

Blessing #3: A Completely New Attitude About Growing Old.


On a similar topic: God, did I ever complain about growing old? Did I ever see myself in the mirror and cringed at the sight of hollowness, or lines, or sagging skin in my face?

cat, mirror, lion

I didn’t care anymore! All I wanted was to live long enough to be that ancient, stubborn, old lady no one knows how she can keep going so long. I dreamed of being like Queen Elizabeth  and Bettie White (Rest In Peace, both of them). I wanted to be like my grandmother Casilda, and like her sister Susana who, at the end of her 100th year birthday party, told the musicians “Thank you! See you next year!” 

I didn’t care about wrinkles anymore. In truth, I didn’t want to die free of face lines; I wanted to LIVE full of them. Each line and groove, a mark on a map, a token as I collected life experiences and spread more and more love.

Blessing #4: Recommitting to wanting to be alive 

When I learned I needed a biopsy to rule out cancer recurrence, I went through a strange variation of the grief cycle. After the shock wore out, I skipped anger and went straight to despair.

If this cancer had been stubborn enough to return despite everything I’d done (not only the medical treatment, but also my life changes and commitment to inner peace), perhaps that meant I was fighting destiny. Maybe my body was intrinsically defective and cancer prone despite negative genetic testing. Perhaps, everything I believed in about mind-body-spirit health was BS, and I should just give up and call hospice.

But after a couple of days of fatalism, the stage of anger settled in in an unusual, non-literal way. A conviction I can only describe as “warrior mode” possessed me. I couldn’t leave this planet yet, damn it, my children and my husband needed me! My sisters, my clients, my friends needed me!

I still had dreams I hadn’t accomplished. And I still had places I wanted to travel to. Also, I wanted to claim those years my mother got stolen: the years as a grandmother, and as a role model for joyful aging for newer generations. 

I wanted to be ALIVE! And I was willing to do anything to improve my chances, no matter how painful or inconvenient it could be. 

Dr. Pichardo

A New Beginning 

And that strong desire to be alive and use every minute to the fullest has led to a new commitment to my mission. The mission of spreading the message: “Life is short—Live with Passion.”

Don’t waste time worrying about what others may think or say. And, please, don’t waste one minute doing something you dread, or spending time with people you don’t love or at least respect.

And no, it’s not selfish. The best gift you can be to others is to seek your happiness and become an inspiration for them to do the same. Let me know if you need help with that.



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