So Much More
Ever since I was a little girl growing up in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, I have dreamed of becoming a writer.
When I was six years old, one of the three presents I asked for from the Reyes Magos—the Three Wise Men who visited Jesus after he was born, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh—was a typewriter. That red Sears children’s typewriter was the first of four typewriters I ended up owning.
I kept journals. Wrote long letters to faraway pen pals. I loved writing essays for English lessons. Nothing felt better than sitting down in front of a blank piece of paper and letting my thoughts guide the pen.
I told my high school English teacher, Mrs. Mora, that I planned to be an author one day. But, beyond words, I was also obsessed with writing paraphernalia, pens and ink, not to mention all kinds of stationery. I think I kept the stationery store at the Mayagüez Mall in business for a few years! I entered college at seventeen, skipping first-year English courses for higher-level classes because of all the time I spent writing in high school.
I knew that I would write a book about my life. But first I knew I would have to live it. No matter what the angle, I
always thought my book’s focus would be about my unicorn life—a big life, the sexy and cinematic stuff that made me grateful to be alive and in my skin.
While in college, my organizational management professor asked the class to think about what defined each one of us and to write a five-thousand-word autobiography. This prompted me to sketch out a twenty-page book proposal—a book describing my life up until then. I never submitted that proposal or got to write the book back in college. I knew that it was not the right time. There was so much more to experience before I put pen to paper.
Twenty years later I finally did submit my book proposal, but by then my life story was vastly different from the one I had considered writing while in college.
Nothing is more unpredictable than life itself.
Not even two years after tying the knot with the love of my life, Nick, in the most awesome idyllic wedding ever, embarking on what I wholeheartedly believed would be our happily ever after, I received life-changing news: I had cancer. Not a known cancer—that would be boring—but a rare, poorly researched, and potentially life-threatening cancer called sarcoma. Sarcoma is considered an “orphan” cancer, as fewer than 200,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with it. In short, I had won the Powerball jackpot of all cancers, a ticket I surely did not want to have! As you can imagine, my world turned upside down.
My time with my one and only, Nick, became a ticking clock of moments and memories that we wanted to experience together before we no longer could. Our ride in this world rushed to the forefront of our priorities; nothing and no one
else mattered. It was no longer about planning the future but about living it. Together, Nick and I discovered a new normal as we tried to make as much of the time we had left together extraordinary. I felt charged to start spending my remaining hours on my terms—and I would allow no disease, doctor, friend, family member, or well-meaning stranger to dictate what that meant.
I have traveled, I have read, I have partied, I have danced; I have loved and been loved. For nearly two years I have written this book about how Nick and I created a “life list” of sparkling, effervescent moments we insisted on spending together, come hell or high water. And along the way I have discovered something infinite, something brighter, than what I thought possible in life. My spiritual playing field expanded. There has always been something different about me I couldn’t put my finger on, a divine guidance intervening all the time in my thoughts and life. This would be my story to tell.
I want to say, too, that I feel my story is important not because it is my story but because it is the story of how we must all find joy in the face of conflict and challenge. Life happens to every one of us, and when it is painful, you have a choice either to give in to the brokenness you feel or to stare it down with love and good intentions. For me, cancer was my ultimate challenge, but for you it may be living with chronic disease, losing the job you have had all your life, experiencing anxiety, losing a close friend or family member, deciding to get divorced, or getting your heart broken into a million little pieces.
My deepest desire is for this memoir to inspire and uplift anyone who is struggling with their own challenges, especially a health-related one, or is close to someone who is. If you have
a list of passions or goals, even just a few, that you need to accomplish before the end of the year, before you turn fifty, before you get married or have kids, or even before you die, don’t wait until a scary diagnosis arrives to start making it happen. Take charge. Do what you must to fill your mind and heart with happiness. You are the protagonist of your story. Celebrate what it means to embrace life to the fullest and with those you love. Don’t let setbacks turn you into a victim. I have never felt sorry for myself, and that’s been one of my saving graces (second only to champagne—lots and lots of champagne). Let go of your fears, dare to dream, and embrace your passions, whatever they may be. When you stop worrying about what could happen and what other people think and focus on creating your future, opportunities that you hadn’t anticipated will often present themselves. And sometimes, those opportunities can steer you in a direction you could never have foreseen . . . But I’ll share a lot more on that later.
The truth is that I live every day knowing that my life has a looming expiration date. Some doctors believe it’s not a matter of if my cancer will return but when. So, in the now, in this present moment, and for this lifetime, I choose to follow my inner voice and to live and love as hard as I can. And you should too. Nothing should derail you from your goals, dreams, or purpose. There is always—always—so much more to live, to love, to learn, and to create.