Race the Fear

Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the campaign held every October globally to increase breast cancer awareness and raise funds for its cure, just ended. For most women, the fight to fight the disease never ends. Fear fuels it.

To this date, I have been fortunate not to have breast cancer. And I have been blessed to know women who have faced the disease with the guts it takes to hear the news firsthand while empty-handed.

I don’t have a family history of breast cancer, but I grew up with a fear history of breast cancer.

This is why I am here, to share my race away from breast cancer fear.

I met breast cancer in my childhood.

Growing up in Caracas, Venezuela, I eavesdropped on conversations between my mother and our family’s best friend, our beloved Antonia Cotelo, nicknamed by all as Totó. In her 50s, she was diagnosed with a brain cancer that quickly metastasized into breast cancer. And during her arduous fight, I overheard the daily telephone calls my mom had every afternoon that included hopes, fears, and tears. They did not know, but I heard it all.  And I feared it all.

My parents welcomed Totó into our home every weekend. From those memories, her musical voice asking for “las niñas” (the girls) still echoes in my heart, particularly because there was not a single moment where she let her sorrow show when my sister or I were around. She was the epitome of love in joy. Until the day she parted, she held her breast cancer sentence with the grace of a white swan. Her dignity and emotional intelligence in the midst of her devastating disease are to be honored and revered.

My last memory of Totó is the face of an angel lost in time as if searching her way of out hell. An impeccably ivory complexion framing eyes no longer symmetrical and frozen, a wandering expression as if hoping to find focus in the fog of fear. All of it, below a head stylishly wrapped in a colorful scarf, honoring what was still a beautiful mind hoping to get her life back. That’s what breast cancer looked like to the girl in me.

Totó left us one rainy Sunday. Years passed by, my life went on, and my womanhood showed up. All of it with full-grown fears of breast cancer well into my 40s, intensified and out of proportion every time I had any hormonal breast pain, mammograms, thermography, sonograms, biopsies, the many roads to breast health. I knew how to know but I did not want to know. Sounds familiar?

Then I took charge.

Sick of worrying sick, I saw a renowned specialist in Cognitive Therapy who nailed the source of my breast cancer fears and healed it with a resounding closing argument: “That’s not your story. That’s not how you will go.”  So what was I to do? Pass the page? Not a chance.

An empowered girl becomes a brave woman who helps those who have the story, anyone living in fear, the ones who are afraid to check, the ones who wished they had checked, everyone and everybody so that no woman ever goes that way again.

I propelled myself into the subject fearlessly forward.

I now go to my yearly mammograms knowing that whatever technology and medicine find, we will do our best to cure, because this is now and that was then.  Medical treatments and protocols have come a long way, and so has every woman I’ve known who has fought the disease and won. All of them.

We take preventive charge. And we run for more.

Last October 14, 2017, I ran the 5K Susan G Komen’s Race for the Cure.

I raced against fear, convinced that what men, women, and girls don’t know can kill us.

I sprinted for the women who have faced the news and the disease like champions of life. Kelly Jenkins tops my list.  I ran the race as if guided by an angel – Totó flew next to me.

We took off and became mean- freaking- cancer-curing-healing machines. And we won the race.

Ladies and gentlemen,  the race to win starts with the F word to face – Fear.

And this is what we can make most breast cancers look like: Fearless. Alive. Gone.