I grew up in Alameda, the North Valley area of Albuquerque. I was raised in the Catholic tradition and my mom ensured that we went to mass weekly and for holy days. When we were young, my mother, brother and I sat in the fourth row on the left side of the church, closest to the center aisle. I think she purposely sat us up there because I swear the devil would slip into my brother and me, and we would laugh uncontrollably. Even when she’d pull the baby hairs on our neck with tears running down our cheeks, we couldn’t stop. We’d start mass sitting next to each other and end up with her sitting between us. I think some of my favorite memories would be at the end of the service and the exit hymn would be “This is the day”. The congregation would roar into wonderful harmony and clap the beat.
This is the day, this is the day.
That the Lord has made, that the Lord has made.
Let us rejoice, let us rejoice,
And be glad in it, and be glad in it.
There were a number of years that a younger priest was assigned to The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He was stern but a great leader and I would always smile when he would ask, while exiting, for my brother to walk with him out.
I am sharing this post on Wednesday, March 31st. Some of you have been following along this latest chapter in my Ms. Adventure journey. If you have, thank you. But for those of you who may not have the full picture, on February 18, 2021, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. While scary, I truly believe I’m quite lucky (and I don’t say that lightly as I feel that I’m a pretty unlucky person) because from the diagnosis (and boy I have done tests), it is contained to a four inch tumor in my left breast. It is a slow growing tumor so the need for radiation or chemotherapy to shrink it wasn’t necessary and because it feeds on hormones, I have been prescribed a hormone blocker. But today is the day…it is the day of my mastectomy.
It’s not something I’m completely excited about, but instead feel it is necessary in order to move forward. Like every life changing event I’ve encountered, I’ve found the past few weeks that I’ve continued to learn about myself and those around me.
Learning about women who receive a crocheted prosthesis if they can’t afford reconstruction, I was compelled to raise money for an organization that supported medical costs related to breast cancer, and I really wanted to support reconstruction/plastic surgery costs for women who didn’t have adequate insurance or could afford the out of pocket expenses.
Initially, I didn’t know who would be the beneficiary and I was running out of time because, selfishly, I wanted to the Wrong Girl t-shirts to ready for anyone who purchased one before my surgery. I got to work. I shared my blog. I posted over and over and over on social media. I even resorted to sending out a text stating, “I am doing this thing and I hope you will consider supporting it, with the link to my last blog”. While many, many people close to me jumped in and shared their thoughts, prayers and good energy, there were those I was surprised by that were silent and I thought maybe they didn’t dig in. So I tried an experiment and what I found was:
Most people scan and only a few read
In February, I helped drive two days of wearing red in support of heart health and the American Heart Association. I asked the team to wear red on National Go Red Day early in the month and again for the Go Red for Women luncheon later in the month. If my colleagues wore red, they got a heart healthy treat of almonds, dark chocolate or an apple, plus they were entered into a drawing for a $15 M’tucci’s gift card (one winner would be drawn for each day). I took pictures and loved seeing so many colleagues in their red ensembles. When the time came to announce the winners, I decided to create a collage of the photos and post it on red paper with the winners names bolded in the center of the sheet. A week had past and neither of the two winners claimed their prize. They didn’t notice it. Their colleagues didn’t notice it and mention it to them. Even when I said, “I think you should look at the bulletin board. There’s something cool on there.” That didn’t per sway the winners. It wasn’t until I handed out the gift cards that they felt compelled to check out the bulletin board.
I had something similar happen with a friend. Her day job has consumed her life. She didn’t slow down when the pandemic hit, in fact, her work ramped up and on top of it she has an ailing father. As a friend, I tried sending her a message that I wanted to talk to her…because when I could, I really tried to tell people in person what was going on with me. She didn’t respond. I tried sending her information on the fundraiser. I didn’t hear anything. Now it came for me to wrap up my work and help ensure a big event in the store would be successful and working with her on it would be, so I sent one last message just asking if there was someone within her organization could help. She said I was on her mind and on her list to call back. I think was frustrated and said, “well if she had time it would have to be within the next few days because I would be out beginning March 31st because of my surgery”. I didn’t mean to be so, blunt but I didn’t know what other way to get my message across and it did. She responded asking what she missed. Luckily we were able to get together and really talk through everything both personally and professionally.
Everyone is so inundated with everything around us: our professional lives, our personal lives and everything on social media and the internet, but how much do we really take in or “read” and how much do we by-pass without even knowing. I feed off of positivity and are so incredibly grateful for the love I have felt but also there have been a few moments when I was really shocked that I didn’t hear from someone. I try not to take it personal but there were moments, I did. I’ll use this analogy, people send flowers for funerals but what good does it do for the deceased? Send people flowers while they are alive to appreciate them. That is the same for notes of “I’m thinking of you”. Even when you don’t know what to say, just say that….say something. I love the pop up photos on the home screen of my iPhone. It pulls up random photos from my camera roll and I feel like that’s the universe sending me a reminder to check in on that person and let them know I’m thinking of them, especially when time has passed. You only die once, so make sure you’re living every day.
I always thought running would kill me but I never thought my music would
After sitting in my breast cancer surgeon’s office when I had my follow up appointment to discuss my genetic testing and pre-op, I had a thought. I am thrilled to report that my genetic testing came back 99.5% clear. My genes are doing what they are supposed to and their is no predisposition for breast cancer or other cancers. My other tests were clear as well. So of course, my overthinking mind started to think about possibilities in developing cancer in my left breast.
Here is what I concluded. I have run for the past 6 years with my mobile phone tucked in my left side sports bra…sitting right on top of my breast that way I could listen to my music and have my hands free. That’s when my conspiracy theory dawned on me (no actual scientific proof, but ladies, don’t put your cell phone in your bra just in case). Was the radiation from my mobile phone the cause?!? For those of you reading this that have had some sort of ailment or disease, after diagnosis have you become a hypochondriac or developed psychosomatic symptoms?
Before this ordeal, unless I was bleeding or had a bone sticking out, I’d suck it up and keep going. Now if my feet hurt or my back is sore, I’m ready to call my doctor, until I snap out of it and remember, “oh I work retail”. Really I do pay way more attention to what is happening but at times I feel like I’ve become a hypochondriac.
Flip the script on what you’ve been told
Since October 2020, I’ve been wanting to get back to NYC. I was called by an installation that was placed in front of the criminal courthouse building.
It is a sculpture of Medusa, but the story we’ve all been told has been changed. Medusa With The Head of Perseus is meant to question Medusa’s portrayal and narrative in Greek mythology and reimagine an inverted narrative. I wanted to sneak away in December and see it, but because of travel and time off restrictions, I couldn’t get away. As I was going through all my appointments, I was trying to figure out if I would be able to get to NYC before the statue was removed at the end of April. And all points were leading to “no” after surgery. So, I made a plan to go before.
After surgery was scheduled, I decided to book a flight a week before. I would fly out Tuesday and fly back Wednesday. I was nervous. I had both consciences in my head, my angel and the devil on opposing sides whispering in my ears. I booked a Southwest flight and figured if I couldn’t make it, it would be an easy change. I used points for the room. There were two things I had to do and several more I wanted to do.
After an agonizing night of sleep, dreaming the Gestapo was after me for flying into NYC, I got up grabbed my minimally packed backpack: a clean outfit, chargers, masks and sanitizing spray, wallet and travel items, and headed to the airport. I got on the plane. There was mechanical issues and again I questioned what I was doing. We took off, had a layover in Houston, and arrived in NYC just after 4:00pm.
I grabbed a Lyft and headed straight to Collect Pond Park. I got out. From afar, I could see her. There weren’t very many other people at the park: a mom with her two small children, a man on the phone and another walking his dog. I stood in front of her, took photos and I started to cry.
There are moments in our life that the story has been written about us or for us, but here, she was looking back at me reminding me, I WRITE MY OWN STORY.
I noticed someone had broken off her sword, but that didn’t matter. She stood there as a warrior with justice in her hands, claiming her own narrative. I was filled with strength and was reminded that I too am a warrior. I grabbed a Lyft and headed to my next stop Pier 17.
I had reserved a cabin for dinner on top of the pier overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge. The weather was absolutely gorgeous for a March day. It was overcast, but it was warm. I ordered a bite and walked around the pier. I gazed at the Brooklyn Bridge recalling my wish to be there someday at sunrise. I then went around the corner and was surprised to find the Statue of Liberty in the distance. It was an incredible unexpected moment. Walking around the pier, I was reminded of the last time I was there, just after showing in London Fashion week. I had a fun evening celebrating that impactful event in my life and congratulating the person I was with on his achievement of the opening that particular bar. Unfortunately, the bar hadn’t opened since last March. However, a wonderful flush of memories came across me as I was making new ones.
It was now 7:30pm and I opted to head to the hotel and check in. I had stayed at his hotel last September with Josie and chose it for it’s central location. I was craving Magnolia Bakery cake, so after dropping off my bag and cleaning up, I walked down the Ave of the America’s near Radio City Music Hall and got a slice of the sugary, buttery, chocolatey goodness. I then went to Times Square it get my sensory overload fix. After all the feels, I headed back to the hotel and fell asleep watching Friends.
I don’t know what it is about NYC, but I always sleep so well…better than I have in months. I slowly got up. The plan for this day was mass at St. Patrick’s cathedral, shopping at Macy’s and maybe finding fabric at Mood before I headed back to the hotel. I headed out walking on 5th Avenue and as I do when walking alone with earbud in my ears…I strutted myself as if I were on a catwalk. I was reminded about a message I had received the week before from a friend:
I have seen you fight and fight and keep hope and no matter what life throws at you.. that is why I say you are one that inspires me to be strong and keep fighting what life throws at me.. You’re an artist a creator a beautiful human being you have overcome divorce being a single parent being a business owner getting your love and passion in New York City and other places around the world for your ideas and creations to walk down the runway And be seen by all… Now it is your turn to walk down the runway called life I am sure the models before they walk out they are nervous anxious scared afraid that they might fall or trip or have an accident but either way they wait their turn and they walk out and as the lights hit them and they’re blinded can’t see they Chin up and take one step in front of the other and I know you will do the same with this part of your life you will walk tall and straight, make it to the end and walk back… Just make sure you have your heels on I want to hear the sound of power through all of this… I will never forget that you said that to me….. I have some shoes now that make the exact same sound as high heels walking on a hard floor and every time I go walking instead of wondering if I’m annoying people that are around because they are loud I hear Dara in my head saying Joseph That is the Sound of power. Soldiers wear boots Dara wears heels 👠
I walked a little taller as I remembered his text.
I arrived at St. Patrick’s and I was home. Attendees dotted the church for the service. It was the first time I had been in a church for mass in over a year (although I watch daily via YouTube). It was weird to not hold hands for the Our Father, not shake hands for peace and go to communion with a mask. I was filled with hope and happiness and went to my patron saint, St. Jude, and lit a candle for me and another for you. With peace, I headed on to my next stop Nintendo World (a special request). I went on to Mood. I really wanted to get some knit jersey to create a wrap dress for post operative wardrobe, but I knew I wouldn’t have time to sew so while I was inspired, I opted to move on.
I arrived at Macy’s, with hopes of two things: getting my brows waxed and finding after-surgery friendly but fashionable clothes. I did both. Hallelujah! I headed out grabbed Cava on the way back to my hotel. Already checked out, I sat in the corner of the lobby and noshed on the Mediterranean goodness while repacking my stuff. Within the hour, I headed back to LGA. While it was a short trip, I was glad I did it. There might be some reading thinking what are you doing traveling during a pandemic and a week before surgery…but it was what I needed to flip the script on what’s happening and believe me it was just what I needed!
In my last blog, I made the call to action and so many people supported it. Thank you from the bottom of my heart:
Ang, Michelle, Melissa, Mo, Joe, Eilene, Francesca, Isaiah, Brianna, Lisa, Cati, Glenna, Dale, Cathy, Francie, Christina, Bryan, Kristen, Denise, Evelyn, Raini, Katrina, Erica, Enid, Cory, Michael, Jamie, Amanda, Carmen, Kate, Lyndsay, Deborah, Diane, Casey Serena, Trisha, Laurie, Lee, Amanda, Laura, Laura, Nancy, Taylor, Angela, Swarupa, Heather, Lisa, Kristin, Maria, Charlene, Yvette, Stacy, Lalaine, Roberta, Melanie and Michelle
As I stated in that post, I felt compelled to do something for women who might not have the access or financial means for reconstructive surgery (if they wanted it) and that really bothered me! So, I quickly put this campaign together, reached out to Melanie and Michelle at Achievement Gallery and they helped me create this fun t-shirt that should get people talking. They were incredible in putting together the best price to ensure more money would go to charity and that I would have them out to you in time for my upcoming surgery.
I finally found the perfect beneficiary for this fundraiser (and there are SO many good ones in the space of breast cancer support). Anita Salas Memorial Fund will be receiving $1300 – this Grassroots NM fund of 20+ years; all the money stays in NM to help women all over the state of NM; Anita Salas does not pay for any staff or overhead expenses; 95 cents of every dollar helps a woman (or man) with breast cancer or cervical cancer; 5% overhead/fundraising.
What resonates is that I actually helped outfit the models for this organization’s fundraiser, Lovelace Girls Night Out, back in 2019 (the last time we had in-person events). This is where I met my breast surgeon (who always tells me that she has to dress up when I come to see her) and where I felt a tie, at the time, because it supports cervical cancer (what my mom had) and breast cancer (and now me). ❤️ It came full circle.
I am grateful to everyone for being my somebody. While I know I live alone, I am in no way alone.
Dress with intention
I’ve agonized on what to wear to surgery, because I wanted to be comfortable but to wear something more than sweats. Today, I choose a button up blouse that was my mom’s (total 80’s, plus I feel like she’s with me), a pair of black pull on joggers with pockets because who knows what I’m going to have to put in them and zebra patterned mules with embellished bows to remind me La Vita E Un Dono. I’ll have my angel coin with me and all the good energy, prayers and love you all have sent. I always feel more confident and powerful when I put thought into what I wear and this was once again the case…plus it felt more comforting to have my mom wrapped around me this way.
I love all these gifts I’ve been given in the in the past few weeks. It’s crazy what you learn about yourself and those around you when life happens. It’s not lost on me what a powerful and humbling week it is. Paying close attention to others have been through, spiritually, has helped me understand my path and it has reminded me that experience has made me appreciate more, and reminded me of the warrior I am. This is the day! Rejoice and be glad in it!!
Thank you and I’ll see you on the flip side.
With light and love,
Dara Sophia Romero