you are bigger than what is making you anxiousunknown
This post’s title started differently, until this week, when a memory from last year came up on social media. It was 2020 and I had just submitted my portfolio for Project Runway for the 5th time. This time they were pursuing my application. I made it to the third and in-person interview round. Within weeks, the world was closing its borders and I couldn’t fly to Austin for my interview. I pivoted quickly and I pulled in friends for help: 6 beautiful and different models, two fabulous make-up artists and two incredible hairstylists. In my friend’s hair salon, we jumped on Skype (yes, this was before Zoom and Teams were household names). As we waited to be connected to the interviewer, the governor was on the air putting into effect a stay-at-home order for the next two weeks. As weeks turned into months, Project Runway was halted as were most plans for 2020. It’s funny how the unknown, our fears and even our wants make us anxious. I’ve wanted to live in NYC and work in fashion for years. But it wasn’t my time (it will be–I PROMISE THAT). It was a different time and different reason for anxiety, but it is no less profound today! However I believe that uncertainty, that anxiousness, leads us to purpose.
How are you? I know the last post may have been way too much information shared, but I needed to get it out of my system. Writing it out made it easier for me to share what I’ve been through and all the emotions, while pointing people to the post vs. reliving those emotions over and over again every time I was asked. There were so many of you who reached out in concern and as I told you personally, I will take all the prayers, good energy, positive thoughts, especially bits of humor and love you have to share.
What do you say when someone tells you they have cancer? Heck! I didn’t know how to tell you! But I’ve learned to take ownership of it because that is the way I can overcome it. I also didn’t fault those who didn’t know what to say. I had dinner with a dear friend the other night who is a breast cancer survivor and she admitted she didn’t know what to say when I told her. I’ve had responses from everything like the super positive about everything response, to wanting to know every detail about my cancer and treatment, to not knowing what to say, to remaining silent. I get them all. But I think the two most surprising responses I received were the least expected.
In the last post, I talked about a friend who had received her own cancer diagnosis. We had chatted a bit over text when she received my card. However, I didn’t burden her with my diagnosis. Yet surprising to me, on the day of her surgery, she took the time to tell me that she had heard about mine. MIND BLOWN and heart filled with love!
The other response was also totally unexpected, and occurred when I posted a selfie in my hospital gown and used hashtag #CTScanChic. Yes, I am a dork, but I plan to chronicle my medical gown fashion. I may have been diagnosed with cancer, but I will not let it rob me of my sense of humor and my joy. I am not making light of my current health, but instead saying, “fuck you cancer”. Anywho, I received a response from someone I met a few years ago when I was involved with 1 Million Cups. We are acquaintances and FB friends. I was asked if I was okay and I responded, “there’s a bump in the road but I will be”. I explained my current health and said that I would not let it rob me of my joy. This person offered rides to appointments and to sit with me at treatments if needed. The power of sitting with someone (either physically or just in thought) and not only in their moments of celebration but in their difficulties–to me–there is nothing more loving. Oh and I was told me that I rocked the medical gown. YASS!! Remember this: it costs nothing to be kind, yet is priceless to the receiver.
So here’s where I’m at today. After meeting with my surgeon, I was referred to a reconstructive surgeon consult, a breast MRI, a CT Scan, EKG, chest xray, blood work, a uterine ultrasound, another MRI, an oncologist consult, more blood work, and follow up appointment with breast surgeon.
The first appointment I had after my breast cancer surgeon was with the breast reconstruction surgeon. I appreciated her honesty yet considerate care for my health and lack of a better word, vanity. Although my cancer surgeon couldn’t determine my treatment plan until after the next rounds of tests, the reconstruction surgeon mentioned that generally she didn’t consult unless there was a mastectomy involved. She explained the different options for reconstruction. The options that I was really not up for took fat and muscle from either my back or stomach. While I’m all for the removal of fat, I wasn’t keen on removing muscle. The next option was implants. This seemed to have the quickest recovery time. However she explained that because it’s a foreign object being introduced to the body that it may breakdown and require replacement in 10-15 years…don’t really want to go back for surgery if I don’t need to. The final option, she mentioned that might be a possibility would be for the woman that has excess fat in the belly, she’d remove it and use it to create the breast. She explained that it might be a breast reduction, lift and tuck. I know my eyes lit up, sparkling, at this option. My Buddha belly would be tucked?!? I’d get a breast reduction and lift?!? Maybe this isn’t such a bad thing? Do you think I should share this photo as the blueprint? Yes? No?
According to my doctor, the only problem with the last option is the fact that there have been cases where my particular insurance wouldn’t cover the surgery. What the what?!? I don’t quite understand why not, so I’m investigating more because it seems like it would be the perfect option. We talked about the fact that if I needed chemotherapy or radiation how that might change the course she’d take. While still not having the full picture. I left feeling hopeful with a few more answers.
My next appointment was my breast MRI. As I was completing my paperwork, I noticed the comment about feeling claustrophobic and if I needed a sedative I’d need to tell them right away. I had never had an MRI…how would I know if I needed a sedative?!? I think my heart started beating faster and when I’m anxious or scared I start cracking jokes. This time I had to get an IV and I was sweating it. I climbed into the cradle, face down and let the girls go free. I was asked what Pandora radio station I’d like to listen to. I asked for Lady Gaga radio as it’s my go to when I’m sewing and I knew it would help me forget where I was at. I actually had a beautiful view of the courtyard and the technician got started. I don’t know if Lady Gaga was the best choice because I REALLY WANTED TO DANCE and you can’t move in the machine or they have to start over. The marking fluid started coursing through my veins and it was a weird warming sensation that started in my arm moved through to the back of my throat, and down my body. About 30-40 minutes later, the MRI was complete and I was told how well I did. Now I had to go through the rest of the day with a line across my forehead from where I was laying on the MRI cradle, but it was completed.
The following day was my CT Scan. It was a morning appointment, so I figured I could complete this appointment, complete the EKG and chest scan and then all I’d have to do is my blood work. I had no idea how crazed this day would be (and later I would realize it was a full moon…and then it all made sense). I arrived at the facility and within a half hour had to drink 32 ounces of water with a marking fluid. Big dummy should have brought a book but I didn’t and being in an x-ray facility, I was in a dead zone for internet access, so as I was sitting there, it gave me time to think (uh oh!!). I realized at that moment how attitude plays such an important part in life. I also decided I would chronicle this part in my life so in a year I can go back and say, this was a blip in my life, so I took my first #medicalgownselfie.
About 30 minutes later, the technician came by and and asked a slew of questions. I could tell you them all from memory because the same ones are asked over and over again, but HIPPA prevents me from sharing that with you (I hope you realize that was a joke?!?). When I told him what I did for my occupation, he was stopped in his tracks. It was like a gift was delivered to him. He said his wife could use my help. She was a busy CEO and really needed help with her wardrobe and asked that I didn’t tell her he said this (so mums the word, ok?!?). YES, I PIMP MY SERVICES AT MY APPOINTMENTS. He really was super excited about my work, but stopped himself, and said this time was about me. However he would get my contact information from me after the scan. Little did he know I would much rather focus on others than my impending stick with an IV and having x-rays shot at me. After the appointment, I left my contact information (and after that day, I now have my business cards with me all the time) and have an appointment with her in a week. 😉
I got into my jeep with a plan to go get my other scans done when I went to start it and it wouldn’t turn over. I had been having issues so I called AAA and told them I think I had an issue with my battery. They sent the service company out. As I sat there, I realized it was time to share my diagnosis with other family members, friends and tell my colleagues at work. I was finally in a good place emotionally to do it. The tow truck arrived and the technician jumped my battery. He didn’t have a replacement battery with him, but said he could run back to the shop and see if they had one there but it would be another 30 minutes. I thanked him but declined.
Instead, I headed to work and sent a text to my brother to see if he could switch out my battery. He mentioned he was at work but within the next hour he’d come by and check it out. I parked it in front of Macy’s instead of the employee parking lot to make it easier for him to get to. When he arrived he came in to get my keys and went back out to get to work. Within that period of a few minutes, he walked out and found a man standing next to it with my driver’s side door open. The guy obviously startled, made the comment that it was a nice jeep. My brother agreed and asked him if it was his. When he declined, my brother told him to get away from it.
So the guy left the scene and my brother found that he had jacked up the ignition rod. He called me out to take a look at it. I contacted my Asset Protection manager and she brought in mall security. We went over all the details and gave a description to the man and his vehicle. I contacted my uncle to see if he knew a shop that he trusted that could fix it. He said give him a few minutes and he’d call back. He did and asked to have it towed to his house; he’d be able to replace it. The tow truck arrived however because we couldn’t put it in neutral and turn the wheels to get it on the truck. I had to track down the vehicle owner across from me in the next row. Luckily, I knew who it was and got it moved. That saga for the moment was resolved. I am so grateful for my brother, my uncle and my aunt (who later made sure I had a Club). By the time I went inside the word had gotten out and everyone showed their concern. My colleague and friend, Joe, bought me a coffee. I went back to my office and found something on my table. I was concerned as to what might be waiting for me because it was kind of that day, but instead it was a super thoughtful card and “lucky wine glass” from my friend, Laurie. I had missed her text, but it was the perfect way to end that day. As promised, my uncle delivered the Jeep and I went home, exhausted.
Next day, was game day! SO I dressed for the occasion. I got up with a sense of purpose and decided to leave early to stop by my gram and aunt’s home to pick up the Club and to see their faces because I hadn’t seen them in months. I made them promise to not make me cry. LOL! I went to start the Jeep and no luck. I texted my aunt for a ride and asked my brother and uncle if one of them could stop by to check it out. My brother mentioned the connections being loose so he would stop by. I got to work reviewed my schedule and set the day. My follow up appointment with my breast cancer surgeon was during lunch and thankfully, Ang agreed to go with me and be my Uber driver. She picked me up and asked if I was going on vacation. I told her that I was running away…but really it was my game day look. We arrived at the office and sat in the hall like we were in trouble and waiting for the principle (social distanced waiting area). I know we were both anxious so what do we do when we’re anxious, we crack jokes.
Called into the doctor’s office. We sat there and waited. Waiting is the worst part. The nucleus of all my appointment scheduling and the person makes my visits more enjoyable, came in and checked on us, pulled up my profile on the computer screens and said the doctor would be with us shortly. Before she left we noticed a crocheted ball. Ang asked what it was for and she responded it is a prosthesis of sorts. She continued explaining that it was for women who could not afford reconstructive surgery. That stopped me in my tracks!
WHAT THE FUCK!?! I understand having it available for women who choose not do reconstructive surgery, but in this day and age, not having it done because of a financial barrier? A few years ago, without insurance, that could have been me. That made me sad, pissed off and grateful, all at the same time.
Now if you don’t read anything else in this blog, I IMPLORE YOU TO READ THE VERY END because I have to do something and I have been scheming with a friend to do just that.
We sat there quietly, I know I was contemplating what I just heard. The doc came in after what felt like an eternity. Okay great let’s get to work on this. She sat down and said she was going to review the scans. I could hear the prayers in my mind coming out of Ang’s mouth under her breath. She started with the MRI. It concluded there was nothing in my right breast as suspected and the tumor in my left was 4 inches. She also mentioned that the type of tumor was slow growing wouldn’t reduce in size with chemotherapy. However she was going to refer me to an oncologist for a second opinion. She confirmed that she would remove the entire breast. She pulled out her colored pens and paper and drew the path of the surgery (I didn’t get this copy so you won’t see a picture of my breast drawing again, sorry). My latest rounds of tests did detect a spot or two on my liver, so she was going to request a liver MRI and I was happy that Ang didn’t exclaim that I needed to stop indulging in my cocktails and wine. I really didn’t want to have to kick her under the desk. And I guess, it’s a good thing I gave up alcohol for lent (fingers crossed). She also said they found a spot in my uterus. She thought it might be a fibroid but wanted to make sure. I am so incredibly grateful for the comprehensive care I am receiving, for health insurance and especially for having Ang right there with me!!
I still needed to get my scans and blood work done. I explained my previous day’s debacle. And informed the doctor that I’d get it done in the next few days. Ang offered to take me after my appointment but I had already been gone from work for 2 hours and really, I didn’t want to go. Damn needles! Why do I hate you so?
I went into the weekend and decided I needed more color in my life. I was tired of winter and this may make you gasp, but I was tired of black. So I started pulling my most colorful looks and posting color on social media from the floor. The girls got together and we went to celebrate Lee’s new job. The world was starting to open again and it was perfect timing.
Monday rolled around and I had my uterine ultrasound at 8am. I got there with a full bladder of water and an urgent desire to void, but I had to hold it in. The first part was an over the belly ultrasound. As she moved the device around I was hoping not to pee on the exam table. Once that was complete, I was given the opportunity to relieve myself.
I went back into the room and was asked to remove my clothing…now I’m not going to share the intimate details of the next part of the exam but I feel like I should have been bought dinner first. Once complete, I was so relieved to hear the tech say that nothing looked out of the ordinary. If it had, she would have called the doctor in. Thank you, God!
I put on my big girl pants (literally and figuratively) and decided to go get my blood work done. I went to the lab and got in the chair again joking that I didn’t like needles or seeing my own blood. The tech took extra special care when he saw my enlarged eyes when he pulled the four vials out. Within minutes it was complete. I had plans to go for a bosque walk and a special dinner that evening. I passed on the walk and opted for a nap instead (I found out later that I am iron deficient).
When I woke up, I checked my email and found a note from a friend that works at the hotel I had my dinner reservation at. She asked if it was me that was holding the reservation. I confirmed it was and said if she was working I’d love to say, “hello” since it had been over a year since I had last seen her. I got ready and met my friend Eilene for her birthday dinner. When we arrived, we were taken to our table and our waitress brought out a split bottle of Prosecco for us from Nancy. I took a few sips but allowed the birthday girl to enjoy most of it. Then we were brought out a special treat from the Chef (you may know him is a current contestant on that little show Hell’s Kitchen). Chef Quinones came out and made sure that Nancy’s special guests were well taken care of. Later, I saw the email stating should wouldn’t be there when we arrived, but was doing something special for us. Thank you chef and Nancy! You really made us feel like VIPs!!
I had been going back and forth on whether or not I should chop my hair off. I was going from an extreme pixie, to bob, to only a few inches off to bringing back my bangs. I also wondered if I did have to have chemo, would I be able to rock a bald head like Sinead O’Connor or Demi Moore, in G.I. Jane. Then, I remembered, I had a big bobblehead and really shouldn’t think about it until it was a reality. I went to Pinterest: my go to for all my visions of grandeur. I pulled a few styles. I reached out to my stylist friend, Amanda, on her day off and explained my ordeal (sent her the link to my blog) that way she knew my backstory and we could talk about everything else beyond my recent diagnosis. I went in we talked ideas and BAM, this is what I settled with. Don’t get me wrong. I love my long hair, but it was getting in the way recently and all I ended up doing was putting it up.
A few days later I had my appointment with my oncologist. New Mexico Cancer Center is a machine. There were so many people there but it was very well organized. I checked in and the tech took my vitals and asked a slew of questions. Again everything from health history, to pregnancies, to what I did for my occupation. The text thought I had to be either a school teacher or something uplifting because of my bubbly personality. LOL! There was a deeper dive into those questions. I was asked about emotion and depression. I said I got most of it out in my blog and although I’ll go through emotion again, I’m in a good place now. She also talked about DNR orders, power of attorney and living will. And that bought the reality to the forefront.
I next went into the exam room and waited for my oncologist. She came in and sat down. Again her care and concern were exactly what I needed. We talked about my conversation with my breast surgeon and asked about my mental state. She also made sure that my work was supportive. She agreed with my surgeon and would not prescribe chemotherapy before surgery. She wanted to check the feel of the tumor, so she stepped out so I could change. After she said she didn’t feel that it was attached to my chest wall which was a good sign. However she couldn’t guarantee that I wouldn’t have chemotherapy after. The pathology of the tumor and removed lymph nodes would determine that, but she was hopeful and that made me EXTREMELY hopeful. She did ask that I do another blood draw. I tried to tell her that I gave on Monday. I asked if she could she get what she needed from those results. No. Such. Luck. Fuck, I hate needles. Yet, there again I went through the routine. This time I wasn’t entirely prepared. I hadn’t drank tons of water the night before or that morning, so my hidden, rolling veins did their thing so this time I cringed a little more, hurt a little more and bruised a little more. Now I have track arm (only because my left arm is the only one that cooperates).
I left there feeling good. I still have my liver MRI scheduled for next week and my genetic testing came back so I need to do that follow up appointment with my breast surgeon. They are still coordinating schedules for my surgery and with the state not allowing more than 50% capacity for this purpose, I’m truly hoping it can occur in a few weeks (I say that now and then when it’s scheduled I may flip a bit).
So if I point you here, when you ask how I’m doing, it’s not because I don’t want to talk about it, but if you’ve read this then you know it’s a lot of information and over time it gets jumbled a bit. Please continue to send prayers, good energy and juju. Please continue to send those texts and those who are okay to visit in person, I welcome it. AND really, I am happy to talk about anything, but cancer. I’ve been asked what people can do for me and there’s not much at the moment beyond this.
After surgery, I will need help with my rambunctious Coco-nut. She loves to take me for drags, and plays fiercely. Honestly, I think she thinks she’s only a 10 lbs dog when in reality she’s closer to a 45 lbs dog, that is ALL muscle. So this request isn’t for the weak. She’s a beast and I love her. However, I do have one thing you can do right now.
Sitting in my doctor’s office and hearing about the women with financial constraints preventing them from receiving all the care that they desire and deserve, I think about my own bills: co-pays, lab fees, deductibles, department fees and that doesn’t even include what’s coming. I realize how fortunate I am to have health insurance and savings to tap into, and because it’s me, I felt compelled to do something. Here is what I’m doing. Will you please join me?
I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer on February 18, 2021. While sitting in my surgeon’s office with my BFF, Ang, we noticed a crocheted ball and asked about it.
We were told, it is used by women who can’t afford reconstructive surgery and that made me grateful for my health insurance, but sad for the women who don’t have the same access. I wanted to create a shirt that people could wear in solidarity with me and those in their lives who are warriors of breast cancer, but also shirt whose proceeds benefit organizations that provide financial support to women’s breast cancer treatment.
Why WRONG GIRL?
Wrong girl is a phrase I’ve used when confronted by things that I’ve been able to conquer or achieve and have overcome throughout my life when I wasn’t “supposed to”. Don’t underestimate this GIRL! I’ve also included my sacred heart of Hopeless + Cause Atelier; this time in vibrant pink with the mantra #fightlikeagirl.
Working with the locally, woman owned business, Achievement Gallery (and my friend, Melanie), I hope you will purchase a shirt or two and wear it proudly. AND YES, real men and women wear pink.
LIMITED TIME CAMPAIGN
Because time is of the essence, I wasn’t able to build proper functionality on my website for an ecommerce experience.
If you would like to order, please send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org with the following: name, quantity, size or sizes (unisex, adult sizes: small through 3XL are available), and mailing address. You can scan this QPR code and pay by Paypal (if you prefer to pay by Zelle or Venmo note that in your email or you can send a check to PO Box 65035, Albuquerque, NM 87193).
The cost of each shirt is $25.00 and it is my hopes that more than 50% of the proceeds will benefit these charitable organizations (it just depends on my final order size).
Please place your order no later than Sunday, March 14th.
I am wishing you all the blessings of the day. May you see wishes in the weeds and enjoy the sunrise, the sunset, the night skies and everything in between. May you love fully, truly, and not be afraid to reach out to people who are on your mind whether you talked to them yesterday or years ago. May your uncertainty lead you to purpose. Don’t put off what your soul desires. Empower those whom may never repay you. And may you know how much I appreciate you. There’s more to come!
With light and love,
Dara Sophia Romero