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Faith as medicine

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By Anel Vizcarra Marquez

Hope can mean different things,  depending on the situation you find yourself in life. 

At age 28 and a single mother, I was diagnosed with stage 2 ductal carcinoma breast cancer. 

I don’t think the name is so important. I was, however, so ignorant about breast cancer that I was afraid. I was afraid I would make a wrong decision about my treatment. In doing my own research, I learned that being so young increased the probability of recurrence, even if I went into remission after the first treatment. I read about percentages, treatments and side effects, but not much made sense. 

I started reading more and more, but the more I read, the more confused I was. There are never guarantees in life and cancer is not like a lottery, where you leave it to chance. The decisions you make today will definitely affect the outcome tomorrow. 

I survived the six months of chemotherapy, the lumpectomy and the radiation treatments. I thought I had conquered the disease, but only four years later, the cancer came back, this time to my breasts and lungs. My agony started all over again, as I found myself in a hospital room pondering the doctor’s words: “People in your condition live from a few weeks to a few months.” 

I thought of my son, who was only 9 years old and needed me. I wondered, Why me? Four years back, I had been reading about treatments, I had gone to see three different doctors, but it didn’t matter because I was facing cancer again. And this time I was told that I had little probability of surviving it. 

How do you fight against the odds? 

I found the answer in my prayers. I turned to the only unconditional and complete love: God. I knew that His love would hold me and pull me through. I turned myself into a believer. Instead of just looking for treatments and better options, I turned to the Bible and learned about hope and my love for God. Isaiah said, “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.” 

My faith started growing and I shared my beliefs with my doctors. They encouraged me to believe and to pray. I enjoyed a very short remission, took a break from chemotherapy, but my cancer went into the pericardium in my heart. Finally, after a total of 18 agonizing months of treatments, my cancer went into a longer remission; PETScans were clear, I could breathe better. 

It was then I earned a new name. My oncologist named me the “miracle patient.” 

And the miracles continued to happen. A few months later, I was planning the trip of my life. I was on my way to celebrate my 35th birthday in France by welcoming Lance Armstrong into his fifth victory of the Tour de France. I had my U.S. flag in my case, ready to cheer the cancer champion. My trip didn’t happen. I fell while running in the LAX airport, victim of cardiac arrest. 

Here we go with percentages again. Only 5 percent of people who suffer cardiac arrest survive. Again, I did. I now have an implantable defibrillator, which has saved my life four more times. Now, like a nightmare that never stops, cancer has come back two more times. I am currently undergoing my fifth battle with cancer, and I find myself the most hopeful since it all started. I believe in God, I believe in his promises. I live in peace. 

Cancer has taken a lot of things in my life. It took my hair, my eyebrows, my strength, my energy, but it has never taken my hope. On my way to recovery, I have met people who believe that one day we will exist in a cancer-free world. I have helped in any way possible; I am an advocate for knowledge, I am a schoolteacher, and I believe that information is power. I volunteer for agencies such as Susan G. Komen, which has helped me spread the word that prevention is a big key to success and victory. 

However, we must recognize that victory is preceded by hope. I am not worried anymore. I eat healthy, live a plentiful life, I have a good relationship with God, I am obedient to his word and I know that for every time I face such a burden, my hope will help me rise and shine again.   

Anel Vizcarra Marquez is originally from Ciudad Obregón, Sonora,  Mexico.  She is a schoolteacher, knowledge advocate and cancer survivor. 

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