In recent years I have had multiple thoughts and words moving in my mind as I go through a variety of emotions that have come and gone during this process with cancer. Some days I have many concepts that I would like to write and hide to reveal in the future, other days I feel as if I have nothing to say. The idea of leaving has created in me the desire to reflect with words who I am, so a part of me can be recreate in my absence.
My motivation to model this writing does not come from the fear of being forgotten but from the fear of being missed. My reason for postponing this introspection for years has been the dread of the confrontation that waits for me during my reflection regarding the inevitable feeling of loss that will remain in my absence.
Meditate on aspects such as life and death bring with it an inevitable nostalgia. For the benefit of my project, I have asked God to replace it with a feeling of incalculable gratitude and fulfillment as I see and accept all parts of my life as a perfect canvas drawn by God.
I would like to find in this writing a portrait of my past and the hope of a possible future, but I also do it with the intention of being a participant in an intangible way in the events to which my body will be limited, prostrating my dreams and wishes for the future.
I think that the person who I am today is the composition of the circumstances and individuals that God allowed to pass through my life. Despising something in my past would be like denying the benefit that it contributed to my existence. Normally I would think that some situations or individuals negatively marked an episode of my life, however, in a sincere introspection I have managed to determine that not only those circumstances did not sink me, but also gave me more reasons to succeed and grow. This revelation has been of great support to lift me from the falls and avoid a self-destructive pity. I know that I will not be able to avoid falls in my daughter’s lives. It is also possible that I am not going to be with them to lift them up, but I have the hope that my fight will inspire them to get up with more strength and intelligence. The most important part of my legacy is my relationship with Christ who has been my everything, my rescuer, my faith, my light, my strength, my refuge, my companion, my comforter, my protector, my inspiration, my courage, my joy, my patience, my faith, my unconditional love. There is no life without my savior. Before I accepted His call to be in a relationship with Him, I know, I was never alone, but when I open my heart and my eyes to His guidance, He brought me to life and, yes, a life filled with difficulties but with Him. I will never trade our relationship for a life without impasses. He walked me by His hand here on earth and I will praise Him forever in eternity in Heaven.
In adversity it is easy to feel that the world is against us, but if we manage to transcend the frustration of our heart and pride in our mind, we can see that each punch received has become part of our design, our character, our mental and spiritual growth. Accepting difficulty as a challenge to growth is not only mentally effective but also develops the spirit based on the understanding of our human capacity versus the unlimited power of God. My relationship with God is my number one priority, not my religion, but my connection with God, I have accepted Him as my creator and owner of my life. My philosophy of life is based on kindness and love for others as God has loved me. I am not interested in discussing religious legalities because I do not believe that any law surpasses the grace, mercy and love of God for all humanity. I do not need to debate the certainty of my faith because I feel the love of God in my life, in my body and in my spirit. I can recognize the things that take me away from God because they generate uneasiness, frustration, anger, dissatisfaction; When I choose to follow His guidance, I receive peace, rest, harmony. I do not believe that I have anything different from everyone else to be able to connect with God, only the deep desire to listen to him, to follow him, to leave my ego behind and specially to show His love for others. I do not need to judge others to be sure of my spirituality and I believe that no one should condemn others for their decisions because only God has the true understanding of the human heart. As for me, my desire is to see the world inspired by the eyes of God, whose infinite and unconditional love has been demonstrated. It hurts me to listen to religious people determining who is worthy of God’s grace forgetting that we are all born as imperfect creatures created to manifest and receive His love.
There is not glory in this story for me. There is not strength, wisdom or courage that has come from myself. I have been overtaken by the Spirit of God, not because my own merits. Instead I believe God’s mercy has fallen on me as an example of His desire to reside in the life of the most ordinary one of us.
I am drawn by the spirit to share my experiences because I feel God using me as His Instrument. My purpose is to bring to light how extraordinary it is the grace of God is in using someone as average as me to send a message of peace, rest and surrender. God wants to take our weight and hold our hand during the trials. Our walk in the world is not about going through it unnoticed, unchanged, untouched or unmoved but instead is a constant growth toward an imminent intimacy with God.
My motivation is to portrait an example on how ordinary people like me, who struggle every day to accommodate to this imperfect world, can be led by the Spirit of God to use their afflictions as opportunities and to recognize God’s goodness in the midst of all the circumstances. I want to extend an invitation to all who are searching for peace and need a place to rest, to be real, vulnerable, honest and accept that in our own strength, life is unbearable. Urge them to become humble and see that only through the Spirit of God and the strength of Christ, that He figured at the cross, we can conquer the hurt and pain of this world.
I pray that the Holly Spirit reaches people through my experience and brings them hunger to pursue peace by humbly surrendering their own plans and desires to the perfect will of God, acknowledging that every part of us belongs first to Him.
I hope my testimony reaches those who are struggling, consumed by fear and misery of any kind. I offer my trials especially to those whose lives have been stained by cancer. I hope my words can take the power of that word away as the peace of God overcomes all their despairs.
The column that has held me, my mother.
Over the years I have learned to identify the blessings I have received during my life and recognize them as something outstanding, not just see them as something ordinary in my way. We get used to the circumstances in which we live, and we cannot see the need that surrounds us. One of the most important gifts that God gave me is my mother. I always thought that everyone grew up under the unconditional and indestructible love of a mother but now I can recognize in a better way the dedication that my mom has given me. She is the column that God gave me and has sustained everything in my life. I was blessed with her care during my childhood and despite of having little support, she gave me everything I needed. Her efforts to provide the best education for me ensured my professional steps. When I got pregnant at 18, she was not only my refuge, but my supporter. At a crucial moment in my life that defined the success of my future, it was my mother who guaranteed us, María Paula and me, the quality of life that we have always had. It is much more than financial support, it was from my mother where I learned my main values, integrity and unconditional love. In my short career as an educator I found so many young people disoriented by the emotional abandonment of their parents and I was able to value even more the upbringing that my mother has given me. I do not have enough words to thank her for her complete dedication and God for choosing her to give me life. Among the innumerable list of blessings that I have received through my mother the most important one is my little brother, Jesus Andres. Even though I recognize that he is already an adult in my mind he will always be that little person who inspired me to protect and give unconditional love for the first time. His birth was an absolute blessing and completed our little family. When I went to college, I remember that I loved going back home during the holidays with María Paula to see him grow. I loved having him with me when he visited me in Bogotá, and I wished he would stay with me all year. It was super sweet to hear Maria Pula call him “uncle” and he was proud to have his baby niece. Actually, in him, God gave her the best brother she could have ever had. Clearly, we were not the typical or traditional family in the eyes of the world, but we are the perfect designed family planned by God. To this day, my mother protects us with dedication and unconditional love. During many years of sacrifice perhaps she never imagined that her efforts would be the pillar and the strength of her family, I hope she finds gratification by receiving from us the same love and dedication for her.
Since I was 3 years old, I have been a frequent flyer. My mom and my dad met in college and after they ended their relationship, they both took different ways. There is not a prince charming – princess story behind it, I was the byproduct of an ordinary college relationship. During most of my childhood I lived with my mom in a city at least 600 miles away from the place where my dad resided so my regular life didn’t include my father in it.
My mom left her parent’s home in Bucaramanga and undertook life as a single mother in a completely new city from where she had been born and raised, named Cali, over 500 miles away. Her mother died from lung cancer when I was only one year old, leaving behind eight children that still lived at home, my mom was the oldest. Her cancer was misdiagnosed as tuberculosis and by the time the doctors realized it was cancer, it was too late to treat her. Since she died when I was so young, I don’t have any memories of her. It is ironic to me that we are still connected because we both carried this incomprehensible disease but never got to really know each other. I also would never be able to find out if we had the same kind of lung cancer. I have always been a nonsmoker and the cancer I have is the result of a gene mutation, this mutation is not present at birth but develop later in life in the process of a cell becoming a cancer cell, so it was not passed to me from either one of my parents, this is different from hereditary gene mutations. In my grandmother’s situation the circumstances where different because my grandfather smoked until the day he died when his lungs finally gave up on him and collapsed. It is very possible that my grandmother’s cancer was developed by living with someone that permanently smoked next to her. I can’t help but think how difficult it must be for my mom to lose her mother and her daughter by the same disease.
What I gather from my mother and her siblings is that after my grandmother died, my grandfather became distant and irritated, life became challenging in their home. As each one of them got some wings they started leaving their family home in search of their own path in life. I think the younger siblings carried some resentment and felt abandoned by the oldest, left in a dysfunctional environment with very little emotional support from extended family. At the end, the financial stability that the older siblings achieved, allowed them to give some kind of support to their younger siblings when it was time for them to leave home, find jobs or finish higher education. Eventually every one of my aunts and uncles was able to continue to higher education and find stable jobs.
According to my farthest memories, when we arrived at Cali, we lived for a few years in a room that my mom rented from some extended family that probably offered her some moral support as well. The job that brought her to Cali was for a clothing company that was searching an engineer that also had experience manufacturing clothes, a description that fitted my mom perfectly. Sewing was a vocation that she had learn from watching her mother and taken free classes from a public institution.
My grandmother made the clothes for all the family, but she also did it as a small additional financial support to the income that my grandfather brought home from his job as a mechanic. My grandfather ended up living alone and with little contact with his children. I went to college in my mom’s birth city and since we don’t have dorms in Colombian universities, I lived with different family members during my five years there. For a period during my time in college I lived in my grandfather’s house. It allowed me to get to know him a little more and realize that his health was deteriorated. After already having a lung surgery, my grandfather continued to smoke. I would pick up his oxygen tanks that at some point became essential 24 hours a day yet not even that made him stop smoking. After six months living with my grandfather, I was able to move into my own place, but I still would take him to the doctor and picked up his medicines and oxygen. One Sunday morning I received a call from one of his friends letting me know that he was having difficulty breathing and I should come to see him. As soon as I arrived at his house, I put him in my car and drove him to the hospital that was just a couple of blocks away. When we arrived at the emergency room a nurse helped me walk him to the hospital gurney and as he raised his body to reach it, I saw him taking his last breath. His lungs finally gave up. I will never forget those last 10 seconds when I was holding his hand, it was terrifying to see him asphyxiate. A nurse approach him and ripped his shirt while someone else remove me from his side as I was in extreme distress. I am not afraid to die. I have embraced my terminal illness and have decided to have peace until that day comes but it does trouble me to think that my last minutes could be like that. For obvious reasons I never became a smoker and I can’t tolerate cigarette smoke.
My grandparents didn’t live in poverty, but it was definitely challenging to support 10 people on a mechanic’s income in a third world country. I remember the stories that my mom told me when I became a demanding teenager wanting to have more than I probably needed. She narrated to me how she only was given a pair of shoes for the year, usually during Christmas time. Also, how in her childhood during a period of time she had to share a queen bed with her siblings, so they had to sleep horizontally for everyone to fit in it. Now days, when we get together with my uncles and aunts it is beautiful to hear all these stories, told in a fun tone, about how they endured their difficulties together. I have never encountered a better financially disciplined person that my mom. I have seeing her saving and administrating money in the wisest ways. She is the kind of person that would never pay interest in a credit card because she pays it of before the month is over. She will never over pay something because of a brand name or to gain any status. I am so proud of her and even though she has adhered a deep feeling of financial responsibility in me, I don’t think I have been as smart with money as her and I know she probably wished I was. At some point my mom was hired for a much better job as a professor in a very recognized college and our life was pretty stable. She was able to buy an apartment and that was our first official home. It took us some time to furnish the apartment but on her own she provided everything we needed. She always made an effort to better herself and allow me to go to the best schools she could afford. When I was 9, she received a scholarship to do her master’s degree in Germany and we lived for a year in Aachen, a city in the border with Belgium. I don’t think that when she was in her small-town taking care of her 7 younger siblings, ever imagined she was going to be in Europe receiving higher education. My mom has told me that she decided to go to college because a female teacher in her senior year that encourage her to study and become independent. My mom even though she had never thought about going to college before not only followed her advised but she was so bright that all her studies were financially covered by scholarships. That story makes me proud to be a teacher and I hope in my heart that I impacted at least one of my students in such a positive way during the short time that I was able to fulfill my dream to teach. When we went back to Colombia my mom got an even better job as a professional buyer in a multinational company called Cerrejón Zona Norte, a large open pit coal mine in Colombia, subsidiary of Exxon Mobile at that time.
The company had built their own campsite as a beautiful small town in the middle of the desert in the north side of Colombia. We had access to a very safe and comfortable life style together with one of the best bilingual schools in the country, where I study my middle and high school years. That school gave me one of the most useful tools that I received from education, I learned English as my third language, even though now days I don’t remember German well because of the lack of practice. When I turned fifteen, as a gift for my “Quinceañero”, my mom gave me a trip to Germany to visit old friends and practice their language, which surprisingly was still hidden somewhere in my brain and came shinning back after a few days of being submerged in their culture again.
My ambiguous relationship with the father figure
Sometimes it is easier to remember the injustices or disadvantages we have been through and a time comes when adversity is the only thing that can be seen; but when everything seems so opaque, the little rays of light shine even brighter. When I first faced cancer in 2012, God allowed me to recognize in a moment of loss how much I really had and to resume an emotional healing process that I had started around my twenties, when I decided to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. For many years I postponed facing the resentment and sadness brought to my life by decisions that my father made and their implications. During my first six months of treatment I recognized that my soul needed as much help as my body. Also, that I had been living for twenty years with cancer of the soul. When I was about fifteen years old, I decided to sentence my father guilty for his absence in my life. I saw myself as a different person from my friends because I did not have a father figure next to me. Even though I had brothers and sisters from his side, I never managed to build a continuous, stable and close relationship with them because of my resentment. I felt that the only thing that got us together was the result of a multitude poor decisions that our father had made. It hurt me to feel so alone and at the same time with a missed opportunity to have had “the perfect family” which I believed everyone else had. Even though I had understood a long time ago that I should forgive him I choose to carry my resentment until I understood what this negative feeling had done to my soul.
While I have struggled through all my life to define my relationship with my dad passing through low and high points, there is a person on his side that has been very attached and stable in my heart, my grandmother. Her name is Aida and as time passes, I understand more why my mother named me after her. When I think of my “abuelita” a feeling of comfort comes over me, I think that after my mother she has been the person that I relate more to unconditional love. My life has been far from traditional and my story with this wonderful woman is not the exception. We didn’t meet until I was 3 years old, my mother sent me as an unaccompanied minor to the city where my grandmother lived. As my mother describes her memory of me talking on the phone to a woman that I never personally met, I can’t fully comprehend what could my grandmother said that made such a young child have the desire and find the courage to travel alone to meet her, hundreds of miles away. It was also a time to allow my mom to make arrangements for us to settle in Cali and start her new job. My grandma must have made a very compelling picture of what my visit was going to be like. She tells me that my dad was not living with her, but he would travel from a city a couple of hours away on the weekends to see me. I have just a couple of memories about this time and one of them was feeding the dog eggs that my grandma coked for me in the mornings. The second one was running through the hallway of the preschool to make it on time to class. The first memories that I have with my dad are when I was around 7 years old. I would travel to my mom’s home city to stay with my aunts and uncles in my grandfather’s home. My dad was living in the same city, he was married, and I had 2 younger siblings. I would split my vacation time between my dad’s home and my mom’s childhood home. My mom’s siblings and my only cousin at the time lived there and took care of me. When I was at my dad’s place, I spend most of the time with his wife and their children as he worked all day. He was an entrepreneur and owned different farms and business related with farming and agriculture, which has been always his passion. I have happy memories with my brother and my sister, they also seemed to enjoy my visits. We have been able to have a good relationship, but it was difficult for me to separate my feelings for my father from my relationship with them. During those visits, I also was able to bond with my aunts, uncles and of course my abuelita. As an adult I have been able to recognize so much of them in me. Even though I didn’t live with them long periods of my life it amazes me all the similarities we have and how much we carry in our genetic history. So many manners, different behavior and even personality details that I found in me remind me frequently of my grandmother, my father and his siblings.
Adolescence came bringing uncertainty and conflictive feelings about my live. Around age 14 during one of my visits to my father I met a girl around 2 years younger than me with a big resemblance to my younger sister. My dad revealed to me that she was his daughter also. I don’t know any details about her story before that day. I don’t have any memory of spending more than a couple of times with her and I didn’t see any distress in the family about this situation during the time I spend with them, which led me to believe that his wife was already aware of this situation and they had dealt with it previously to my arrival. I don’t think that even though, my new sister, lived in the same city that my dad, they had a closer relationship or visit often. At that moment the news was odd to me but didn’t trigger any deep feeling or thoughts in regard to my dad’s character. Approximately two years later I was spending the summer with my dad’s family again and a female friend from their college years was visiting from out of town. Her son, who was my age was visiting with her, so I got to know him, and we became friends. Later that week, when our visitors where gone my abuelita uncover a big secret to me. This boy I had just met was also my brother. He didn’t know, in fact he had been told all his life that his dad was another man who his mom had married and divorce by then. The following years I didn’t knew or hear about him again. When I graduated, I moved with Maria Paula to my mom’s hometown to attend college. My new-found brother also lived in that city, so we got in contact again. We became close and I was really enjoying having a brother and an uncle to Maria, still he didn’t know we were related. At some point it became crucial to me that he needed to find out about our family connection. I called my dad and told him we were going to visit him so we could open this secret and I could have an honest relationship with my brother. It was clear to me that such conversation was going to disturb more than one person as an eighteen-year-old secret was going to be uncovered but I was ready to do it if they don’t. Unquestionably such information will change someone’s life and I think it changed completely the path that my brother decided for his life after that day. I really would not be qualified to talk about his feelings or impressions from that moment or what motivated him to make any decision, but I can say that I saw a desire to get to know closer to my dad. I am happy to say that despite of the bizarre circumstances that created our relationship we have manage to stay in touch and care for each other through the distance.
As an adult is difficult to me to understand the relationship that my dad and his wife had at that moment. His wife was loving and unconditional and seemed to have accepted his faults. For reasons that I still don’t understand, my father was very open to me about the casual relationships that he had outside of his marriage and in his understanding, there were reasons that made it acceptable to his eyes. At that point, as a female teenager that was becoming a woman, I started to question my father’s decisions in regards to women. My father has been an entrepreneur since he was a teenager, so he spends most part of the day outside of the office. He often took me or my siblings with him and we learned better about his occupation. My younger brother and my little sister had a deeper understanding of his businesses as they often participated in the different projects that my dad was doing. Before my senior year I flew to visit my dad again. During one of our afternoons running errands we stop at someone’s house and he said he wanted to introduce me to a friend. My memory of that moment is not very deep or particular, but it made better sense years later. His friend was a woman around his age, she was pregnant and married but I still had a hunch this was another addition to my line of siblings. After we left her place nothing that could confirm my suspicions was said. It seemed important to my father that I met this woman. Until today I don’t know or understand why he made that decision as I could have continued with my life without being part of that section of his life. A few years later my suspicion was confirmed by my closest sister. This woman in fact had a girl that was also our sister. It is my understanding that until this day this girl, who is over 20 years of age, doesn’t know who her real father is.