Justina's "Story of Hope"

Not many people can find a reason to be grateful for cancer.  Not many people are diagnosed at the age of 28 with stage I invasive ducal carcinoma, and then are re-diagnosed at 31 with stage IV metastasized breast cancer.  I am all of them.  I am also a mom to a beautiful 8-year-old daughter.  Most importantly, I am a survivor…regardless of the statistics.

I am now 33 and I live with tumors throughout my skeleton system and a nice sized one in my liver.  I go for chemotherapy once a week.  It’s a 132- mile roundtrip for me, but I find something new every time I make that drive.  A house up on a hill hiding between the trees, a cool new car out of some high tech magazine, or just an interesting shaped cloud floating across the blue sky. This is all regardless of how miserable I feel or how badly my bones are aching.  I have to because I am alive.  I have a chance to appreciate those things even though I have no true understanding of why I have this disease.

Over the course of the two and a half years of dealing with this I went from a successful wife and mother with a promising bright career to leaving an abusive marriage, my daughter tightly in tow to a much better place…as she calls it, “Our happily ever after.”  I went from making $40,000 a year to barely $11,000 and having to fight for my SSD benefits.  I’ve now had to learn how to be humble and how to reach out for help.  I have found my voice down inside of not only physical pain, but also emotional pain that runs deeper than any abyss.  I have also had to decide between groceries and the prescriptions that I need in order to get out of bed on some days.  I have had to decide between paying a bill or making sure that I have the gas money to get to my doctors appointments.

But I’m grateful. I no longer let the trivial things in life swiftly pass me by.   I embrace them.  I hold them close to me and inhale the aroma of another moment that thankfully I am here to have.  And yes, the larger problems of life, like the bills, the buying of groceries, the prescriptions co-pays, and just being sick and tired of being sick and tired do hit me.  They hit me like the ball a baseball player hits to get that game winning homerun. Those are the days I curl up and retreat.  I wrap myself tightly in my favorite blanket and block out the world…once my little girl is off to school.  And by that evening, desperate to be mom, desperate to be myself…I pull it all together.

So, I bake brownies or banana bread or these tasty thumbprint cookies. Just a little something to remind my daughter how special she is to me. Also, to remind myself how I am blessed to have her, my only one, the only one I’ll ever have in my life.  Just like seeing the sun reflecting off  the mountains in my backyard  remind me that I am blessed with so many things.  Things that I should and am grateful for.

This would not be my tale if it weren’t for the cancer.  I learned of cancer and the evil ways of it at only 18 when my mom was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  Then she had her own battle with breast cancer and a few others until it finally took her when I was 25.  Too long before she could see the beautiful granddaughter I would have that every day reminds me of her.  Two years after that, cancer once again came pounding on my door. My father was diagnosed with breast cancer as well.  Then at the same time I was diagnosed, he was going in to have most of his stomach removed from metastasized cancer.  I lost him shortly before my own re-diagnosis.

Having seen both parents through it, the ups and downs, the remissions and chemotherapy, I learned much.  But not until my own cancer did my eyes truly open wide.  Then with my re-diagnosis they have been glued open, taking it all in.  I am going through indefinite chemotherapy now. There is no end date in sight…but I’m okay with that on most days.  I know my pain level has decreased, my markers have gone down, and I am here another day with my daughter and loved ones.  I take in all of the good, all of the bad and all of it in between. 

Story by: Justina Colon












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