Amigas-Freinds

Is this Real Life? My Best Friend Has Cancer

Mel and I talk every day.

 Melissa and I at the Harvard Latina's LEAD conference. February, 2018

Melissa and I at the Harvard Latina's LEAD conference. February, 2018

Sometimes we talk twice a day. We chat about everything from marriage to kids and career. She is amazing at a giving me advice about a ton of life challenges but she steals the show when giving me career advice. You can find her always pumping me up and giving me time to reflect on what I have accomplished. We were introduced to each other about 14 years ago as a mutual friend thought we would be a good support to each other as we both struggled with infertility. She was right!  I always say our grief brought us together but our love kept us together. Mel is just another way God used my loss to give me an amazing gift. I think that’s why we are so good at comforting each other now…now that Mel has cancer. To use the term best friend at 44 years old seems silly.  Mel is so much more than that. Over the last 14 years, we have kept it real, grown in love, and raised our kids together, all from over 600 miles away. My life’s journey has been one of uprooting and starting fresh. Hers has been constant and full of much growth. Somehow we have made it work.

Many tears have been shed. We laugh, we cry, and we cuss people out privately who just don’t get the struggle. Many of you may remember the piece that I wrote “The Five Things I learned at Harvard” where I shared what I learned last winter at the Harvard Latina’s LEAD conference. As soon as I told Mel about it she said, “I’m going with you.” That’s how she is. She is loyal to a fault. As she walks this journey now I’m the one going with her. While at LEAD we were immersed in a group of strong Latina’s on the verge of something great.  What I didn’t realize is that Mel was about to emerge on a journey that will show the world how strong she is. Our time in Boston, albeit cold, gave us the chance to catch up face to face after a long eight-year hiatus. This trip left us inspired and knowing that we had to do it every year.

When the opportunity for me to take on a new position in Florida presented itself Mel was the first person to say, “ You are ready.” Here was my journey moving me further away from her when she needs me most. I send her care packages to help ease the challenges that chemo brings but that isn’t enough. Not to me.  What she doesn’t know are the times I cry silently like when she first told me what her treatments would ultimately do to her body, or when she described losing her hair as “my hair painted the walls of my shower.” Even in that, she discusses how she plans to glam up. If I could describe her in one word it would be resilient.  As I lean into what Mel needs from me I have discovered four ways to support a loved one experiencing cancer;

1.     Be there.  Don’t offer platitudes. Just hold their hands (in my case virtually) and let them talk. I listen intently and when she asks I make her laugh by moving on to point 2. Send brief text messages, listen intently, and cry together when the moment calls for it.

2.     Shoot the sh**t about everyday life. Like I said, Mel and I keep it real. Often times a day or so after treatments I check in. Mel gives me her update and quickly says “Ok tell me all about you. I need that.” We laugh about crazy life stuff, talk about my new life in Florida, and share dreams we have for our kids. We simply keep it real.

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3.     Pray. Mel and I have had our own faith journeys but we have always prayed for each other. Shortly after she told me about her diagnosis I read a quote that says, “ Today…you are loved. You are thought of. You are prayed for.” That is how I want Mel to feel every day. A verse that keeps coming to mind is Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

4.    Give. It doesn’t have to be something huge or overly expensive. Just something that lets your loved one know you are thinking about them. Warm socks, blankets, or even ChapStick can help ease the challenges that come with treatment. Give of your time. That’s right. Time is so important. Be intentional about taking care of those you love.

Mel and I have no idea what lies ahead. What we do know is that we will face this together. As I see her face this journey I am reminded that Mel is brave even when she cries. Mel is courageous even when the news is hard. Mel is beautiful especially when she smiles.  Above all things, Mel is loved.

Striding: The 5 things I learned at Harvard

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I had the honor to be given a sponsorship by Harvard Latina's to attend their Latinas Unida LEAD Conference. It was not only my 1st time at the conference but my first time at Harvard and needless to say I was extremely excited!! As an added bonus one of my dearest amiga, Melissa, joined me on this amazing journey. This experience changed my life and influenced my career forever. 

I wanted to take some time to share the top five things I learned while at Harvard. 

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Eliana Murillo delivering the Keynote

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I was impressed by the large representation of Latina's and their supporters in the room. 

  1. Be Rooted in Gratitude - Eliana Murillo does amazing work in fostering diversity in communities and business as the founder of Multicultural Marketing at Google. She uses her platform to advocate for minorities in the work place. Her advice was simple, "Always be rooted in gratitude." She shared that many of us in the room were the daughters of immigrants. Our parents gave up everything to give us the life we have here in America. We need to be grateful for the life and opportunities we have been afforded. She talked about how having a spirit of gratitude has kept her humble and reminded her that being thankful meant that we had to also fulfill ourselves outside of work. Being grateful means that we remember what all the sacrifice and hard work is for. To feel fulfilled in and out of work. 

  2. Network Across Not Just Up - I had the honor to meet Roxanna Sarimento the COO of We All Grow Latina Network. She was probably my favorite speaker of the entire event. A Dominicana of humble upbringing, her advice was powerful. She mentioned that often times professional Latinas are eager to network up believing that this will move them up the corporate ladder missing the benefit of networking across. When you network across, says Roxanna, people are more willing to work with and for you. Her palabras inspired particularly when she noted that those 'across networks' usually share in your vision which can take you further than you imagined. 

  3. Be Ambicultural - Roxanna shared that a big part of being successful in today's world is being Ambicultural. The word ambicultural is defined as “the ability to functionally transit between Latino cultures and the American, giving them a unique position in the consumer landscape." Roxanna mentioned that if 85% of Latinos identify as Latino-American, that means we naturally have developed the skill of navigating 2 worlds. To navigate today's professional landscape modern Latinos need to utilize this skill to their advantage. 

  4. Instead of Getting Mad Get Strategic - Susana G. Baumann was exceptional as she shared her insight. She not only shared her thoughts on branding, event launching and having a strong Latina circle she also shared that making mistakes is necessary to being successful. Susanna believes that instead of getting mad when you make a mistake, you should get strategic. She discussed how making mistakes is what builds your grit. She challenged us to explore if we were resilient or fearful. Her best quote was "learn to manage your fear...life is not linear."

  5. Be Diverse with your Network - I told you Roxanna was my favorite because her words reached my soul! Roxanna emphasized the importance of building a strong network that was broad. In other words, we need people in our network that not only believe in our vision and  inspire our growth but also that don't  look like.  Its important that our network come from many different backgrounds. Roxanna shared that although there is value in having other Latina's in your network, branching out and making real life long connections with those that don't look like us will help us grow into the leaders we are meant to be. 

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Melissa and I ready to for a night of good food and networking.

It was an honor to be in a room of women such as these. Above all, the focus was on finding what we are passionate about, knowing that our worth is not determined by our work and that standing in our purpose is just as important and helping others. My greatest take away is that the more I learn and grow in my craft, the more I pave the way for the Latinas that come after me.