During Cancer's Pain & Frustration, I Remind Myself "This Too Shall Pass"

"This Too Shall Pass." It’s crazy to think that four little words can mean so much, but after an almost 10-year journey with cancer, these words have given me so much peace, comfort, and encouragement. They are now my life's mantra. Whatever I am going through today, whatever tomorrow may bring, I know that this too shall pass. 

I was a healthy 30-ish-year-old woman when I joined a local boot camp in Miami. I met with my group once or twice a week to do workouts that challenged me to dig deep, fight exhaustion, and push myself to the limit. I loved the feeling of giving 100% of myself and working to take my mind and body to the next level. This was why I was so shocked when during one of these workouts I collapsed on the grass, unable to get up because of extreme pain, with something protruding from my groin.

Over the next few months, my periods became unbearable, and a pain in my lower back moved into my upper back and became excruciating. My nights became sleepless and I was surviving my days trying to manage the pain through ever-increasing amounts of Motrin. I saw a chiropractor twice a day. I was finally diagnosed with fibroids and attributed all of these symptoms to them.  I was depressed, hopeless, and lonely trying to live and cope with a body that was in constant pain.    

I woke up one day unable to get out of bed. I had reached my breaking point and could no longer take the physical and mental pain; I went straight to the ER. There I had all sorts of tests done including radiology, blood work, etc., and even stayed in the hospital for a few days for observation.

I was sent home with a prescription for narcotics to manage my pain but no answers.  Desperation set in when even those drugs lost their effectiveness. I was referred to an Oncology Gynecologist and was finally able to get an appointment. I remember being in his office crying and begging him to take the fibroids out, to remove what was ruining my life. He made the appointment for surgery the next day.

For the first time in a long time, I felt relief. 

Relief to finally have confirmation that something was wrong, to have proof that what I had been feeling and struggling with for over a year was real. My sister Cathy and I were joking as I went into pre-op and we even named my fibroid Rocky. We were nervous but hopeful that what had been causing me so much pain would be removed from my body and I would have my life back. My entire family waited for me in the waiting room. The news that they would receive from my doctor would be a shock to everyone.

I woke up from surgery feeling very confused and disoriented. As soon as I opened my eyes, I knew I was in the ICU.  I began to ask a lot of questions, especially when I looked down and saw that I had bandages from the middle of my lower chest to my groin area. The relief that I had felt such a short time ago quickly turned into fear. Fear of what had happened during surgery, fear of what had been done to my body, fear of what my family knew but were too afraid to tell me.  Fear of the unknown that was known by everyone but me. I knew deep down that it wasn’t going to be good news, but I could never have imagined it would be as horrible as it was.  

My doctor came to see me and delivered the news. I had advanced Endometrial Uterine Cancer, Stage IV. It had spread all over my body, to my lungs, arm, sternum, pelvis, and even into my bones, causing a fracture in my upper back.

The long months of suffering and unbearable pain finally had a name: cancer

At that moment my whole world came crashing down. The answers I had been hoping and praying for, the relief that I was looking forward to after months of pain, the chance to finally get my body and life back, well cancer certainly was not a part of any of that!  I curled up in my bed and sobbed uncontrollably.  My doctor sat with me, held my hand, and said “You can scream, kick, and cry today and tomorrow. After that, you have to fight like never before. We WILL beat this disease together.”

Crying, grieving, anger, and disbelief all eventually turned into a fierce determination. All I could think about was that I wanted to see my then 11-year-old son graduate high school. Whatever I had to do, whatever treatments and therapies my doctor recommended were worth it to accomplish that goal. I began to focus on living for my son and enjoying every moment with my family and my loved ones.

For six months I went through a treatment cycle of 6 days of 24-hour chemo and 4 weeks of rest at home. As time went by the chemo and radiation took a toll and it was just easier for me to sleep the entire time. It was too painful to be awake and have to face the reality of my situation. I literally slept all day and night. Benadryl plus the pain meds became my favorite combination because it would just knock me out. During those dark days, my son, Andres, and his father, Jonathan, never left my side. When I was struggling with the physical and mental toll of fighting cancer that was ravaging my body, spending even a few moments with them made me feel alive and reminded me to keep fighting. I am forever grateful for their love and companionship during the hell that I was going through. 

The road to recovery was not easy and had its share of bumps in the road. The chemo ruined one of my kidneys, which then required me to stop that treatment. I was in the ER almost weekly due to skyrocketing blood pressure which was a battle unto itself. Accepting that treatment for one issue could lead to a completely different issue was something that I had to accept as a part of this process.  I had to face my new reality.

Little by little my determination prevailed over my fear.

I started to shape my new life and feel confident that I was in control of my body again. I was a different Monica, and I embraced her and championed her for all that she had endured. I will forever be grateful to my amazing team of family, friends, doctors, and nurses, for their support in every step of my journey.

Throughout this whole process, I have clung to the quote “This Too Shall Pass”.  It has become my life’s mantra.  During the pain and frustration, doubt and confusion, anger and questioning, I constantly tell myself that this too shall pass. And yes, I did get to see my son graduate from high school.