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Marisa Salcines

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How Connecting with Other Cancer Survivors Saved My Life

02/10/2015 07:52AM | 4608 views

Lilly Lorenzo-Luaces was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early 30s. As a breast cancer survivor, she describes how meeting other cancer survivors and going out of her comfort zone in a kayak helped her regain her joy for life. 

 

Q. Tell me about your journey with breast cancer?

I battled this disease with every ounce of strength I had. There was no way I was going to succomb to this monster that easily – there was still too much for me to see and do in this world!! That being said, along with an amazing support system consisting of my family and friends, I easily coasted through my treatments and surgeries. However, I never imagined that the period following my cancer treatment would be so difficult. For months, I struggled to find my “new normal” and to live a life without a constant fear of my mortality.

In August 2004, at 32 years of age, my carefree world as I knew it came crumbling down when a doctor told me those three dreaded words - “You have cancer”. A 2.5 centimeter tumor was discovered in my right breast, along with a suspicious lesion on a peripancreatic lymph node. For the next 7 months, I underwent 16 rounds of chemotherapy and a bilateral mastectomy with immediate breast reconstruction. I endured a second reconstructive procedure in December 2006.

Q. What happened during your recovery?

I battled this disease with every ounce of strength I had. There was no way I was going to succumb to this monster that easily – there was still too much for me to see and do in this world!! That being said, along with an amazing support system consisting of my family and friends, I easily coasted through my treatments and surgeries. However, I never imagined that the period following my cancer treatment would be so difficult. For months, I struggled to find my “new normal” and to live a life without a constant fear of my mortality.

Q. Tell me about First Descents.

First Descents was founded by professional kayaker, Brad Ludden, to help young adult cancer survivors overcome the emotional effects of cancer. Their mission is to empower survivors to regain control of their lives by experiencing whitewater kayaking and other challenging adventure sports in a safe, fun, and supportive environment.

Q. What was going through your mind as you headed to Montana?

In June 2008, I boarded a plane to a First Descents camp in Montana with many reservations. How was I, a total Cuban-American-Princess-big-city-girl, going to survive a week of "outdoors-y" activities that I had never done before?

 To my surprise, my reluctant decision to attend was one of the best decisions I have ever made! For the first time since I was diagnosed, I was challenged to face my fears and was not treated differently because of "the cancer". First Descents gave me my sense of normalcy back, a sense of security that I longed for. After my treatment, kayaking in Glacier National Park was so important as part of my healing process. It made me realize how wonderful life really is.

Q. How did it change you?

I returned to Miami happy, empowered, and with a whole new perspective. I realized that I could indeed take back control of my life and not let "the cancer" control me and dictate what I do. I also realized that, although there will always be things that I fear, it does not mean that they cannot be faced and overcome. Most importantly, though, I was finally able to close my “cancer” chapter and start a new chapter in my life - a chapter that will be filled with whole new endeavors and adventures!!

Q. What other goals did you set for yourself?

On January 25, 2009, the fourth anniversary of my bilateral mastectomy and the day I consider my remission date, I completed the ING Miami Half-Marathon. It was a huge accomplishment for me considering the fact that just four years earlier, I was in a hospital undergoing surgery. I was overcome with emotion as I crossed the finish line, and I knew that my drive to complete this race had a lot to do with what I took from First Descents. I raced with all my heart and soul.

For more information, please visit www.firstdescents.org.

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