I have an inspiring story for you this month that you will not want to miss, everyone. Seeing that October is breast cancer awareness month, I would like to introduce you to the lovely Iris Vasconez.
I connected with this vivacious lady with her vibrant smile on Instagram when I started following her page with a profound message. Life goes on after breast cancer. Surviving devastating experiences do indeed make us stronger. Iris stopped by Trex to Tigress during her busy travels, and took the time to answer my questions regarding healing, positivity and pursuing her passions after being given a second chance at life.
1. When and how did you discover you had breast cancer?
October 2010, I was 43 and living what I thought was the peak of my life, since I had a successful career in NY city’s garment district, while making Cancun my second home as it afforded me work and play at the same time. By pure coincidence I accompanied a friend to the Dr. to see if she was expecting a baby. While we waited the Dr. Invited me up on the ultrasound bed to check out my so called “pimple”. It’s important to note that I got regular check-ups. And regularly felt lumps on my breast that disappeared with my period. But there was one lump that stayed constant for a long time. We called it “the pimple”. My Dr. knew exactly where it was, its size, its shape, and its color. On this day, and only three months since my last checkup, my well-behaved “pimple” had changed its size, shape and color. It went from round shape to cashew shape. It had serrated edges instead of soft and smooth lines, and it was darker in color. From the moment he saw this change he ordered biopsy immediately and after the longest 10 days in my life I was diagnosed stage
2. What kind of emotions did you experience when first diagnosed?
I had very mixed emotions. I remember calling my Mom and saying I have good and bad news. The good news is that we know it’s Cancer. The bad news is we don’t know which one and how far spread. Even when they said stage 2 I thought its nothing. And I considered for a bit not getting medical attention because in my mind, it would just go away. I also thought this is what God sent me, why fight it? Why force God’s hand? So many excuses not to face it and go get serious help. Now I know I was just very scared of more truth about something I knew nothing about and had no control over. I felt impotence. My life flashed by for a quick analysis to find out why did this happen to me? What did I do wrong? Why did I deserve this? Lots of questions that I wasn’t able to answer.
3. What treatment(s) did you undergo to fight the cancer?
First, radical mastectomy of my right breast. Followed by four months of chemotherapy every two weeks. Two months of radiation daily. Three breast reconstruction surgeries. Five years of remission taking Tamoxifen daily. And now I am officially on the hospitals survivors list with ten more years of daily Tamoxifen.
4. I’m so happy to hear you’re on the survivor’s list! How did these treatments make you feel physically?
The hair loss was a huge shock and was the point that I remember thinking: this is really happening, I am really sick, it’s no joke, it’s not a dream….
Hair loss was a given. I always had my hair down to my waist. Dr’s warned me that I would lose all of my hair by the second chemo. So before I even got started with chemo’s I decided to cut and donate my hair for a good cause. I found a company that makes wigs for kids also fighting cancer. The younger we are, the more self conscious we are as well. Me at 43 looks didn’t worry me , however it was another strike to my womanhood. First my breast, then my hair. What next I thought? I understood I was being humbled day by day. So I myself never wore a wig. I actually thought I was beautiful even without any hair. And that I attribute to my faith in God, my age, and the positive people around me.
The morning after my first chemo, half my hair was loose in my pillow. I remembered I cried like a baby as I shaved off the hair that had yet to fall off. That’s the only time I remember crying. My Mom says there were other times but I don’t remember except for just this one time.
The chemo also made my bones hurt, turned my stomach, made me weak. I was given 5 Percosets /Oxycoden per day for the pain. But thanks to my thoughtful and caring friends, they offered me cannabis instead which was better than the pills, it took my nausea away, it made me hungry, it made me laugh and relax. Cannabis is not addictive while oxycoden is. Only took the Oxy when pain was unbearable.
5. How did you keep a positive outlook when fighting this disease?
God and my TRUE friends! Facebook was a great help for me because it helped me stay in touch with everyone good/bad/ acquaintances ….. . I posted what I wanted them to know. I could not get on the phone (no energy or emotional strength) and repeat the story over and over, the same thing to different people, and talk about what was happening to me when I myself didn’t know what was happening to me. I cut almost everyone off from phone and personal interaction. I communicated all via FB. Only a few selected friends were allowed to visit as I had good days and bad days. I didn’t want anyone seeing the bad. I posted only good stuff. I didn’t want anyone seeing me unsteady or anyone to think I was loosing hope, losing the battle. I didn’t want any of my friends looking at me with pity. Just a look from someone can transmit to you, and I didn’t want to deal with those weak people who needed help themselves. I focused on me.
6. I understand that you had to stay strong to recover. I can also see you have a strong faith. How did this faith help in your healing?
Faith worked Incredibly well for me. I tuned in to prayer everyday at 3:00 am and 3:00PM, time of the Divine Mercy and still till today my inside clock wakes me up in the middle of the night and its coincidently 3 am. I always say “thank you” to the Lord I am still here.
Faith was the only thing I had left. I had no choice to let go and put myself in God’s hands with all my trust in him. Something very hard to do, to let go….Faith worked Incredibly well for me. For example, in my worst pain and nausea I would assume fetal position with rosary in hand. I would look at my watch and figure, I’ll do a rosary it will take 20 min, hopefully by then I can get up and eat something. But when I lifted my head I would realize that in fact a few hours had gone by (making rough times pass faster). Faith made everything bearable. Helped me stop questioning why, and helped me accept the things I could not understand.
7. Did your diet or lifestyle change after being diagnosed? If yes, how?
Absolutely. I use to eat everything I saw, Now I watch everything I eat. I hardly ever have red meat anymore unless I have a huge craving. Very little chicken, preferably organic. Low fat, low sweets and lots of veggies and grains. I start my day with fresh veggie juice. I have the best juice extractor and I put carrots, celery, apple, lime, cucumber, ginger, romaine lettuce, kale, parsley, pineapple. The more color on the veggie the better. I started walking to get out of the apt, and that turned into running. I run now 8-10 km 3 times a week. I started golfing to get out of the house, that turned into extreme sports. And regularly go to the gym, I practice yoga and Pilates minimum 3 times a week.
8. From your Instagram account, I can see you live life to the fullest with your beautiful, active posts. Now that you have regained health, has your perspective on life changed or are you living life after breast cancer differently?
Absolutely all of the above. I see and live life very different now. My fear of the unknown is gone, my hunger for new experience has grown. I don’t want a second of my life to pass by without it being meaningful. I’ve always scuba, but not at night, and not in caves. Now I enjoy night diving with no lights! And I learned to free dive in water filled caves (cenotes) armed with just one breath of air, mask, and fins. I stopped working so many long hours and instead I started to fly longer hours on flights that took me to far and exotic places. I have a bucket list with the best dive sites in the world. I don’t bother to get angry or fight about little stuff. I cherish my time at home with my pets, and spending quality time with true friends. Breast Cancer was the best thing that happened to me. It made me a happier person today. It humbled me I couldn’t imagine myself before not working a 8-12 hour days. Now I can’t imagine working more than six, and only at a job that I truly like. Which is why I became a scuba instructor where I work teaching beginners scuba courses. DSD Discover Scuba Diving, only beginners, because I get off on their facial expressions the first time they see the world underneath and are able to breath in it. Especially people who come with fears and insecurities, to be able to get them relaxed and have them enjoy something that scared them…priceless. I also volunteer at a dolphin aquarium were I take disabled kids / adults and the elderly to swim and interact with these angels of the sea.
9. That is truly amazing! You look very athletic. How did you come to love fly boarding? Are you using this sport to spread breast cancer awareness?
Flyboarding for Cancer is yet another thing that happened by coincidence. I had tried it a few times at the beach on my own, until one day Flyboard Mexico was putting a girl’s team together. I was too old at 47, but I moved faster and more fearless than any of the young girls trying out. I was the first Flygirl in the team of 9 training to compete professionally. I got hurt this June while training for the North American Flyboard Championship requiring major surgery and retiring me all together from future competitions. And that’s how I started to Flyboard for Breast Cancer Awareness. Since I am committed to travel, and know that in my travels there will always be a flyboard where ever I go, I decided to fly for a cause and raise awareness and education. I still don’t know where this is going yet, but that’s what makes life exciting and worth living.
10. Absolutely! Lastly, what advice would you give to a woman who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer? What will be her best defence toward healing and happiness in your opinion?
Let go of the fear! Don’t hold on to any resolve, to any outcome. To just let go and trust that at the end all will work out they way it was meant to be. We can’t change what’s happening, but we could change our attitude about what’s happening. No use in wasting time worrying about our loved ones. Or thinking about what we may leave behind. Better to live the moment, with your loved ones, and at ease and in peace with whats happening to you. Doctors also need our help in staying positive so that our body receive the meds better. We must try to make the journey easier on ourselves. No point in fighting and questioning why, why me, what did I do to deserve this…The truth is we are all going to die one day, we just don’t know when and that scares many of us. I’ve met people who in their journey the Doctors have told them when this day might be. I thought what a blessing if they tell me I have 3 months to live. Gives me time to organize my stuff, who gets what, and what will I do with this precious time I have left, spend it saying good-bye to loved ones. Who gets that?
I thought of people who leave to work and don’t come back because of an accidents and a sudden death…
Time is too precious to spend it worrying, and no matter what we are going thru, we always have the power of deciding to be happy or mad or sad.
So my advise is make a decision to be happy and positive, and get your strength from your own self. If you have faith you know that we are “God” in our own true self.
Thank you so much Iris for providing us with this inspiring story. There are so many lessons to be learned from your bravery and new lease on life. I know that you will continue to fly high and kiss the sky.