This is the incredibly moving speech of a woman whom I am not only proud to call my friend, inspiration, and doctor, but a woman who holds a perspective on life that can only be attained by living what she, and other current and former cancer patients were forced to fight through. Cancer is a disease that has a zero degree of separation, as it has negatively impacted all of us in some form or fashion. This woman, twenty-eight year old Dr. Alessandra Colón, has now made it to nationals in the race to become the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Woman Of The Year. This is her absolutely breathtaking story.
"When I was a kid I used to think I was invincible. I used to run outside, play carelessly; I was superwoman, nothing could harm me. But then I grew older, and the reality set in that I was not as invincible as I thought I was. The realization sets in that some things in life are uncontrollable. Sure you can fall down, scrape your knee, put a band aid on, and it’s all better. You can control how you help the wound but what you can’t control is the fall. I don’t wake up in the morning thinking, gee! This curb looks great, think I will try and trip myself and bust a lip. Just like anyone else, I wake up in the morning, check my to-do list, brush my teeth and grab a cup of coffee, drive to work. But I never know each day what fate has planned for me. Fate doesn’t care about my to-do list, meetings or errands and sometimes we fall along the way. It’s just that some falls are bigger than others. My fall was cancer.
I was 14 when I was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The doctors only gave me a 25 percent chance to live. I thought to myself, “Wait a minute so you’re telling me 75 percent of me is already buried alive?” I still remember that day I walked into the ER with my mom, something about hospitals always made me feel uneasy, so much so I still remember how it smelled like floor disinfectant and latex gloves. I had my CT scan done and they sat me in a private room waiting on the tests result. I could hear all the busyness of the doctors and nurses as they answered calls or walked passed my room. And each time I heard footsteps come near the door my heart would plunge. Before I knew it, there it was, that doctor’s knock you have been impatiently waiting for while he makes his rounds. Only this time, I wished he had never come in the room. I took one look and I knew what he was about to say was going to break my heart. My eyes burned holding back the tears, as these simple words came out of his mouth, “You have cancer, but don’t worry just yet. The test tomorrow will let us know more.” Before I knew it, the next day, I found myself staring at the operating room ceiling, numb to the thought that it was all too real. My mother held my hand as they rolled me away, as if to give me comfort, but her eyes were so worried, so scared, I didn’t want her to let me go. Hours of surgery later, we found out the cancer had spread through my neck, entire chest and lungs. I sure as heck didn’t feel sick, I felt pretty normal minus my ridiculous night sweats and a fever here and there. But Lord knows it was only the beginning.
For months on end, I underwent chemotherapy with my stage 2 chemo buddy. I can tell you one thing, going through stage 4 cancer with this handsome chemo friend made it seem a bit more bearable. Because if you are going to puke your brains out and nearly die, then you might as well do it with someone who’s willing to join the party. But in all seriousness, the chemo was not taking like the doctors thought it would, and next thing I knew my percentage of survival had dropped and I became a Make-a-Wish child. By the time my wish to see the world had been granted, I was deep into radiation and down to 70lbs. I was bald, bony and beat down. I hated watching my hair fall out, I hated waking up and seeing chunks of hair on the pillow, I hated being so weak I couldn’t pick myself up to get out of bed.
I don’t remember crying that much, I remember feeling stunned, in a haze, but most of all I used to think why me? To this day I am not sure I will ever know why cancer picked me. What I do know is the fight and the miracle it took for me to be here today.
It’s funny how your image can define you, and in that moment this beautiful little girl I thought I was felt empty, spiritless. I didn’t know how much more I could take. My mom used to rub my head and sing “you are my sunshine, my only sunshine” into my ears as I fell asleep each night. There were days I just wanted to give up. But what I never told my mother was the day I found her on her knees praying, “that if I was meant to be a rose in Jesus garden then to take me away and end my suffering. But that she wanted me so much more with her. That she loved me so much more.” I walked away that day, and I’ve never told her that she is the reason I fought so hard to be here. SO that I never had to miss her face or her voice telling me how much she loves. Seeing my family suffering along with me, supporting me made me see that I needed to be strong. I needed to win, kick cancers butt!
Before we knew it, 80% of the cancer just disappeared, miraculously, as if it had never existed. Overtime, the skies had cleared and I couldn’t believe that the sun was still shining down on me. And not only did the sun shine down on me but I ended up as a surviving Make a-Wish child. I then became a doctor of chiropractic at 1 Advanced Rehab, serving on mission trips around the world. I recovered so fully I was blessed to run nationwide 26.2 mile marathons for the Leukemia lymphoma society with my crazy family running and cheering all the way. Perhaps it seems a coincidence that the past 9 years my family has continued to take a stance for blood cancer by running and raising money, so much so that today my brother coaches team-in-training LLS in support of his sister. And now here I am running as the woman of the year 13 years later, in support of a charity that saved my life. The world has a weird way of working itself out.
There are a lot of things I don’t know but what I do know is this: Blood cancer is the number one cancer amongst children. These days we are starting to slowly win over cancer, but back then cancer treatment was still evolving and were just on the verge of the new best thing. It is because of foundations like LLS, that since my fight, overall survival rates have gone from 4% to 80% - all from available research. So I will leave it at this. I may very well be a walking miracle. Going through cancer was the biggest fall I had ever taken in my life; surviving it was the greatest struggle I have ever overcome. Looking back on it though, it dawned on me that I had gained so much more than growing my hair back. Surviving cancer made me realize how important it is to push forward as long as I am breathing and to never give in to fear or pain because there is always something bigger at stake. Life is too delicate, too precious—you should cherish it as long as you have it and fight for it as you may not. Because every day you get counts and the possibility of tomorrow is amazing."
Since defying all odds, Dr. Alessandra Colón is a walking example of somebody who appreciates the beautiful gift of life and humanity’s civic responsibility to help those who are struggling through it. She now owns her own chiropractic, massage, and physical therapy rehabilitation center, which is continuously packed with patients who can’t resist Dr. Colón’s infectious passion for life and contagious positive attitude (Thanks for fixing my extruding discs, Doc!). Her life is dedicated to health education and giving hope to those who aren’t as fortunate as her. This is what she’s been up to the past ten years:
We all need to be taking a page out of Dr. Colón’s book and start living life on the premise that the possibility of tomorrow, is in fact, more than AMAZING!
UPDATE 4/25/15: Dr. Alessandra Colón has been officially crowned as Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Woman Of The Year!
To support Alessandra’s cause, please click here to give your gracious donation to change the lives of children across the United States.
Check out her personal blog to learn more about her cause and story.
To learn more about Alessandra's campaign for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Woman Of The Year, check out her featured press in the Palm Beach Sun Sentinel, USA Today, Florida Weekly, and Houston News.