By Lydia Paredes

Delivered September 16, 2004 at the exhibit opening of “Healing Spaces,” a fund raising project byICanServe and Silver Lens

We all have our stories to tell. Each unique and beautiful as each one of us. My story started in April of 2003 when I first felt extreme sharp pains in my left breast. I did not think much of it and I attributed it to a symptom of PMS, when we women get bloated and very sensitive. It went away after about a week. Shortly after that, I noticed a skin indentation in my breast which grew increasingly deeper as the months went by. I was not alarmed but more puzzled. I wasn’t sure if I had it all my life because I never noticed it before. In the meantime, I felt the on and off pain in my breast but still did not go to a doctor to have it checked. This went on for several months. I finally had a mammogram in July. The results came back and which stated that I needed further testing. Again, I did not go to have it checked. By this time, I knew in my heart that there was something wrong but I was too afraid to face it.

Finally in November, or 8 months from when I first felt the pain, I went to see Dr. Diana Cua. I was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. To make a long story short, I had a lumpectomy in December. My chemotherapy, under myoncologist Dr. Francis Lopez and radiation treatments began in January.

Being told that I had Cancer unleashed an extreme feeling of fear in my heart. My world crashed around me and I fell apart. What helped me tremendously was my early acceptance of my condition. This is not to say that I calmly took it. With the acceptance though, I resigned myself to the fact that I had no real control over my situation. After all, science and medicine can only do so much.

In the midst of the darkness and tears of fear, what gave me comfort and solace was prayer. I surrendered everything to the Person up there and put my complete trust in Him. I leaned heavily on Him and prayed constantly, trusting in this Higher Power. But it was not always easy. There were times when it was very difficult to pray. I could not finish any prayer because I always felt too sick to continue, and yes, even too sick to believe.

During those times, I know that God sent me people to do the praying for me. I call them my prayer warriors – there was my family, my friends, friends of friends, and countless people I do not even know.

I am a potter. In pottery, the most important thing is centering. You have to focus on centering yourself and your clay, or else everything flies off in all directions. You do this until you are one with your clay. It’s very meditative for me and I get to process a lot during this activity. With praying, I found my place of centeredness and peace. It’s very important that we all find time to be alone and quiet to be able to listen to that inner voice. Create your own sacred space – it can be in your favorite place in the house, be it a quiet corner in your room, in the kitchen, or the garden or any place with good energy. It is in this way we can have time to reflect and hear God in the quiet of our hearts.

Cancer is definitely a life altering disease. It sets you on a journey and you never really go back to what you were before. I know I am where I am right now for a reason. We have our lessons to learn in this world. Having this illness doesn’t automatically make one a wise person. I ponder on a lot of questions with no answers. I just know that I understand and look at life in a different way now. In the end I guess it’s the process I go through and the lessons learned that’s important.

Ironically, it’s through my cancer that I can say that I have found that inner peace I have been searching for in my almost 48 years. The disease has opened my eyes to more awareness and appreciation of my family and the people around me. I have found a new well of patience and a detachment from material things.

I now make a conscious effort to humble myself, ask for forgiveness and to forgive and then to let go so I can make more room to love. The result is I am almost always in a gratitude mode.

I wish there was a less painful way of learning my life lessons. But I have no regrets, nor bitterness. It has given me my peace and set me out on a more solid spiritual path. And for that I am grateful.

Also read the speech by Jim Paredes, Women of Substance

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