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Life

Changing Paths Half Way Through College

Ciao amici, I wanted to repost some of the questions I had with my interview with the platform called The Power Thread. It walks through my journey in life in college. I was born and raised in Manhattan, moved to Poughkeepsie for two years for school, and found my way back home where I had to undergo chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This led me to transfer schools, find my way writing a book, and overall change the direction of my life.

Life changed for the best, and I hope this helps you going through your battle as well. Read more below!

Alexa, where are you from?

I’m from Manhattan: Manhattan-born and raised.

Where did your interest in art start?

I was born an artist and creative. I used to create collages out of pasta and pompoms or cut paper into shapes that would form into shirts and dresses I could wear around my home. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I took classes at SVA, The Art Students League of New York, and at the Fashion Institute of Technology. In high school, my art was published in a book, and I was the winner of an art show. I even started the fashion club at my high school and began my own jewelry business, known as One Twist Co. The jewelry company was accidental. I made a ring for myself and a friend and posted it on Instagram. People started to place informal orders, which then influenced me to scale it and launch my own ecommerce store. I was able to take my creativity and tie it with my entrepreneurial spirit. It was a cool way to build something that I had total ownership over.

Where did you first go to college, and why?

I went to Marist College to primarily study business and fashion. After getting a feel of how to run a business in high school, my interest for business developed along with my interest in the fashion industry.

When were you diagnosed with cancer, and how did you come about your diagnosis?

I was diagnosed the first week of what was supposed to be my junior year at Marist College back in 2017. From the beginning of the year, I didn’t feel right. I was experiencing unexplainable anxiety, fatigue, and night sweats. I didn’t think much about it, but I knew something was wrong as soon as a lymph node the size of a golf ball popped up above my collar bone. This is when I started to dig deeper. Although all of the tests I went through came back negative, I proceeded to search for an answer. I scheduled a biopsy, and a week later when the pathology report came back, it was confirmed that I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and I had to start chemotherapy right away.

What was your reaction to being diagnosed with cancer?

I saw cancer take my grandfather’s life, so I thought I also was going to die.  I was 19 years old and was not ready to fight for my life at such a young age. I was angry, shocked, and upset.  I ate healthy and exercised daily, so this diagnosis did not make sense. It took a long time to process everything, but with time, I realized that cancer was my greatest blessing. It happened for, not to, me. Although it was going to be the most challenging time of my life, I used it as an opportunity to discover who I was meant to be on this earth. Through faith I persevered.

What were some of the largest challenges of going through chemotherapy?

When I found out I was diagnosed, I didn’t understand the complexity of my situation. After having five procedures within the first month of my diagnosis, I came to terms with reality and took a leave of absence from school for the year. The first thing that I battled with was leaving behind my friends and academic career. I was always a diligent worker and putting a pause on everything I worked so hard to achieve was discouraging.

Before treatment started, I also cut all of my hair off and donated it in the event that I was going to lose it all. I am so happy I did this because, after my second treatment, my hair on my scalp started to fall out in clumps, and I had to shave it all off. It was really difficult to watch myself go through this dramatic physical change.

What were some activities you did to manage the stress of this experience?

I mainly resorted to painting to destress and free my mind. It was a good way to express my emotions onto canvas. I also made sure I went on walks and got fresh air every day, even if it was just for ten minutes. I read many self-help books, watched pastors and spiritual coaches speak about their perspective of life on YouTube, and listened to motivational podcasts on Spotify, my favorite being Oprah’s SuperSoul Sunday.

When did you learn you were cancer free, and what did you learn from going through chemotherapy?

Half way through chemotherapy I had scans to make sure that the treatment was working. The scans were clear, but I still had to undergo the remaining four treatments to steer clear of everything.

I learned a lot about myself throughout this season of my life. I now know my values, what is worth fighting for, and who I want to be going forward in life. I do not take anything for granted, health included, and count my blessings and pray every day.

After going through treatment, I have also become much more compassionate and built so much resilience and confidence. Nothing scares me anymore. There were times I was crawling on the floor because I was so weak, and moments I wanted to die. I knew that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, so I placed my faith in God to keep my spirits high. It worked.

I always think to myself, “if I can beat death, I can do anything.”  And the truth of the matter is, anyone can do anything. Remember, challenging moments are meant to mold and shape you. In order to grow, you have to go through pain. It is when you start to believe and trust in the pain that you will persevere. The best is yet to come, just have faith!

Are you still facing challenges? 

Healing doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and a lot of patience, maybe even a lifetime. It has only been two years since I have been out of treatment. Even though it is over, I’m reminded of everything I went through every time I see the scars on my body. Instead of being ashamed of them, I now look at them with pride. In general, changing my perspective is what has helped me reclaim my life back. And, two years out, I finally feel like my old self again. My hair is almost as long as it was before treatment, and I can finally engage in physical activities that I enjoyed prior to this all. I was definitely born again, and I am excited to see what life will bring me next.

When did you transfer to Fordham?

I transferred to Fordham the year I ended treatment. Although it was a very spontaneous decision, I knew that continuing my academic career closer to home was going to serve me best. It was very scary for me to start this new chapter of life in an unfamiliar environment, but I looked at it as another chance to experience growth.

How did you decide to write a book?

The thought of writing a book started while I was going through treatment. At first, my friends and I would joke around about it, but there was always this little voice in the back of my head that kept encouraging me to share my perspective, wisdom, and story with a wider audience. I had a casual phone interview with someone for a book, and I was then connected to their publisher. It wasn’t until this past February that I really focused on writing it. I recently had it published on December 2, 2019.

What does it mean for you to be powerful?

Taking control of your life and listening to your intuition is what makes you powerful. I think life is a gift and should be lived through the purpose that it was given. You may not exactly know your purpose right away, but if you keep trying new things, you will find it. Any challenge and experience will help you discover who you are and what you’re meant to do. When listening to my intuition, I started to understand my life’s purpose. I knew I needed to help others, and the way I was going to do that was through my word. This is why I decided to write a book. During moments of doubt, I would ask myself how I would live if I were to die tomorrow. I knew that I would have at least wanted to leave something that others could learn from. When I started living from my heart and out of fear, I reclaimed my power.

Do you have a favorite product or item you love that makes you feel powerful?

I made myself a gold shark tooth necklace when I was going through chemotherapy to remind myself that I was a warrior. Everytime I wear it, I remember my moments of strength and feel powerful.

Do you have any other favorite books you recommend we read?

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and Everyday Grace: Having Hope, Finding Forgiveness, And Making Miracles by Marianne Williamson are my two favorites!

Categories
Life

HOW TAKING MY HEALTH INTO MY OWN CARE SAVED MY LIFE

From before my diagnosis to middle of treatment, I captured my journey through photos.

THE STORY LEADING UP TO MY CANCER DIAGNOSIS …

I am fortunate to say that I had great health as a child and teenager. My parents would only serve me fresh organic food and make sure I took my vitamins everyday. I had so much energy and always stayed active. The only thing I wrestled with was cystic acne and digestive issues due to my intolerance to lactose. I thought these problems were difficult to manage, but it was not until halfway throughout college that I got a sense of what health complications really looked like; my life completely turned upside down.

It all started in the beginning of my sophomore year. The second semester something frightening happened to me. I started to experience unforeseen anxiety, developed rashes all over my chest and back, and had night sweats which caused me to wake up in damp pajamas in the middle of the night. I knew something in my body was not right. It was not until a lymph node the size of a golfball popped up above my collarbone (March 2017) that I started to become very concerned. I was very confused and immediately dismissed myself from the room, went to the lavatory, took a photo of myself in the mirror and sent it to my mother. She suggested I go to the medical center on campus.

After taking blood tests and receiving the reports back, I was told that nothing was wrong and I was told that my body was probably fighting off a virus. They had suggested I visit an ENT at home just to make sure I was okay. During my visit with this doctor, I went through a series of exams including: a nasoendoscopy, MRI, and fine-needle biopsy. The results: negative, negative, and negative. Even my internist said there was nothing wrong with me. I thought this was peculiar. I let my fears release themselves as I complied to the medical professionals.

Still, deep down I knew something was wrong. My parents agreed. I figured it would be a good idea to get further testing (August 2017) before going back to school and traveling abroad for a semester with my classmates. I went to another ENT and was told within seconds that the size was abnormally large and that the area it was in was concerning. He said I needed to go in for surgery, that I could not let it wait any longer. Although I was afraid to go under the knife, I knew that it was the best thing for my health. I scheduled a biopsy, and a week later my pathology report came back positive (September 2017). I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and had to start chemotherapy right away. I was 19, and was not ready for this battle. Needless to say, I persevered and survived.

If it was not for me to listen to my intuition and keep visiting doctors, I would have not come to this diagnosis. Who knows how long I would have gone without the answers I needed. The situation could have gotten worse and my prognosis could have been more serious. With that, I encourage you to also take your life into your own hands if you feel like something is wrong. Fight for your health because your life is worth living!

You can read my full story here.