Rica’s Story: Champion Against Cancer

:: Rica, prior to life-changing news ::

TAMPA, Florida/ WILLIAMSBURG, Virginia-

Your mid-twenties is regarded as a time of celebration, a time when you’re in your prime and starting to fulfill your destiny one might say. Rica Hudson would say no differently. A few months ago, life couldn’t have been better for this 26-year old originally from Tampa Bay.

Enrolled in law school at The College of William & Mary in Virginia, Rica was recently engaged to the love of her life, Dakarai Calhoun, and preparing the wedding of her dreams. “I was doing really well in my internship,” she said. “I was planning for my wedding and looking for a job. That is basically all that was on my mind.”

Just as things couldn’t have been more perfect, with the snap of a finger, her life suddenly – and dramatically – changed. Right when this vivacious, brown-eyed girl was finishing her internship in Central Florida and getting ready to start another semester in law school.

While Rica was working out one day over the summer, she noticed the right side of her underarm was sticking out with a sudden “pouch of fat” but didn’t think much of it. After all, at only 26, she felt she had no reason to worry about her health. Through breast cancer awareness, however, she knew that one of the things you should check for was, in fact, your underarm. So, when a month had gone by and this peculiar-looking mass was still there, she immediately decided to see a doctor as soon as she got back to Virginia. An ultrasound returned with some results.

“I just remember the nurse’s face. She put a monitor under my arm… and I could see her concern. Whatever it was, I knew it was huge,” she explained. “The radiologist then came in. ‘Your lymph nodes are pretty impressive,’ he said.

Not quite comprehending what she was being told, Rica soon came to find out that lymph nodes are small, internal bean-shaped glands usually found in various parts of the body. From your groin to your neck and underarms. These bunches of nodules work with your blood cells to fight off infection and sometimes become swollen.

But the more she spoke to the radiologist, the more she was put on edge and realized these particular lymph nodes under her arm weren’t exactly ‘normal.’ She continued, “To me ‘impressive’ is awesome but it wasn’t a good thing. He said when you see lymph nodes that big, it means something serious. My heart dropped…”

Rica underwent surgery a week later when she had a lymph node removed from underneath her arm. Waiting to hear back the results of surgery was nerve-wracking to say the least. Another week went by until this soon-to-be-bride finally got her answer.

While minding her business at work, the doctor called to tell her the gut-wrenching news: “You have lymphoma.” More specifically T-cell/histiocyte-rich B-cell lymphoma (T/HRBCL), often referred to as a “gray zone” rare form of lymphoma.

Rica had no idea what any of this meant. T-Cell-what? When the doctor explained it was cancer of the lymph nodes – a blood cancer cousin of leukemia – everything Rica had at that point understood to be her reality was now completely foreign and didn’t matter. Including the fact that it was Stage 1 cancer and she had the best chance of survival. All that mattered in that moment was that she had been diagnosed with cancer and, in that instant, she felt like her life was over.

“My first thought was I’m going to die. I had never heard of lymphoma. He was like but I think we caught it early so I held it together but then I burst into tears. When I came back to the work office my co-workers just held me. I called my fiancé and told him he needed to come. I just cried and cried.”

A bone marrow biopsy, however, thankfully revealed the cancer was not in her bones. But this bit of news only provided a bit of relief. She said, “It hit me this was going to change my life. The realization that my life would never be the same made me cry and cry. That was a turning point for me.”

And so, she knew the next step would be treatment: a combination of chemotherapy and biotherapy. Three rounds of both. Every three weeks, one round. Then radiation for maybe two weeks every day and it would all be behind her.

:: Rica, all smiles, after undergoing a round of chemo ::

Only having completed the first round of treatment, Rica noticed her hair – what is such a symbolic symbol of beauty for women – was starting to fall out. With full braids from her weave literally coming out of her scalp. That is when she made one of the biggest, scariest yet boldest decisions of her life: she was going to shave it all off.

“I decided instead of dealing with the trauma of seeing it every day fall out I was just going to shave it off. I wanted to take control.” But seeing herself in the mirror – now as a diagnosed cancer patient – made Rica fall apart. .

“I had never felt so broken. To see your hair hanging off by a thread… all those times I complained about ‘gotta do my hair’ felt so stupid. I bawled in my closet. I felt like I didn’t even love myself. Because of what I was seeing physically and what was to come. I have work, school, a wedding to plan. My mind was running a zillion miles a day. But when I looked at myself in the mirror I felt like I couldn’t come back from this.”

A good 45 minutes went by before Rica’s fiancé finally convinced her to get out of the closet. It was only when Rica’s sister explained to her later that evening how 5-year-old girls in India cut off their hair all the time due to traditional methods, that she thought to herself: If a 5-year-old can do it, then so can I. I have to be strong and suck it up.

Although seeing herself bald with an “abnormal-sized” head for the first time was “terrible,” Rica eventually got past the initial shock and fell asleep that night with her fiancé telling her how beautiful she was.

Currently, Rica admits she switches between seven different wigs friends helped pick out, while other times she musters the courage to stroll down her neighborhood bald. People’s reactions, she says, hasn’t been as bad as she expected.

“I’m more now into my natural beauty. Hair defines you – especially for women. I realized there is so much more to you than that. My perception of self is much stronger,” she affirmed.

From basking in the warmth of beautiful, summer days to dealing with this huge blow and learning to pick up the pieces and march on, the journey hasn’t been easy. Something Rica herself acknowledges. “Nothing like this has ever happened to me,” she sighed.

Nonetheless, she is incredibly grateful for the invaluable boxes of lifetime lessons she has gathered. From her personal strength (“There is nothing I can’t handle now”) she knows nothing can stop her from moving forward. And from riding out the storm with her fiancé (“The commitment I’m making is the right one”), she has been given the reaffirmation that she has found her soul-mate and life partner. But one thing resonates most of all: “My commitment to myself is much stronger than I thought I was.”

Three months later, with chemotherapy complete and the last leg of this eye-opening journey underway, there is much to rejoice in Rica’s life. She couldn’t have guessed that one day, while working out, everything around her would change. Yet, what this bubbly, brown-eyed, 26-year-old now knows is that she is every bit of a survivor and still every bit of a woman who’s sexy, beautiful and strong.

:: Rica (with her wig) and fiance Karai ::

Resourceful Links:

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society-
http://www.leukemia-lymphoma.org/hm_lls

Beyond Boobs –
http://www.beyondboobsinc.org/

Daily Strength –
http://www.dailystrength.org/c/Non-hodgkins-Lymphoma/support-group

Advertisements
Posted in Health, Love | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Nick’s Story: Epitome of Inspiration

:: Motivational Speaker Nick Vujicic ::

LOS ANGELES, California –

Take a moment. Close your eyes. Stop and imagine this. What if you were born without any arms or legs? You are physically unable to reach out and touch somebody. It is physically impossible for you to wake up in the morning and walk to your bathroom to simply brush your teeth.

This is not a joke. For Nick Vujicic, a stunning 26-year old blonde Australian, this is his reality and all he’s ever known. But for Nick, although he may not be able to give his loved ones a big bear hug, he is touching millions of people all around the world with his motivational talks and enormous heart.

Let’s go back in time. When Nick was born on December 4, 1982 in Melbourne, his mother couldn’t have imagined that her first-born child would come into this world without any limbs – known as a rare syndrome called Tetra-amelia. As Nick explains in his new book “Life Without Limits: Inspiration For A Ridiculously Good Life,” doctors detected nothing unusual during her pregnancy.

Growing up, his parents were determined to provide him a good, normal life by even having him attend regular schooling. Their strong Christian values provided the foundation Nick needed to blossom into his own, put his total trust in God and never give up.

When I spoke to Nick during a recent phone interview, I was amazed by just the sound of his voice at how optimistic and humble he was, a person genuinely full of life. But he explained he didn’t always feel this way. At the tender age of 8, this striking Australian contemplated suicide. He soon realized, however, that he had a choice. He could either “be angry for what I don’t have or be thankful for what I do have.”

As a young adult, he gave a speaking presentation in front of almost 20,000 sophomore students. He admits his palms were sweating and many of the girls in the room were crying. One even came up to him and told him he was “beautiful.” Nobody had ever called him that before and he knew then he could be somebody’s “joy” and help carry them through “their storm.”

One person in particular was a 19-month-old baby boy named Daniel, also born with the same condition. Nick says he understood there would be some hardships ahead for this baby boy, but he also knew he could show him “what mountains he has to climb.”

“I know he can look at me as ‘this is somebody who knows what I’m going through.’ If I can be his older brother to help him never give up, to see the bigger plan then it’s worth it.”

Although Nick, who now lives in Los Angeles, first struggled to figure out how to get by with his physical limitations, today there is nothing he cannot do. From graduating in college with a double major in Accounting and Financial Planning to speaking at over 40 countries and scuba diving – yes, even scuba diving! – there are many things this 26-year-old has to be extremely proud of.

His message of faith, strength and self-worth inspired him to start his own non-profit organization called Life Without Limbs, and he has also become a huge sensation on YouTube – with over 13 million viewers tuning in to his videos! (See below)


What he wants people to know is simple: Never underestimate yourself. Don’t give up. Keep the faith – no matter what.

“I want people to know the truth of their value and destiny,” he said.” “Fear is the biggest thing that blocks us, but unless you go around the corner, you never know what’s there. No matter what bad situation you’re in – I’ve been to 38 countries of travel and seen that side of the world – you don’t know what you can achieve unless you try it. You have to do something meaningful in your life.”

He continues: “Today is my greatest asset – not my skills, intelligence gift or passion, but using today as a tool. To communicate love because love heals everything. To express that love to somebody today is so important. Be the love. Be hope.”

With one foot in the present and endless possibilities that await him in the future, Nick knows that every person has a purpose and the power to change people’s lives. He understands that his “disability” is an ability that allows him to do extraordinary things. This kind of positive attitude propels him to move forward and to touch others with his radiating smile and messages from the heart.

As Nick matter of factly put it to me: “If you don’t have a friend, be a friend. If you don’t have a miracle, be the miracle.” Because it is when you take on this transformative way of thinking that your life is suddenly never the same again.

Just as Nick has realized over the years, you will, too – that nothing compares to fulfilling your destiny.

:: Life Without Limits: Inspiration For A Ridiculously Good Life - OUT NOW! ::

 

Bit of Nick Trivia  (Nick said to me that the songs below help him know he’s not alone) :

His Favorite Song #1 – You Hold Me Now by Hillsong
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OT2v0NodZRs

His Favorite Song #2 – More by Tyron Wells
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98YyCqPVYHE

Resourceful Links:

Life Without Limbs Official Website –
http://www.lifewithoutlimbs.org/

Attitude is Altitude –
http://www.attitudeisaltitude.com

Amazon.com – Nick’s Book: Life Without Limits –
http://www.amazon.com/Life-Without-Limits-Inspiration-Ridiculously/dp/0307589730/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1288831878&sr=8-1

Nick’s Facebook Fan Page –
http://www.facebook.com/#!/NickVujicicFans

Posted in Family, Health, Religion, True to Yourself | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mark’s Story: An Act Of Faith

:: Director Mark Young of The Least Among You ::

LOS ANGELES, California –

Switching career choices isn’t ideally what one hopes for, but sometimes when you’re dead-on passionate about a vision in mind, you have to simply listen to your heart and take that leap of faith. For Mark Young – a man who had no experience in the movie business –  a vision that started out one day in the mid-90s when he met Reverend Dr. Charles Marks at his local church was something he was determined to see come to fruition. Even if it did take 15 years in the making, and even if it was his first-time ever directing.

“The Least Among You” is inspired by an incredible true story about a black college graduate Richard Kelly, played by Cedric Sanders, who finds himself caught up in the 1965 Watts riots. And is then forced to serve probation at a Christian seminary as its first black student.

A college “gardener” and janitor, Samuel Benton (academy-award winner Louis Gossett Jr.) quickly becomes a mentor and somebody Kelly can turn to, while Professor Kate Allison (Lauren Holly) – a former missionary who worked in Africa – also becomes a spiritual adviser.

Enrolled at an all-white seminary, Richard Kelly makes it his mission to try and educate others about racism while embarking on a journey to follow his heart. The latter of which Mark is all too familiar with.

For this first-time director, when I asked Mark what motivated him to do The Least Among You, he explained it was Reverend Marks’ speech at his church – portrayed as Richard Kelly in the movie –  about overcoming racism that moved him and stuck with him over the years.

“We got together and he began telling me about Samuel – a janitor he first saw pulling books out of the dumpster. Their relationship and journey, about moving to a spiritual place and taking risks was something I was going through myself,” says Mark.

Mark admits much of the movie’s storyline was true to form as to what actually happened in real life. Reverend Marks was, in fact, the first black student at this Christian seminary and he did develop a blossoming friendship with Samuel, the janitor and later faithful mentor.


Although initially writing the screenplay in 1995, Mark was only given the okay to shoot the movie years later, and in 2005 he called Reverend Marks and asked for his support and feedback. A collaborative experience between two friends is what ultimately helped bring The Least Among You to a wide audience.

Many who haven’t seen the movie wonder where the title comes from. It’s actually from a line in the Bible’s New Testament: “Whoever is the least among you is the greatest.” A title that refers to both Samuel and Richard Kelly’s transformative friendship, as well as how Kelly was essentially the least of his class, socially speaking.

A scene in The Least Among You where Richard Kelly jumps out of bed in a state of panic, after experiencing a nightmare has Samuel advising him to “go to the darkness.” Because, as Mark, explains, “anybody who’s accomplished anything had to go toward the darkness first.” He continues, “Our society is so much feeling-based that I think a lot of people miss where they need to go because feelings of fear well up.” But that is where mentors come in, as was in the case of Samuel, who help guide us along the right track.

Mark hopes that viewers understand you can’t “drown in your troubles.” Every person is a “unique creation with a unique destiny.” We all have our own individual calling, that is meant to both bless us and others, he says.

In 2009, when the The Least Among You was finally premiered at the Palm Film Festival to a live audience, Mark says the public’s response was so positive, he felt like all those hard years of work and holding onto his vision had finally paid off.


He explains, “My faith and seeing this thing through were wrapped into each other. It was hard for me to let go of the script and put it back on the shelf. I just knew God had never said ‘stop.'”

Now with a future television series of The Least Among You possibly currently in the works, Mark knows there is absolutely nothing he cannot do. He didn’t know it then, but what started out as a bold career change in the 90s ultimately lead this first-time director’s to his destiny. Much in the same manner as Reverend Marks’ experience at an all-white seminary brought him to his own personal calling. They say God works in mysterious ways, and both Mark and Reverend Marks can attest to that.

**NOTE: The Least Among You DVD is now available through Walmart or Amazon.com.

Resourceful Links:

The Least Among You Official Website –
http://www.theleastamongyou.com/

The Least Among You – on Amazon –
http://www.amazon.com/Least-Among-You-Cedric-Sanders/dp/B003PAXOOQ

Posted in Religion, True to Yourself, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brandon’s Story: Love Just Is

:: Brandon and Jose with their son ::

HOUSTON, Texas –

Raising a child together and creating a family is what many married couples’ long for. But for some, it’s not easily attainable and the opportunity isn’t always within reach. Especially when you’re a gay couple living in America, who’s a target for prejudice and criticism from anybody who doesn’t know you – and even those who do. Brandon and Jose, however, weren’t going to let that stop them from becoming the great parents they knew they could be.

Almost twenty years ago, Brandon met Jose through a mutual friend and almost instantly the two men hit it off. Eight months later the pair made their long-distance relationship local to be closer to each other and start their new life together.

It wasn’t until 1999 that the two briefly began discussing having a family and thinking about if maybe adoption would be the right option for them. Both were so busy with their professional lives (not to mention adoption was shockingly costly), however, that they put the idea in the back of their minds. Then, in 2008, a month before Brandon’s 40th birthday, Brandon was talking to his good friend Karla about missed opportunities and how much he regretted not having a child.

“Karla’s reply was, “we can fix that,” he recalls. “Within a month Karla had arranged a meeting with a private adoption agency. At that point we jumped in with both feet. The entire experience was a wild ride!”

“The timing was also right because we had lived very full lives.,” he continues. “We were economically settled and established in our careers. Most importantly, we wanted to share the life we had made together with a child.”

And so began the 14-month long agonizing adoption process through Family to Family Adoptions, Inc, a small private domestic adoption agency located in Texas. Brandon explained the agency specialized in same sex couples adoption and “performs home studies, completes background checks, houses birth families, facilitates matching, expedites payments, coordinates social services for birth families, initiates relinquishments/terminations, and manages conservatorship of children during the post placement process. ” Both Brandon and his partner felt comfortable knowing the staff members of Family to Family had the best interest of the adoptive parents, birth mothers and children in mind.

But the entire experience did have its setback moments and disappointments: Brandon and Jose had their profile shown 9 times to prospective birth mothers. They were chosen 3 out of the 9 times. During their first match, the biological mother eventually changed her mind and chose to keep the child. The second match ended when the mother suddenly disappeared after two weeks.

Having a few non-supportive family members and friends didn’t help either. Brandon says some people simply could not understand his and Jose’s decision to adopt nor the concept of transracial/transcultural adoption (Brandon has Irish/European roots; Jose comes from Mexican/Spanish origins). But he says cutting ties with those individuals only made them stronger and brought them closer together as a couple.

Despite some challenges they experienced during this personal journey, all their frustrations disappeared when they were successfully matched in November 2009. And in December 2009 their son Karlan Brase (named after Brandon’s supportive friend Karla) was born. Brandon and Jose were able to bring their new baby boy home on New Year’s Eve – what they admit was the best day of their lives.

Thanks to their open adoption, Brandon and Jose maintain contact with their son’s birth mother and even her extended family.

Today, Brase is a happy, beaming toddler with loving parents who have been determined to provide him a good and stable life. Just as Brase’s life has completely changed, so have the lives of Brandon and his partner Jose.

“Having Brase has changed the way we view the world around us. It seems essential that we maintain uncomplicated relationships with friends and family. The adoption experience has also strengthened the relationship we have with God and our Catholic faith.”

Although some people would be quick to point fingers, Brandon and Jose have united in their love for each other, and in their love for their son. Like all families, regardless of your sexual identity or background or race, they want their child to lead a life of happiness and to feel love from all sides.

“I want people to understand that the love I have for my family is no different than the love they have for their family. Love has no boundaries if you allow yourself to love!,” he says.

It is through this love that his son will grow up knowing he can always count on his parents, to guide him and be there for him every step of the way. Because it’s not where you come from that matters, but the values you have instilled that will truly change your life.

:: Brase ::

Resourceful Links:

Family to Family Adoption –
http://fam2fam.org/

Posted in Children, Family, Sexuality | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Kemy’s Story: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

 

:: Kemy Joseph ::

MIAMI, Florida –

The Bible says do onto others as you’d want them to do onto you. But taking religion aside, it’s a pretty common principle. What if treating others with respect, love and kindness became your everyday motto? Kemy Joseph has made this simple concept his way of life, and in turn, he’s been transforming and changing thousands of lives with random acts of kindness, free hugs, high fives and other gestures that has the infectious yet delicate power to brighten a person’s day.

Born in Miami and raised in Homestead, Florida, Kemy is one of nine siblings with divorced parents, who didn’t have big aspirations in mind as a young boy. From an early age, he had no plans to attend college and was constantly getting in trouble. Lashing out on people, throwing tantrums in class, Kemy didn’t always get along with those around him and was eventually even kicked out of elementary school. But growing up, his family instilled in him strong family values and showed Kemy what it meant to be there for one another during times of need.

Right off the bat, you meet Kemy and you’re instantly intrigued by not only his colorful personality but his appearance as well. Wearing dozens of peace-and-love-type bracelets and a large sign over his neck that reads “Make the impossible, possible! :),” Kemy is a man who practices what he preaches.

During our interview at a local Miami eatery, the 22-year-old explained to me that when his father passed away at the age of 14, everything around him started to change – including his way of thinking and overall attitude about life.

“I knew I had to step up and stop getting into trouble and do good,” he says. “When my dad died, I decided to make some changes.”

In high school, Kemy discovered a passion for film and after googling the University of Miami for film school, he knew “this is where I need to be.” It was then that he put his head in the right place, and knew he had to work hard in order to make it at the University of Miami. Although he didn’t have enough money to attend this private scholarly institution, Kemy began applying for a bunch of scholarships with the help of a college assistant counselor named Marlene Malcolm, who gave him the hope he needed to believe in himself and make his way through school.

Others’ positive influence on Kemy and the fact that so many people believed in him began having a strong effect on this 22-year-old. Thanks to them, he was riding on a full scholarship at UM and receiving opportunities to better himself educationally.

“I knew I needed to give back as much as I could. And I thought a way to start would be to volunteer my time to others,” he says.

And so, in 2006, Kemy got involved with a student organization at the University of Miami called Random Acts of Kindness. A video he made with the organization solidified his involvement with them, bringing about great local attention, and in 2010, Kemy became the group’s president.


Random Acts of Kindness has led the way to an incredible movement of living your life with positivity while giving others hope that they can be the best person they want to be. Every Monday, members get together close to noon and give out free hugs all over campus. It’s a way of uniting people, even if just for a mere few seconds, and putting a smile on their face.

“I love doing it and seeing how many people are embraced by [Random Acts of Kindness]. It reignites my passion,” beams Kemy. “One time there was this girl who I could tell was sad, but I gave her a high five and suddenly her face lift up. Random Acts of Kindness is rewarding on its own, because we are sharing this unique moment.”

Kemy has expanded his carefree spunk and positive attitude to other arenas with his own organization called U R Awesome, Inc (see below for more details) that provides articles of clothing and food to the homeless, along with many other planned events. RAOK also holds a spectacular “Hug The Lake” event every year on Earth Day – April 22. Where 700 people gather around the campus’ Lake Osceola and hold hands for one minute. Symbolic of showing one’s appreciation for nature, the campus and living in the moment.


But, just like the rest of us, Kemy admits he has his low days. When the going gets rough, he remain mindful of the fact that what may be bothering him right now is “not gonna matter in a few years.” And despite inevitable stressful situations he may experience from time to time, he ensures he’s “still happy to be here.”

“I know that me being as nice as I can makes the situation easier for both of us. Which is why I always try to be at my best. We can’t do everything on our own,” he explains. “I’m not going to contribute to negativity. When you make kindness your habit, you will see the greatness of it all because kindness is a great habit to have.”

He adds, “The most incredible thing I could have done was start believing in myself.”

And that is the message Kemy tries to pass onto others he comes into contact with.

Kemy didn’t have much as a young child, but he’s been blessed by the guidance of others – such as Marlene Malcom and Jovan Gomez, one of his good friends – who’ve steered him in the right direction and  never stopped believing in him.

With the world in his hands, this 22-year-old vivacious and driven man has made it his mission to do the same for others and give them hope when all is lost. Because when you live your life by kindness, there’s nothing that can stop you – and that is something Kemy Joseph knows full well.


—-

Upcoming Events with RAK – Please take note:

New U R Awesome shirts will start selling on Monday Oct. 4th. Each one costs $20 and the money goes towards subsidizing the 2nd annual Great Give Away at the University of Miami. Which include providing 1000 U R Awesome Shirts (500 to be given away as rewards to anyone who donates 5 or more articles of clothing to the drive and one that will go directly to impoverished citizens in Miami-Dade County on November 13th.) In addition to a U R Awesome  Shirt, the recipients will also receive 5 articles of clothes, a hygiene kit, food and a tote bag to care everything away in. Shirts can be purchased at URAwesome.org or at the University of Miami. Get involved and participate!

Resourceful Links:

U R Awesome –
http://URAwesome.org

Random Acts of Kindness (RAOF) @ University of Miami –
http://www.miami.edu/index.php/student_life/student_organizations/service_and_leadership_center/get_involved/student_organizations/

Posted in Community Service, School, True to Yourself | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Audrey’s Story: No Permissions, No Apologies

:: Audrey, good times ::

MIAMI, Florida –

Being certain of your sexuality and comfortable in your own skin isn’t always as easy as waking up and starting your day. Especially when the pressure mounts, and you feel like you have to follow a well-defined mold and be straight as a ruler – pun intended – even when that couldn’t be further from the truth of who you are. Often, boy-meets-girl, boy-and-girl marry is the storyline one is expected to carry out. But for Audrey, a young woman in her twenties with Catholic upbringing, destiny had a different storyline for her.

In the early 80s, Audrey was born in Miami, Florida to a typical Cuban family, where Spanish was the sole language in the household and her grandparents played a crucial role in how she was raised. Audrey’s mother was in the church choir, and attending Sunday mass was a part of the family’s regular routine. Everybody was expected to abide by Catholic norms and live life as a good heterosexual child of God.

As early as kindergarten, Audrey remembers that she had a crush on the “nicest and most beautiful girl” in class, with long dark hair and gorgeous blue eyes. What to others might have been shocking, to her was simply natural and nothing that required much thought of.

“I definitely always had feelings for girls but I never equated it with a word or a type of person,” she explains. “I honestly believed it was perfectly normal.”

But sometime in junior high, during a long heart-to-heart talk with her dad about why her parents divorced – her father revealed he was gay – it was then that she realized what the word meant and slowly began to piece the concept of homosexuality. Something she could now identify with.

From the age of four until she graduated high school, Audrey attended Catholic schools. A couple of religion teachers used to tell her, “God loves the sinners but he disapproves of the sin.” This led to an internal conflict of sorts, and soon Audrey began to turn to all the wrong places for love and acceptance. She’d hang out with friends, and while they were checking out the cutest boy, she found herself admiring a girl. Being gay instantly a secret she had to hide.

Sometime in her junior year (11th grade) of high school everything began to change. Audrey fell in love – with a female.

“We never dated, we were great friends. But, I loved her with all I had to give,” she says.

Feeling confident about her feelings was a great boost to Audrey’s self-esteem, however, mustering the courage to come out to her parents was a different story. Telling her father she was gay wasn’t so bad, but opening up to her mother was definitely hard.

“I had all this pent up anxiety it was crazy,” she explains. How was I going to tell the woman whose man of her dreams left because he was gay… that her daughter is gay… I finally said, ‘Mami, I am in a relationship’ she cut me off, “I know, and you are living with her. Just be careful with how you tell your grandparents. Start with Papi, he’ll smooth Abuela over.’ That was that.”


With those who don’t personally know her, however, is where discrimination has been at its strongest. From a previous employer who said she should keep her sexuality a secret in order to advance in her career to Audrey’s own gay community who has sometimes regarded her as not “lesbian or butch enough.”

She also experienced some level of discrimination while recently working in El Salvador, but it is in the U.S. she has felt it from every angle.

“I think I used to be proud to be American – now, especially when I travel, it is kind of shameful since we discriminate so much more than anything else,” she reflects. “As a country, we have been through a lot. Slavery, the civil war, the great depression, 9/11. This time (since 9/11) we have NOT chosen to rise above and I am ashamed of that.”

But she still has great faith that things at home can quickly take a turn for the better, if people simply open their eyes and start thinking with their hearts.

“I believe that if we introduced ourselves solely by our names and let those around us get to know the person, our essence, then others would be more open to change in our own country. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good pride parade and wear my read shirt at gay days, but I am Audrey every day, not Audrey the lesbian.”

Since coming out to her parents in her teens, Audrey has relied on a precious piece of advice, personally handed down by her father: Don’t be a liar. Just live your life, if they ask then you tell.

Six years ago, Audrey fell in love with her present-day partner, a woman named Lisa. A woman who continues to enrich her life every day. The two now have a home together and recently became engaged. And it is with this loving yet refreshing attitude of “live and let live” that Audrey has been able to embrace her life to the fullest and be her own person. Whether you agree with it or not. Because as she put it, “It’s wonderful to live life honestly. While the actual coming out is terrifying, it is truly so very liberating to live life unabashedly.”

:: Audrey and her partner Lisa ::

Resourceful Links:

Gay Rights –
http://gayrights.change.org/

Speak Out –
http://www.speakout.com/activism/gayrights/

Posted in Love, Religion, Sexuality | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Meredith’s Story: Running Towards A Clear View

:: Meredith smoking, circa 2005 - 2006 ::

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND –

They say a bad habit is a hard habit to break. Stress often becomes that little, dangerous trigger that makes us turn to such habits, and before you know it, you have no idea how to stop. Like it is with so many, smoking had that kind of effect on Meredith. It’s what she turned to when the going got tough, the constant companion she could always rely on to make her feel better. But one day, when addiction began to creep into her life, Meredith knew she had to do something about it.

What became something of concern was in the beginning a very innocent distraction, fun thing to do with friends. Meredith began smoking at 16 during social gatherings, because her friends were doing it, too. Either after school or late at night, she’d take a drag just as a soothing, nothing-much-to-it kind of release. Smoking, however, become a serious way to cope with stress when she left her hometown of Georgia and attended college in Tallahassee. Suddenly, she saw herself continuously fulfilling her smoking habit almost every hour of the day. Roaming around campus at Florida State University, in a hectic class environment, Meredith smoked up to 1 – 2 packs on a regular basis. Or, in other words, anywhere from 20 – 40 cigarettes total – from the time she woke up to when she rested her head in bed at night.

Over a phone interview, she explained to me she turned to cigarettes as an escape: “Smoking was a nice way to get away from everybody and have some alone to myself to myself. It was a good excuse to have it.”

Cigarettes began to take a toll on this 25-year-old’s life when she started to have an incredible desire to get into running, and realized that smoking was inhibiting her from going full force with it.

“I wanted to run and walk and exercise – without running out of breath,” she says. “I wanted to do it often and become healthier. I wanted to lose weight, get healthy and quit smoking.”

Several first-second-third-and-fourth time beginning attempts to quit originally failed. Meredith admits that even though sometimes she’d go through long periods without smoking, something would eventually lead her back to it – usually stress. But she recounts how she felt awful afterwards when she picked up a cigarette, thus putting her back to square one and making her feel “worthless.”


In early 2007, both Meredith’s mother and younger brother came to visit her in Baltimore, Maryland for the first time, which is where she moved to after graduating college in Tallahassee. Six months had gone by since this young, brunette woman had touched a cigarette, but her mother’s visit – and their rocky relationship – got Meredith unbelievably stressed. To the point where she found herself smoking a pack of 20 in an entire hour. This disgusting realization is what became the ultimate turning point.

“After my mother and brother left, I threw [the pack of cigarettes] away and was like, ‘I am not going to use this to deal with stress anymore. There’s gotta be something else I can do,'” she remembers.

Cold turkey was, for her, the only way to do it and truly succeed. And so, instead of turning to a comforting pack of cigarettes in stressful situations, Meredith saw this as an opportunity to pursue her new desire and love for running. For miles on end with a new zest for life. Putting it matter of factly, she acknowledges, “running saved my life.”

Today, Meredith has been living a smoke-free life for three years. She has become an avid runner who spends a lot of her free time at the gym with the focus on staying healthy. She says quitting smoking has opened many doors  – especially when it comes to dating and personal relationships. Another positive change has been, well, her bank statements. No longer does this young woman find herself spending insane amounts of money on cigarettes – something that has only doubled and tripled in recent years.

The long road to quit smoking for this beaming, brown-eyed girl hasn’t been easy by any means, but it’s one she now appreciates for it has drastically improved her life. She understands, however, others may also experience some of the struggles she did. The advice she gives is to talk to somebody. Go online for support groups. Anybody can do it.

Although cold turkey was the way to go for her, she realizes that with other people it may be simply about taking baby steps. “If it is anything like how it was for me,” she says, “others will eventually feel disgusted by their habit, and it will reinforce one’s will power to a point where it just sticks.”

Life has gotten to a much better, brighter and clearer place – pun intended – for Meredith. The dark clouds have faded, the smokey haze is gone. Several pounds slimmer and now living every day with a ton of energy, this bubbly woman has regained control of her destiny.

“There is nothing in the world I am happier about than the fact that I no longer smoke,” she concludes. “It was the best thing that I could have done.”

:: Meredith, no longer a smoker, 2010 ::

Resourceful Links:

Quit Smoking Today –
http://www.smokefree.gov/

Posted in Health | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment