Guest Blog: Staying Forever Fierce Through it All

August 6, 2021

Rita, our guest blogger this month and also Ms. November in A Calendar to Live By 2021, shares what she's learned from her breast cancer diagnosis and some of the challenges she has gone through in her life since then.

I had the time of my life in 2018. I fell in love and got married in Florida. Then I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December, so 2019 was very hard with chemo, surgery and the dreaded reconstruction. It basically took me an entire year to be done with the process. We lost my grandma, the matriarch of our family. I also watched two of my sisters get married and danced my butt off at their weddings... leaky incisions and drains and all, lol! I thought cancer controlled me for that year, but it made me see who I really was and reminded me of what is important. I met many amazing nurses, doctors and other cancer survivors throughout this journey. I have been a helping hand and advocate for others going through the process. It is important to me that they know they're not alone in this struggle.

Cancer reminded me of all the things that were important to me and all I wanted to do. I want to live, love and laugh. I want to travel. I want to make a difference in others' lives. I want to take pictures and enjoy every single day. It showed me how precious life is. It has changed my mentality. I am still the soft-hearted, stubborn, and strong willed girl I have always been but I cherish all of the little things. I turn the other cheek more often than not because confrontation is not my forte. Even when hurtful things are said to or about me, I just look at it from my survivor mentality. Once you face that, you really know what matters and it makes everything else seem so small.

My friend got me a camera and I started taking pictures. I have always loved taking pictures! I have started a photography business and have two weddings scheduled this fall! I shot a wedding with my photographer friend this past fall. I also donated a family shoot to all Jubilee Christmas families, so that has kept me busy. Helping people has always been a passion of mine. I named my photography business Forever Fierce Photography. Capturing beautiful memories is truly a work of heart and I couldn't be more happy with my hobby.

My husband was great all through the rough year of 2019. When the spotlight was no longer on him, his sparkle seemed to fizzle out. He didn't like it that I had taken on a couple of hobbies, but he never would say that. He stopped going to work and said he was depressed. This made it so he did not get to join me when I came to Virginia to celebrate the reveal of the H4TG calendar I was in. I couldn't pay for him if he wasn't even helping me with the bills. Little did I know that trip was the beginning of the end. I recently thanked a survivor friend for opening up on a recent phone call. I remember her saying, "I'm going because I don't know what next year will look like!" That has been something that has stuck with me every day since.

On Thanksgiving, I told him he needed to leave, work, and figure out someone to talk to to address his mental health. Instead of doing that, he didn't go to work a single day and ran away to Texas for three weeks. We still have not talked or communicated in the slightest. It was insane to me how my amazingly supportive husband who talked so highly of me and our relationship could just turn around and quit.

God works in mysterious ways. I have really done a lot of self reflection since he left. I participated in a group called Rooted at church. One thing I have really thought about was what is the biggest consequence of your sin. I can hands down say that it is the men I have exposed my children to. Yes, these men were ridiculous in many ways, but what purpose did they serve? What I came up with was that my children's father brought us their sister. She was only 4 when I met her, but that little girl needed us. My family has become her family and shown her so much love and support through the years. I'm so proud of the woman she is becoming. So what was the purpose of my ex-husband? To get me through the year of fierce? No, I think it was to push me towards my purpose.

After he left, I wanted a big change. I really thought I was going to drop my teaching career and move to Florida to be an oncology nurse. I applied to school, got in, had a plan to start school the next month and move to Florida this summer. As we went back to school, my heart told me differently. I have wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl. I love special education. I had to decide what was calling me towards nursing and whether I should stay in education. I think eventually I will be able to find a summer position that might help those going through cancer whether it be in the hospital, infusion clinic, or even a camp Kesem that helps children who have been affected by cancer.

Educators are paid pretty poorly. The only way I was going to get a significant raise was to go to a different school district. That made me sad. I was so comfortable in my position, knew exactly what I was doing, grew over the last 6 years and became very close to my colleagues. This just reminded me that no matter how good you are at your job, you are always replaceable. Make sure you take your sick and personal days, go home at the end of the day and enjoy what is yours!

I finally got a position in my hometown. It will be a big change going from 4th grade to high school and from resource to life skills. It is amazing to me how the doors just opened when I was open to growing and changing. I will now work just a few minutes from my home, on the same schedule and time as my kids. There are so many perks that come with this position that make me smile every time I think about them.

Life is good, my loves! It is worth the fight. Lean on each other and celebrate every victory, big or small.

My biggest takeaways:

There is so much life left to live... Love every moment... Don't let the stupid stuff drag you down - I honestly would have never written this if I did... Remember who that warrior is deep down in your soul and stay true to her ALWAYS!... Do the things you love and your life will be overwhelmingly fulfilled... Love the ones you're with and show them unconditional love even when it is difficult because that moment is usually when they need it the most.

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