Sole Survivor

I spent Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning with over 200 young ladies at a nearby local high school. The organizer had called me up after receiving some recommendations from the other speakers she had lined up that week as well. The week long seminar was designed to empower these young female students with leadership and life skills by providing a personal testimony of our own examples and an inspiring speech. Honestly, I was floored.

Me? Wow!

The topics divided up into the various days were: education and awareness, physical and mental fitness, health and beauty

I had a blast. Of course, I got choked up when I spoke to the girls about a few parts but made sure to emphasize the silver lining of it all… after all, it was supposed to be an inspiring talk – not a sob story and not a braggart story – but a story that told them that there will be times in your life when you’ll be knocked down to rock bottom and you’ll have to find the courage within yourself to get yourself back up. It’s a story about hope, determination, love, stewardship, sacrifice and faith. And when someone say’s that you can’t do something, turn around and tell them “watch me”.


I was a little —- no—- I was really very very very nervous in the beginning. I feel so much more comfortable typing my feelings and experiences on a computer rather that talking about them under a spotlight in front of a couple hundred strangers staring at me. But I needed to say it out loud. To them. For me.

I cried. I warned them about my crying even before I started so I guess I was covered on that but I cried a lot. There was one time that I had to stop, wipe my tears and take a few deep breaths… I’m sure the silence was awkward for them. And I managed to  struggle through with two ovations to boot!

My story was unique in that it touched each one of the topics over the several days. My story was NOT unique in that EVERY speaker began the same way and ended the same way and each of us stressed to the girls that no matter what adversity life gives you, keep going after your dream.

“The question is not Who’s going to let me. It is Who is going to STOP ME!”

There was a defining point in my speech where all their eyes were fixated on me. Come to think of it… It was quite the defining point in my life as well.

It wasn’t planned that way, at least no one told me about it if it was, but each speaker began their speech with “I am no different from you. I am not any more special than you.” We were all from this community. We were all from humble upbringings. We all had similar values – family, education, God, health, community. We had all been given opportunities at one point or another and it took sacrifice to receive those opportunities. We had all had a visit and tour around rock bottom. We all lived to tell the tale. And we all did pretty good for ourselves.

Sound familiar? Maybe a little like you?


I know my story has a lot of death in it. I try very hard to let people know about the experience of death, witnessing it, dealing with it and doing all you can to move forward through it in a healthy way without making it sound like I’m dwelling on it.  Yes, it has been very very difficult but I also had to remember that I have two boys that still need me healthy, happy and alive for them. So when people connect to my story, I know deep inside that they have a rock bottom experience as well. That’s when I turn it on.

One girl raised her hand to ask a question but immediately got incredibly timid when I asked her to repeat it because I couldn’t hear her. She repeated it again but even softer and then shook her head and said “nevermind”.

I knew immediately… this was an important question. So, I didn’t back down. I stayed there until she said the question aloud again for everyone to hear. It was important for everyone to hear this. No question was silly, stupid or unworthy… especially this one.

“After all you went through, did you go to therapy?”

My reply was:

“Yes, I went to therapy. I still go to therapy. Running has become my therapy. There are some days when I train in groups for events. And there are some days when I run by myself for this very reason. I need to be alone with my thoughts, with myself and I pray when I run. It’s ok to feel sad sometimes. But we HAVE to find it within ourselves to get ourselves out of it and find happiness again.”  I wish you could have seen their faces when I told them it was ok to feel sad sometimes. It was as if I had given them permission to be normal.

It’s been proven that physical exercise helps us cope and reduce our stress levels.  Clearly I could have gone the other way and fallen quickly into the rabbit hole of depression. But I didn’t. Running saved me. Team in Training saved me.

I am a sole survivor.

I just spoke to the most amazing group of young women and my heart melted when a swarm of them caught me as I was leaving. They each asked me to take individual photos with them and spoke to me about their own experiences with cancer and their own "impossible goals" that they want to achieve. Honored and humbled and a smile from ear to ear!!!

I just spoke to the most amazing group of young women and my heart melted when a swarm of them caught me as I was leaving. They each asked me to take individual photos with them and spoke to me about their own experiences with cancer and their own “impossible goals” that they want to achieve. Honored and humbled and a smile from ear to ear!!!

74332_10153761745445068_821654668_n 1511992_759334910761046_1538677829_o (1) 1545751_10153764597850068_1600053729_n 1622874_10153764597520068_325774133_n


I lost my best friend to Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma just a few months before he was to walk with me down the isle at my wedding. His name was Rodney Perez. He bravely battled cancer for 5 years. He died at age 24.

I lost my grandmother, Lorenza “Lencha” Cavazos and grandfather, Narciso Cavazos to Leukemia.

I lost my baby brother, Donny Cardenas, not from cancer but from what cancer does to loved ones and caregivers… what no one talks about, the stress that the family deals with while caring for their loved ones like financial stress and emotional stress. He felt he had to take on this burden by himself. He dealt by eating all the wrong things, drinking, locking himself up from the world. He had a heart attack at age 38.

I lost my Aunt Sissy – the woman who raised me while mom worked and went back to school. Leukemia stole her from us and her three years of retirement that she worked all her life for.

I lost my beautiful close friend Jana Miller. A brilliant doctor, fun loving and kind hearted. She was diagnosed at stage IV during her 3rd year of med school. She finished, practiced and became an active member of the community. Few people knew she lived ten years with cancer. Her smile fooled everyone.

I lost my Momma. On Easter of this last year. Exactly one year after we lost my baby brother Donny. Eight months after losing her sister Sissy.

I’m sorry. I still can’t talk about my Momma.

I joined Team in Training because I thought that if the world and God saw how hard I was trying to do this impossible run… then maybe, just maybe, the world and God would make the impossible cure possible.

And when I ran my first full marathon in San Diego, just a couple of months after my Momma died, a woman yelled at me – when I wanted to quit – I was at mile 22 – she said “You are running for the treatment that has kept me alive! Please, don’t stop!”

Thats when I understood that hundreds, thousands of strangers for years before this had run for the treatment that allowed my mother to spend 6 more years with me, 3 more years with Sissy, 10 more years with Jana.

So I close with what I’ve had posted on my facebook over this last year…

I never ran to try to beat your time

I ran because I tried to buy my mom more time

I ran so that I could help find a cure

I ran so that I could help my mom pay for that cure

It didn’t work out the way I had planned

Now I run so that you don’t have to go

through what my mom and I did.

See, the thing is that I first thought I was running for a cure for my Momma.

I had no idea that Team in Training would be a part of MY cure.


Thank you


One Response to “Sole Survivor”

  1. Reblogged this on RunMyssieRun and commented:

    As a way of remembering why I do what I do, I’m going to reblog some of my most special moments that have carried me along my journey. the messages that I have written in and have learned from are lessons that go far beyond just running marathons or triathlon or century bike rides… they are lessons for living life in a happy and healthy way.


Leave a Reply. I enjoy reading your feedback. Your support fuels me.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: