photo: Dorkys Ramos

Getting diagnosed with breast cancer wasn’t exactly on my bucket list, but at 30 years old I received the news over a phone call and immediately crumbled into pieces. In the days that followed, I felt devastation, hopelessness, and anger. I couldn’t get any explanations as to why this happened to me. I didn’t want to face the road ahead, but knew that I needed to act quickly if I wanted this behind me as soon as possible. I went through the motions of appointments, scans, and treatment, but deep down all I wanted to do was hide from all of it and pretend this wasn’t happening to me.

photo: Dorkys Ramos

I’d just launched my stationery company Porcupine Hugs weeks before my diagnosis, and in the months following my lumpectomy and radiation therapy6 I dived into creating art. I had launched three cards for the holidays, but by the time March rolled around I’d added 35 more designs to the collection. Because I worked part-time from home, I was able to write in the mornings and spend my afternoons and evenings drawing and painting. The scenes I brought to life were often whimsical and full of bright colors. A therapist would later tell me that this was my way of escaping my difficult reality to a happier place.

Writing and drawing have always been my best ways of expressing myself. If I wasn’t writing my thoughts out in a journal or creating some fictional story, I was doodling all over my notebooks and experimenting with various media at home. I’d go through phases. One month I would be really into marbling paper and leaving my bathroom sink spotted with ink. Beaded necklaces and long-stemmed roses made of ribbon would be given as gifts. Then I’d take up oil painting and try to mimic Bob Ross on my canvases. I’d make tiny dollhouses out of toothpicks and popsicle sticks. Animal figurines carved from soap bars would make their way into tiny makeshift snow globes made of baby food jars, water, and glitter. I learned calligraphy, knitting, needle felting, and scrapbooking. There was no end to what my mind would dream up and my hands could create.

What was usually a gift I shared with others became a priceless one I gave to myself when I needed a way to keep my sanity and positivity. I couldn’t control what was going on inside my body, but I could control what I decided to do with my time and talents. I continued writing through my diagnosis, surgery, and treatment because I wasn't going to let this major inconvenience dictate my life. 

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photo: Dorkys Ramos

Call it stubbornness, but I truly believe that refusing to listen to my limitations — that I should rest and recover after surgery, that the exhaustion caused by radiation meant my body needed more time to recuperate — kept me from slipping into the crippling depression I was sure would come after my diagnosis. I singlehandedly built a small business from the ground up — literally. My left arm and chest were bandaged and sore, but still I found ways to put my right side to good use. I’d sit for hours at my desk sketching, painting with watercolors, and inking each piece before scanning it onto my computer. Even though it took much longer to do everything by hand, it never felt tedious to me; it was my meditation. 

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It’s been three years since I went through surgery and radiation and I still need to take medication for two more years. Since being reminded of my mortality, there’s no way I can see myself believing that the cancer will never come back. In the meantime, I continue to get lost in my art much as I’ve done my entire life. That was never taken away from me. I enjoy seeing my visions come to life and in turn, I feel as if I have so much more left in me to share with the world. This was not going to be the end of my story. Besides, I still have a bucket list I need to annihilate first.