Thankful For This Year

I’m long overdue for an update, but for the longest time I didn’t know what to write about. I waited almost four months, so now there’s plenty to talk about!

First things first. I had my second follow up scan and I continue to be in remission! My doctors say that the first year after chemo is when recurrence is most likely to happen (which already is a low chance for the type of cancer I have) and after the first year the recurrence drops significantly. So I’m halfway out of the “danger zone” which is a great feeling.

Continuously Evolving

The last time I wrote a post over three months ago, I wrote about a new normal life I was getting used to. I was accepting my body, which had been physically and mentally beat up by cancer treatment. I was accepting my limitations. I told myself to be gentle to myself. Just do what I can do and that’s better than doing nothing. I was accepting my long term side effects and my post cancer body.

Time does heal. I had neuropathy in my hands throughout chemo and after. But about four months after I finished chemo, I noticed I no longer had neuropathy!

I was dealing with a lot of chemo brain. I was more forgetful and didn’t have the same sharp memory I had before. I was learning to accept my new brain, the one that forgets things and suddenly loses my train of thought while in the middle of talking. But recently, I realized that my brain still is pretty sharp. I’m not forgetting things so much and I’m able to remember things without writing them down like I did before. Perhaps the chemo brain is fading or maybe I’m retraining my brain again. My mind feels sharp.

My hair is growing back! I no longer look like a cancer patient. I’m surprised when I get compliments for my hair, since I never chose this hairstyle. I’m using a hair dryer again!

The evolution of my hair

My physical abilities is where I was the most concerned. I thought there was no way I was going to be physically as strong and in the same shape as I was pre cancer, much less pre baby. Fatigue is a long term side effect of chemo too. I told myself just to try and do what I can. I started small and had to remind myself that doing something was better than doing nothing. I did 20 minute workouts at home using body weight or light weights (bottles of lotion!). I started going to yoga again. I didn’t go crazy chatarunga pushups like the old Allie would have. Then I joined a gym by my work and tried lunch time work outs. Just 30 minutes of interval strength training. I also decided to go back to teaching BODYPUMP, which I was nervous about since I’m not in the same shape I was before.

What did I learn from all of this? I’ll never know what I’m capable of unless I just try. I can do push-ups on my toes! I’m planking for over a minute! I’m doing box jumps! I’m leading a 60 minute strength class using light weights and role modeling to my students that we all have to start somewhere before we can achieve bigger things. I still have a long way to go. Seven months ago I was finishing chemo and just had a baby, so I think my progress is pretty damn good! I would have never achieved this if I didn’t 1) accept my new self and 2) forgive myself for anything I can’t do.

Being Thankful

Thanksgiving is a time to pause and reflect on what we are thankful for. For me, it’s also the anniversary of my diagnosis. Last year, the entire month of November was the culmination of my diagnosis. I remember finishing our family pictures and coughing so hard that I felt a sharp pain in my side. It was my rib fracturing from all the coughing. I tried to push through the pain and continue on with normal life. The pain was too much that I succumbed to getting an X-ray. The week before Thanksgiving, I got an X-ray and CT scan that showed a huge mass in my chest. I met an oncologist that told me I may have cancer. Two days before Thanksgiving, I got a biopsy of my mass. I agonized for a week waiting for the results. I had to pretend I was fine at Thanksgiving, when I was a wreck inside. I sat in an empty conference at work talking to my oncologist on the phone about my diagnosis. I spent my wedding anniversary (November 29) meeting my oncology team for the first time.

That was only a year ago but it feels like an out of body experience that was a lifetime ago. This year, Thanksgiving (and the entire month of November) is extra special. It’s like I get to redo November, but this time being able to enjoy it. I’m thankful for my health, my family who helped me through the last year, and my miracle baby Joel who is here for his first Thanksgiving.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about everything I went through. But now, I find myself thinking about it less. I am physically looking and feeling less like a cancer patient and feeling more triumphant each day, but I’ll carry cancer in the back of my mind for the rest of my life.

“It is often in the darkest skies that we see the brightest stars” -Richard Evans

Life is Good, But Different

I’ve been meaning to write an update, but have waited until I found a good topic to write about. Also, now that I’m no longer pregnant and in remission, I’m figuring out how to transition this blog to be more about survivorship. And then being a mom of two makes it hard to have much free time!

Three Months Out

It’s been three months since my last chemo and life has been changing so much. I’ve been back at work for 2 months and getting used to the working mom life. Roberto’s at home on paternity leave which has been a great transition for our family with one parent still at home to help take care of the household. Kudos to companies that offer dads paid paternity leave! Roberto has gotten to spend some precious time bonding with Joel.

My miracle baby

Most importantly, I had my first follow-up scan. I’m still in remission! For my type of cancer, primary mediastinal large B cell lymphoma, the risk of recurrence is generally pretty low, but if it does happen the risk is greatest the first year. After the first year, the risk of recurrence drops significantly (less than 10%, my doctors say).

We had a big celebration earlier this month to celebrate me finishing cancer treatment and being in remission. It was also a way to thank the many people who supported us the last few months.

Celebrating life!

Just Like Everyone Said, My Hair Would Come Back

My hair is growing back so fast! It’s in an awkward stage right now where it’s very full on the sides and back, and not so full on the top. I credit my quick hair grown to eating lots of eggs and almonds which are rich in biotin.

My hair regrowth over the last 3 months

When I was going through treatment, it was winter time and cold so I had a collection of wool hats in neutral colors to wear and keep my head warm. I was working from home anyway, so no one really saw me. As the season changed to spring, I started wearing scarves and baseball caps instead since it was getting warmer. I was at home on maternity leave, so I could dress casually each day. But then I went back to work, where the dress code is business casual. It was a lot of effort to get dressed each day with a coordinating scarf. And then summer in Houston happened and it’s insanely hot to have anything on your head. So at the end of June, I got a hair trim to even out my hair length and then stopped wearing any sort of head cover.

It’s been so much easier getting dressed everyday and not having to worry about coordinating a scarf. It’s also way less hot being without a head cover. My hair is still growing in and I’m thinking that in August I’ll be able to have a more shaped haircut!

I wonder if people look at me funny or stare when they see me now with my current hair. It’s a hairstyle that really no woman would voluntarily have. There was an occasion at work recently when I met someone new. They only saw me as the person that appeared in front of them at that moment and knew nothing about my last 6 months. As I left the meeting, I wondered if they thought I had a weird haircut or thought I looked unattractive. I felt a little ashamed.

I know I shouldn’t feel ashamed. I should be proud of everything I went through and that I’m still standing. There are so many people who go through cancer and aren’t ‘still standing’ in the end. I had that chance and I think most people would easily choose a bad haircut in order to get a second chance at life. I always have the remind myself that these temporary things are a small blip in the grand scheme.

A New Me

I had written before how cancer had changed me as a person on the inside. Now I am starting to understand how I’m also a different person now physically. I was a little naive to think that after cancer, I’d physically go back to being the same healthy young adult. While I still consider myself healthy, my body isn’t the same anymore.

I’ve got chemo brain and have become a little forgetful. I had an amazing, sharp memory before. Now, I catch myself being a little more absent minded. I’ve tried to help this by keeping to do lists (I never really had to do this before – I used to remember everything!).

I also got a cold twice since finishing chemo. My first cold I ended up with congestion for over 2 weeks. My second cold hit me hard. I had a fever up to 104 and lots of coughing and congestion. Roberto reminds me that I had crazy drugs in me (chemo) that nearly wiped out my immune system, so I can’t expect my immune system to be the same as it was before.

Sharing My Story

It’s been important for me to share my story. I hope it gives hope to others going through something similar. I’ve had the honor of having my story shared recently on a few websites:

When you stand and share your story in an empowering way, your story will heal you and your story will heal somebody else.” – Iyanla Vanzant

I’m Done!

On Friday, May 25, I completed my radiation treatment and am now done with ALL of my cancer treatment! This was just in time to have a fun filled Memorial Day weekend and then return to work on May 29. I’m now back to a ‘normal’ life as a mom of two! That’s also why this blog post comes so late.


I had 17 rounds of radiation during May. Going through radiation for me was much easier than chemo. A lot of people have asked me what radiation feels like. It doesn’t feel like anything. It’s like an X-ray; you just lay there. Over time, the radiation does start to wear on your body. My radiation dosage was very low in comparison to other cancers, so I got very minor redness on my skin towards the end. It wouldn’t even be noticeable unless I pointed it out to you. I know some people who get bad burns, almost like sunburns, because the radiation dosage is much higher for them. I have to wear a custom molded face mask to keep my face still and chin lifted during radiation. I got to keep it as a souvenir. I’m not sure what to do with it. Run over it with a car? Paint it? Mount it over my fireplace?

Custom molded face mask used for radiation. Also doubles as Mexican wrestler mask.

One of the side effects I did have from radiation was my esophagus feeling scratchy. About a week into my radiation treatment, I got a cold and had a lot of congestion. Oddly, the congestion lined my throat and I no longer felt the scratchy throat feeling. So in a way, getting sick kind of helped me. Also since my esophagus was getting worn from the radiation, it made it a little harder to swallow certain foods. It felt like food got stuck in my throat and I’d have to drink water to push it down.

Every weekday, I went to radiation. What’s interesting about radiation is you see the same faces waiting in the waiting room everyday since they’re going through their treatment too. I got to talk to more cancer patients and hear their stories. What amazed me the most was that I would be the only person from Houston in the waiting room. Everyone else was from another city or state and came to Houston just for treatment. Some would drive hours everyday for treatment. Some temporarily relocated to Houston and were away from their families. I’m so fortunate to live in Houston and have the #1 cancer center nearby. MD Anderson is amazing; everyone is very professional and knows their stuff!

And after my 17th treatment, I finally got to ring the bell to signify the end of my radiation treatment and ALL of my cancer treatments! When I rang the bell after chemo, I was embarrassed to cry in front of others. I hate people seeing me cry. But this time I didn’t hold back. I cried even during the radiation treatment because I knew it was all about to be over!

Ringing the bell!

A Warm Welcome Back

Admittedly, I was very nervous about returning to work. Would people treat me differently? Would people recognize me since I wear a scarf on my head now? Would I be drawing attention to myself because I wear a scarf or hat on my head? Since I got diagnosed, I started working remotely. I worked up until Joel’s delivery and then went on maternity leave, so my coworkers haven’t seen me in 6 months!

I got such a warm welcome when I returned to work. Everyone was so happy to see me and greeted me with big hugs and smiles. My team hosted a welcome back breakfast for me and invited other coworkers so everyone could see me during that time. I received several sweet cards. There were fajitas and cake for lunch. It felt good to finally get back to ‘normal’ life.

Cake, cards, fajitas, and breakfast on my first day back at work

What About Whole30?

In my last blog post, I wrote about how I did Whole30 as one of my lifestyle changes post cancer. I’ve started reintroducing food groups and observed how they make me feel. I don’t feel too different after eating soy, rice, corn, or peanut products, so I’ll continue eating those in moderation. I was never lactose intolerant before, but dairy is rough on my digestive system now! This is probably because I didn’t eat any dairy for 6 weeks. Gluten makes me very bloated and sleepy. Refined sugar makes me sleepy after it wears off. Overall, I’m avoiding dairy, gluten, and refined sugar as much as I can. So no cake for me.

The New Normal

As I transitioned back to ‘normal’ life, I started to wonder what that would be like after cancer. Would I still relate to my friends? Would I constantly be afraid of the cancer reoccurring? How is life going to be after going through a significant life experience? Or would things go back to being the same as they were before?

Life isn’t the same after cancer. To be honest, I still don’t know how it’ll be, or how I’ll be. It’s too early to tell. I’m alive and healthy now. I have a healthy baby boy that’s now starting to smile and coo at me, pooping on me, and waking me up at 4am. I have a toddler I’m trying to convince that she needs to use the potty, dragging out of Chick-Fil-A because it’s time to go home, and repeatedly watching Disney parades on YouTube. I’m planning a family trip. I can cuddle with my husband. I can share food with my family. It doesn’t sound that exciting, but this is my new life and it’s wonderful.

Celebration brunch!


My Whole30 Experience

As I entered remission and finished my chemotherapy treatments, I started to wonder what my new normal life would be like. What do I need to change in my life now that I’ve had cancer?

I thought about how I should eat better. I think about this a lot actually. Like every time I eat fried chicken or ice cream. I usually just ignore it because 1) I love food, 2) I figure I’ll just work it off by exercising more, and 3) for the last 9 months I was pregnant so I gave myself a free pass.

But as I approached my last chemo treatment and was in remission, the thought kept coming back to me. I need to improve my quality of life. I need to take better care of myself. I thought about it more and started thinking of more reasons why now was the time to start implementing changes to my life.

I got a second chance at life. This was the biggest factor. With chemo done and being in remission, I feel compelled to improve my quality of life. Like the old saying goes, “you are what you eat”. I should try to fuel myself with better quality food and less unnecessary stuff. And most importantly, perhaps this will help decrease the chances of cancer reoccurring too.

I needed to revamp my relationship with food. I eat when I’m happy. I eat when I’m sad. I eat when I’m bored. I eat when I had a bad day. I eat when I had a good day. See a theme here? I love food, especially snacks (Cheetos!) and sweets, and can’t say no to them. And once I start, I can’t stop! If there’s an office potluck, holiday meal, or birthday party, I’m always filling my plate. I’m a hungry girl who loves to try all foods. I need to improve my eating habits. You may be thinking, “you’re not overweight and you work out a lot, so what’s the big deal?”. The constant snacking,  sugar cravings, and lust for food is a vicious cycle I can’t seem to escape. Fueling my body with junk just continues to perpetuate it.

I needed to start cooking again. For four months, I never had to cook because of generous friends and family who provided meals to me and my family. This was so helpful to us and we were sad to see it end, but it was time for us to get back on our own feet. I enjoy cooking, but I knew that I’d go back to making the same old things if I didn’t invest some time in furthering my cooking skills. I needed to improve my meal prep skills if I was going to be returning to work soon too.

I’m on maternity leave and won’t be tempted by food at the office. My work has food everywhere. If it isn’t someone bringing in donuts or tamales for breakfast, then there’s leftovers from a catered meeting. Or there’s a social event with cookies and ice cream. Or there’s the vending machine that’s stacked with chips. We even have something called “Whatever Wednesday” where we rotate bringing in food. There’s easily accessible food everywhere at my work… and I have no self control.

Since we have a newborn, we’re eating out less and eating at home more. We’re not going out to restaurants or many social events while Joel is a newborn, so I’ll be less likely to be tempted by food.

And last, it wouldn’t hurt to lose some baby weight. I’m not talking about the baby weight from my pregnancy with Joel because I hardly gained anything with him. This is the baby weight I gained from my pregnancy with Camila that I never lost (oops). I’ve never pressured myself to lose it since I worked out regularly and was pretty healthy (before cancer), so I felt okay in my new mom body. But eventually I knew I wanted to lose it.

Making a Change with Whole30

All the factors above led me to Whole30. I had heard about Whole30 before, but I figured it was another diet. As a fitness instructor, I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never been able to diet before, mostly because I don’t have the willpower. I try to eat sensibly to offset my indulgances. I wasn’t sure how I was going to change my eating habits when I love food so much.

I bought the Whole30 book on Kindle and began to learn more about it. It’s actually not a diet, but a “short-term nutrition reset, designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system” (source: Whole30 website) done over a 30 day period. The changes I needed to make were more than about weight loss so this seemed like the right kick in the butt I needed. Additionally, Whole30 doesn’t limit portion size or macronutrient intake, require food logging, or counting macronutrients, which was important to me. And for all the reasons I listed above, now seemed like the right time to do it. And let’s face it, there’s never a good time to diet. There was also a quote in the book that resonated with me.

This is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Fighting cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard. You’ve done harder things than this.

I had just done two of the three hard things they described above. Now I felt like I really don’t have an excuse not to try it or that I couldn’t do it. So for 30 days, I ate nothing but whole, real foods. I eliminated “the most common craving-inducing, blood sugar disrupting, gut-damaging, inflammatory food groups” (source: Whole30 website). What are these foods?

  • Dairy (good bye ice cream)
  • Legumes (this includes soy and peanuts, which was really hard)
  • Alcohol (not a big deal for me since I’ve been without alcohol for the last 9 months when I was pregnant)
  • Grains (no rice was very painful for me)
  • Added sugar, real or artificial (not even honey is allowed!)
  • Carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites (additives commonly found in processed food)

You’re probably wondering what’s left for me to eat. Basically, it’s meat, seafood, eggs, fruits, vegetables, spices, and fats like certain oils and ghee. It is very similar to the Paleo diet for those familiar with it. If you want full details on then Whole30 program rules, you can find them here.

The Results

I’m trying really hard not to make this TL;DR, so let’s cut to the chase. It’s challenging to eat this way unless you’re going to be okay with cooking a lot of your meals. Most packaged stuff has some sort of sneaky additive (like sugar or soy). Most restaurants cook their food in some sort of oil that’s now allowed by the Whole30 program or have sugar. It takes a lot of effort to eat this clean for a single meal… much less for 30 days. But it makes a big difference and can be done. Here are my gains.


  • Lost 6 lbs (without even trying to diet)
  • Lost 2 inches in my waist
  • Less bloated (flatter stomach and rings fit better)
  • More vibrant appearance (according to Sherrie!)

Mood, emotion, and psychology

  • More happy, patient, and optimistic
  • Less anxious
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Fewer sugar and carb cravings
  • Feeling in control of my food


  • Fall asleep more easily
  • Sleep more soundly


  • Higher energy level
  • No more mid-day energy slump
  • More energy to exercise
  • Not cranky when I don’t eat
  • Need less sugar and caffeine to boost energy

Food and behavior

  • Healthier relationship with food
  • More mindful about what I eat
  • More aware of reading food labels
  • Fewer cravings
  • Not using food for comfort or stress management
  • More color, variety, vitamins and minerals in diet
  • Not a slave to carbs and sugar

Lifestyle and social

  • New recipes and foods eaten
  • Healthier eating habits to pass down to my family
  • Improved cooking and meal prep skills
  • More knowledgeable about nutrition

Brighter eyes? Radiant skin?

My Whole30 experience has opened my eyes to how food makes me feel. No, I will not be eating this way forever (that’s not the program’s intention), but I will be more conscientious about what I eat. Previously, I would have been so guilty of eating basic grocery store birthday cake because it’s being served, even when it’s not even that great! Instead of inhaling a cheesecake and then feeling guilty about it, I’ll savor it on special occasions. I proved to myself that I can have self control with food. I don’t need to eat something just because it’s in front of me.

During my 30 days, navigating social events was hard, but I made sure I ate before I went somewhere. I’d ask the hosts what they would be serving to see if there was something I could have. If there wasn’t, I’d pack my own snack. Unfortunately, eating at restaurants was nearly impossible because I found it too hard to know if there were noncompliant ingredients in the food. There are people who can do it but I didn’t find it worth it for the 30 days.

It was hard work to plan my grocery shopping and meals, but it was doable. All the recipes I made I found on Pinterest or Instagram and didn’t take more than 30ish minutes to make. Roberto did not do Whole30 with me but he ate what I cooked and could choose to add whatever else he wanted to his meal. It was hard seeing him eat ice cream when I couldn’t!

Some of the dishes I made while doing Whole30.

What’s Next

Now that my 30 days are over, the next steps are to slowly reintroduce foods and see how it makes my body feel (physically and emotionally). Then I’ll be more aware of how eat food makes me feel and it’s up to me if it’s worth it.

Special thanks to Roberto for tolerating my many food experiments and to Baby Joel for being a champ 2 hour napper so mama could cook!

If you’re reading this and have questions on Whole30, feel free to reach out to me! I’m happy to talk about it or share the recipes I used.

Radiation, Here We Go!

On Thursday, May 3, I start radiation. I have 17 rounds of radiation which takes place everyday, Monday through Friday. This is the last of my cancer treatment and I should finish on May 25. This is perfect timing because my maternity leave ends then and I go back to work on May 29!

Radiation Treatment 

In preparation for radiation, I had several appointments. My radiation oncologist needed to know the health of my lungs and heart, so I had a pulmonary function test and an echocardiogram. I also had another PET scan. My mass has shrunk down from 4.0 x 4.6 cm (in March after four chemo treatments) to 2.9 x 3.2 cm (after all six chemo treatments). It’s crazy to think when I was diagnosed, my mass was 16 cm! And most importantly, the PET scan shows that I continue to be in remission.

My radiation treatment is customized just for me and my body. To do this, the radiation oncology team does a simulation to prepare everything. I have a face mask custom molded to the shape of my face and head and a bean bag-like cushion that’s vacuum sealed to the shape of my upper body. My body has to sit precisely in line for the radiation to hit the right spot (and not hit other spots). To additionally ensure this precision, I had three dots tattooed on me so they know exactly where to line me up. My body has also been marked up with markers and covered with tape to prevent the marks from being rubbed off. So for the next 3 weeks I’m going to walk around with funny looking fake tattoos! I feel kinda gangsta. I’m so ready to be done with cancer treatment that I’ll do anything they tell me to do.

Me with some of my radiation markings. There are more on chest and other arm!

Typically when you get diagnosed with a blood cancer, a bone marrow biopsy is ordered to determine if the cancer has spread to the bone marrow. I never got a bone marrow biopsy because I urgently needed to start chemo immediately due to how aggressive my cancer was. Also the procedure requires you to lay on your stomach and I couldn’t do that because I was pregnant. So after all six chemo treatments, I finally had the bone marrow biopsy. It was negative for cancer cells! The actual biopsy procedure was really painful though, even with lidocaine. They use a needle the size of a meat thermometer and insert it into your bone! I hope I never have to do that again.

Maternity Leave Ending

I’m down to my last month of maternity leave! Even with all my medical appointments, I’ve enjoyed my maternity leave with Joel. Maybe because this time I know what the hell I’m doing and am more relaxed. In actuality, it’s also because I have my mom helping me regularly, I’m getting more sleep (night nanny = amazing), and I’m not breastfeeding. Plus, Joel has been an easy baby. I’m trying to be more productive with my time by exercising, cooking and reading more.

Everything Happens for a Reason

When I got diagnosed, everything happened so fast. I didn’t have time to research oncologists or high risk obstetricians experienced with pregnant cancer patients. They were more or less assigned to me and I had to trust them.

My primary care doctor knew a general oncologist at MD Anderson Sugar Land. I saw that oncologist a few hours after I was diagnosed. Then the general oncologist wanted me to see a lymphoma oncologist at the MD Anderson main campus where there’s an entire lymphoma department. When the lymphoma department scheduler called me, she knew she needed to get me in the next day. She asked if I could come in at 10:30am. As silly as it sounds, I had a prenatal massage scheduled at that time and didn’t want to miss it (I had back pain and needed to relax with everything going on!). I asked if they had an appointment in the afternoon. She said they had an opening at 1pm so I took it. I asked who the doctor was and they gave me the doctor’s name. It turned out that doctor was the oncologist in the lymphoma department that was one of the most experienced with pregnant patients.

When I met with the lymphoma oncologist, she advised me to consider changing obstetricians to one who was experienced with cancer patients. Roberto had tried to Google high risk obstetricians that had experience with cancer patients and could only find two in Houston, but there wasn’t much information. We asked the lymphoma oncologist if she had had one she could recommend. She ended up recommending one of the high risk obstetricians that Roberto found. My lymphoma oncologist contacted the high risk obstetrician so I could be seen by her in time to start chemo right after that. We were able to meet her two days later and I transferred my prenatal care to her.

I bring up these stories because at my recent checkups with both my lymphoma oncologist and my high risk obstetrician, I learned that both will no longer be seeing patients in clinic. Additionally, my lymphoma oncologist is leaving MD Anderson and moving to another city. I was likely one of their last pregnant cancer patients and they both became my doctors almost entirely by chance. I never sought out these two doctors who saved my life and Joel’s life. They came into my life at just the right time.

Things come into our life and happen all for a reason. It seems unexplainable in the beginning, but when the journey’s over it all starts to make sense. I never asked for cancer to rudely disrupt my life and my pregnancy. But perhaps if it didn’t happen when it did, I would have never been saved by my doctors.

I trust the universe to bring the right people and circumstances into my life at the right time.

What Cancer Did to My Life

“There are two types of pain in this world: Pain that hurts you, and pain that changes you.”

The type of pain that cancer brings to one’s life (and their loved ones) is indescribable. Until you go through it or have someone intimately close to you go through it, It’s hard to understand. Sometimes we focus so much on the negativity associated with pain that we miss the meaning of why things happen and how it changes your life. What surprised me the most is what I learned from having cancer.

Appreciating the Little Things in Life

Before cancer happened, I used to think to myself how being a mom was sometimes so draining. When would I have time to do things for myself? Can I just use the restroom in peace? Can I eat my food while it’s hot without having to scarf it down? Would my house ever be clean for longer than 15 minutes? And this was just with one kid. How drained would I feel when we have our second child? Of course being a mom is rewarding, but it’s nonstop! I think other moms out there get exhausted from it all, too.

Then I got diagnosed and in a sad, cruel way, I got what I asked for. I couldn’t take care of my daughter the same way before and relied on others to help. I spent hours in the hospital by myself and had more than enough “me” time. I had all the time now to use the restroom or eat my meal slowly. I vowed to myself that when I was healthy again, I would never complain again about being too busy being a mom. I would take a crazy life juggling two kids over cancer any day. Cancer gave me a new perspective on motherhood; I’d embrace the daily chaos instead of resent it.

Acts of Kindness

So many people reached out to us offering to help or asking how they can help. I learned from the beginning I would have to be okay with accepting help. As hard as it was for me to accept (I always feel like I’m inconveniencing people), I knew I couldn’t get through this alone.

We had a meal train set up for us by the YMCA and by my coworkers at DE. We never had to cook once in the last four months and this greatly alleviated our to do list. We had delicious food delivered to us. My friends are really great cooks! Sometimes I was surprised by the people who signed up to bring a meal for us. I didn’t know they had cared enough about me and my family to spend their time and money to provide us a meal. I was taken aback by their act of kindness and generosity. I may never be able to equally reciprocate back to them, but I want to pay it forward to someone else to keep the kindness chain going.

Hot pot provided by my brother

It wasn’t just meals provided to us. I had family and friends also provide care baskets to me, toys for Camila, and play dates with Camila. I’m so grateful for these kind gestures.

Unconditional Love

Almost unconsciously, we know there are people in our lives who love us unconditionally. Our parents, significant others, extended family, best friends, etc. But to experience someone’s unconditional love for you is an awe inspiring feeling.

This unconditional love is something I saw firsthand daily for the last four months. When I was unable, Roberto took care of me, our household, and our daughter. He did it without hesitation and with pleasure. My parents prioritized taking care of Camila and Joel to help us balance all of my medical appointments, household chores, and giving Roberto a break. Even at 33 years old, I see my parents selflessly never wanting to stop taking care of me. They are my best teachers on how to be a good parent to my own children.

My parents with Joel

Everyone Has Their Journey

When I was younger and got out of a bad relationship, I asked myself “why me?”. It was difficult for me to understand why I couldn’t have a happy relationship while many others around me did. What was I doing wrong? What did I lack? I longingly wanted the same happiness.

It wasn’t until I became a mother that I realized everyone has their journey in life. Camila was a fussy newborn that didn’t sleep well at night, I had a questionable breastmilk supply, and I was sleep deprived. I looked at my other mom friends and it seemed like everyone had it together (and social media does not help this). It took awhile for me to realize that no two people have the same experience. Everyone has their ups and downs that they deal with. Comparing myself to others or longing for a life that appeared perfect was unrealistic. Once I accepted and understood this, it made it easier for me to enjoy motherhood rather than constantly question it.

I’m glad I learned this lesson before I was diagnosed. Throughout my cancer journey, I never asked “why me?”. This was my life journey. I was handed these cards and it was for me to own. What may be bad in my life may pale in comparison to someone else’s life. It isn’t my place to ask “why me?”.

Whenever I go to MD Anderson and see all the people there, I always wonder what is there journey. Were they there for the first time, feeling scared and anxious? Or perhaps they have been in remission for years and just doing a follow-up. Maybe they are in the middle of their treatment and feeling emotionally drained. They all have their own story.

While cancer robbed me of so many things—my hair, my time with my family and friends, my health, just to name a few—it changed my outlook in life for the better. I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. I stop and try to appreciate the simple things in life. I’m more certain than ever that I married the best man in the world. I appreciate my parents even more. I would have never learned this if it wasn’t for cancer.

No Mo’ Chemo!

I had my sixth and last round of chemo on April 5. Four months have flown by, my healthy baby is here, I am in remission, and all that stands ahead of me is completing my radiation treatment.

Chemo #6

I was in a extra good mood the day of my last chemo treatment. I was so pumped to be done soon! Because I’ve had so many IVs in the last four months, there’s not many places left on my arms for nurses to easily find a new IV spot. I absolutely hate being poked with the huge IV needle, but because I was in such a good mood that day I didn’t even care it took 3 tries for them to find a good vein. The chemo infusion was otherwise uneventful which is the best I can hope for.

Ringing the Bell

A tradition in the cancer world is to ring a bell when you’re done with treatment. I’ve been looking forward to this day since the beginning. Once I was done with chemo, the nurses walked me down to the bell and cheered me on as I rang it. I absolutely hate crying in front of people and had to try really hard to fight back tears.

Ringing the bell! Done with chemo!

The End… and the Start of a New Beginning

A few days prior to my last chemo, I had a sudden rush of anxiety. I had been so excited about my last chemo session before and looking forward to this day. Why the sudden anxiety? Maybe it was postpartum hormones. I should be happy and excited about finishing chemo.

I talked to one of my nurses and also a social worker at MD Anderson. They told me it was entirely normal for cancer patients to feel anxious or worried towards the end of treatment. They both stressed that I’m entitled to feel the way I feel. I shouldn’t feel bad if I have negative feelings; just acknowledge it rather than feel ashamed or embarrassed. All our lives we are taught we must be happy and we shouldn’t be sad. It’s actually totally okay to feel negative emotions.

As silly as it may sound, I approached my cancer treatment like I do with my fitness stuff (I am a fitness instructor). I am laser focused towards achieving some sort of goal. Just like I did for triathlons, half-marathon, fitness instructor trainings, fitness certifications, or learning new choreography for teaching a class, I methodically laid out things I must do to complete my goal. For cancer treatment, it was drinking plenty of water, walking daily, doing strength training, drinking teas/juices, sleeping enough, detoxing, etc. I focused on this everyday to achieve my end goal of completing chemotherapy. This tunnel vision kept me laser focused and probably numbed my emotions temporarily so I could keep going everyday.

People often tell me how strong I’ve been. The truth is, it has flown by and I didn’t have much time to think about what was happening while it was happening. Now that it’s starting to come to an end, it’s starting to sink in. I’m sitting here thinking, “wow, I did that” and I have this healthy baby in front of me.

REMISSION!, Chemo #5 & Radiation

I mentioned in my previous post that because I’m no longer pregnant, my doctors would be able to fully treat me without holding back. I finally had my first PET scan on Monday and I went in expecting the worst so I wouldn’t be disappointed. I thought I would have progress on my mass shrinking, but I expected my oncologist to change my regimen to something more intense. To my complete shock, it came up negative for cancer cells. This means after four chemo treatments, I am in REMISSION!

This is not the end of my cancer journey though. I still have to finish my remaining chemo treatments (had treatment #5 on Wednesday and the the sixth and last one is the first week of April) and as well as have radiation. This will help reduce the chances of the cancer returning. But knowing I’m in remission is amazing, motivating news that a huge milestone has been met. Roberto and I wept when we received the news and are still in complete shock.

Chemo #5 (Singing this to the tune of Mambo #5)

My oncologist informed me we will not be changing my chemo regimen. There wasn’t enough information to know if changing the regimen would prove to be beneficial, so we would continue with R-CHOP. I’m finally able to have chemo done outpatient now, so I can get the whole infusion in a day and sleep in my own bed at night! Leading up to this, I feared changing my regimen as it would have been 5 day regimen done inpatient that would keep me away from my newborn and family.

I had my treatment on Wednesday. Overall, getting R-CHOP done post pregnancy and outpatient was fortunately uneventful. I had no reactions to the drugs and I was done in 6.5 hours. It’s hard to believe I only have one more chemo treatment to go after this. Last treatment is April 5!

My mass has shrunk from 16cm down to 4cm after 4 chemo treatments. The remaining 4cm is assumed to be dead cells since the PET scan came up negative for cancer cells. One of the doctors showed me my CT scan from when I was initially diagnosed. The mass was huge, taking up space between my heart and lungs, wrapping itself around airways and blood vessels. It grew aggressively and quickly. I’m fortunate I did not pass out or have something worse happen due to lack of oxygen or blood to my body.


After I’m done with all 6 chemo treatments, I will start radiation. This is probably set to start around the end of April and finish sometime in May. have a consultation with radiation oncology once I’m done with chemo to learn more. I hope to be done before my maternity leave is over at the end of May.

Family Life

Joel has been a very easy baby. He sleeps a lot and eats well. This has made the transition to 2 kids easier because he doesn’t demand too much attention (yet). Maybe I’m more relaxed because he’s not the first baby. Camila is still warming up to him. She likes to touch his feet and bring him toys. She’s okay with me holding Joel but got jealous when Roberto held him.

Top row is Camila and bottom row is Joel.

Prayers Answered

There have been dozens, if not hundreds, of people praying, thinking, rooting and sending their positive vibes to me and Joel. People I don’t even know and have never met were hoping for Joel’s healthy birth and that I overcome cancer. I’m so grateful for all this support. There was a moment last week when Roberto and I felt defeated. We wanted all this to be over. Although we are not done, some of our prayers have been answered and it gives us hope to continue. I want to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart. My cancer journey isn’t over yet but I have a healthy baby and the wonderful news that I’m in remission!

Happy Birthday, Joel!

One of our biggest anticipations has been the hope and prayers that baby boy would be healthy despite all the treatment I’m going through. After four rounds of chemo with me, Joel Lucas Moreno came into the world on March 6, 2018 at 8:04am! He weighed 6 lbs 13 oz and was 19” long. Most importantly, he’s healthy!

Skin to skin with mommy after delivery

Labor & Delivery

Disclaimer: For those that like to know the details of labor and delivery, read on. For those that don’t care for it, you can skip this section!

I was scheduled to be induced at 36 weeks. It was important to my OB that I was at least 3 weeks out from my last chemo treatment so my white blood cell counts had enough time to recover, but also she wanted me at least 36 weeks to allow the baby to develop more. I also couldn’t be too full term as there is already a risk of me delivering early. So we scheduled my delivery at 36 weeks and 2 days. The plan is to have a vaginal birth, as this has a decreased risk of infection and quicker recovery time.

The induction plan meant being admitted to the hospital the night before and starting the induction process to deliver the next day. Three days before induction, I was already 1cm dilated. I went for some walks that weekend hoping it would help naturally prepare my body more for labor. When I got admitted to the hospital, I was 2-3cm dilated and 60% effaced so it helped some.

They started me on pitocin at 12:30am. It was going to be nearly impossible for me to get any sleep if contractions were going to eventually start, so I asked for Ambien. It didn’t really help because as soon as I’d doze off, a contraction would wake me up. I asked for some IV pain meds which helped for a bit, but by 3:30am I was ready for the epidural since the pain became too much for me. I got the epidural at 4am and immediately after it, I laid back down and my water broke! The nurse said it was good timing. At this point, I was 5cm dilated so the nurse said things could now progress pretty fast. I was able to get some sleep thanks to the magical powers of the epidural.

Around 6:30am I woke up and started to feel pressure when a contraction came. I told the nurse and she checked me—I was now 10cm dilated! The baby was ready to go! They called my doctor who had to come in during Houston morning rush hour. The contractions had pressure but I didn’t feel a strong urge to push yet, so I was able to wait for my doctor to arrive. After 3 quick pushes, Joel came into the world at 8:04am!

He’s Finally Here

Anyone who has become a parent has probably experienced the unbelievably surreal feeling of your baby coming into the world. Roberto and I have been waiting for Joel since the moment we knew we were expecting—and that anticipation exponentially increased when we initially thought he had Down syndrome and again when I was diagnosed with cancer. Hearing his first cry and seeing him for the first time was an overwhelming moment of relief and happiness I will never forget.

After being reviewed by the neonatologist and multiple pediatricians and taking several tests, Joel is healthy. He passed his glucose tests, bilirubin test, and hearing test. His CBC blood counts are in a normal range. He’s eating well, pooping, peeing, and sleeping a ton—all the things you want a baby to do! We really feel that everyone’s thoughts and prayers for us and Joel have been answered. There is a chance his B cell counts are low due to my diagnosis, but it will catch up by the time he is 6 months old. Until then, we have to be extra careful he does not get sick.

A New Life

After two night at the hospital, we were discharged. We came home and are adjusting to our new life as a family of four (five if you count Luna). Not only am I trying to figure out balancing being a mom of two, but in a few days I’ll resume and eventually complete my cancer treatment.

Now that I’m not pregnant, my doctors will really be able to treat me. This means I can finally have a PET scan to determine what cancer cells remain and what treatment changes should be made, if any. Roberto said that the rest of this journey is all about me now. We now know that Joel is healthy. Now the focus is on me completing my treatment so I can be in remission. We dream of the day where the four of us can finally go somewhere together as a family. It’s not too far away.

Through this, my mom is helping us a ton with Joel and Camila. It’s helped me get extra rest time and also allows us to give Camila attention. Thank goodness for grandmas!

About Joel

Joel isn’t even a week old yet, but so far he’s a pretty easy baby. He’s eating well, sleeping a ton, and laid back. He cries only when he is cold and during diaper changes. He’s trying to establish himself as the man of the house because he’s peed on Roberto probably once a day, but hasn’t yet peed on me (knocking on wood).

What’s in a name? Joel is also Roberto’s middle name. His middle name, Lucas, means light or illumination. We picked it because he is the light to this otherwise dark journey we’re going through.

Someone More in Need

Shortly after I was diagnosed, I learned I was not going to be able to breastfeed as the chemotherapy drugs could pass on to Joel through my breastmilk (when he was in my womb, we had the placenta to help filter it). Although I’m not against formula feeding, this was probably the most disappointing part of being diagnosed. I breastfed Camila until she turned one and felt she has reaped the benefits of breastfeeding. I wanted Joel to have the same benefits. I accepted early on that Joel would be formula fed.

I did hope that we could possibly get donor breastmilk for Joel so at least he could get some breastmilk. Because of Joel’s possible low B cell count, we couldn’t accept just any donated milk. Donor milk from a milk bank was pasteurized and screened. I learned I could ask for donor milk while still in the hospital after delivery. However, I also learned I was not going to be able to get insurance to cover donor milk once we got home. After talking to pediatricians and a milk bank, I learned that I wouldn’t qualify for donor milk because Joel was able to have formula. If I wanted donor milk, I could pay for it out of pocket which could cost thousands of dollars a month.

My initial reaction was how unfair this was. I thought I had a good case of needing donor milk. I thought to myself, “I can’t give this to my child, why can’t they help me?” The milk bank informed me because the need for donor milk was because of the mother and not because of the baby. If the mother is unable to breastfeed, but the baby can have formula, insurance wasn’t going to approve it. Insurance would only approve it if the baby had a sole need for breastmilk.

It opened my eyes to a realization. There was someone out there that needs the donor milk more than Joel and I do. I have a healthy baby that is able to have formula. There are babies out there with health issues that are unable to have formula and their moms are unable to produce breastmilk. They need the donor milk more. No matter how bad of a situation you think you’re in, there’s someone else out there going through something harder that’s more in need than you.

Happy Birthday, Joel. Please know that your dad and I are amazed by your strength and will do anything for you.

Seven Long Nights

Just when I posted my last post on how great things were going after my fourth chemo cycle… I got b!tch slapped upside the head with neutropenic fever. After spending seven nights in the hospital, with most of those having zero energy and sleeping less than 4 hours a night, I am so glad to be home.

What is Neutropenic Fever?

To put it simply, neutropenic fever is when a person (in this case, me) with abnormally low count of a type of white blood cell (neutrophils) gets a fever. Cancer patients can become neutropenic as part of the side effects of chemotherapy and thus lack the immune system to fight viruses and infections healthy person could typically overcome. Because of this, I have been extremely cautious about trying to not get sick. I have probably given this little spiel a dozen times now. I’m sure a lot of people are like “yeah, uh huh, can’t get you sick, got it”.

We are making personal sacrifices to avoid getting sick. I work from home, don’t go to public places except the doctor, wash and sanitize my hands constantly, wear a face mask, change Camila’s clothes everyday before she comes home from school, sanitize our dishes in the dishwasher, use Clorox and Lysol on everything in our house, anyone entering my house must remove their shoes and wash their hands, the list could go on. I didn’t know if we were going overboard with these precautions or not, but last week we found out we were doing the best we could.

Small Cold, Big Impact

Both Roberto and Camila caught a very minor cold. They had runny noses and a bit of a cough, but no fever. Eventually, I caught this from them on a Friday. It seemed like a minor cold to me too. I had a clear runny nose and no fever. I hoped that I could fight it as my recent lab work showed my white blood cell counts to still be okay. By Monday, I had a fever and my lab work showed i was severely neutropenic. I needed to get to the ER right away because with my neutrophils that low, there was no way I could fight it on my own.

To get my neutrophil counts up, I got Neupogen injections daily until my counts were high enough. In a regular chemo cycle, I get 2 days of Neupogen injections to help me improve my neutrophil counts prior to my next chemo treatment. Usually these 2 days do tire me out and give me a low grade fever. I just need to sleep and rest and I’ll be okay in a day.

This time, I needed 6 days of Neupogen and at a higher dose. This is very taxing on the body as my bone marrow is working overtime to create more white blood cells. I had no energy for a good 5 days, accompanied with fever, chills, night sweats, and just overall lethargy. Add that in with well meaning hospital staff coming into your room every other hour for just a few hours of sleep a night. Maybe this is preparing me for a newborn. But after 7 long nights at the hospital, my counts were finally back up and I was fever free.

Stay Healthy!

I hate to sound preachy, but the point of my story is… if you are feeling sick, stay home. I am responsible for my own health, but don’t go out and spread your germs. Protect yourself by washing your hands and using good hygiene like covering your cough. Don’t expect people to go to work or do things if they are sick. Let them rest. It’s not about just my health, but for everyone out there, even healthy people. Everyone knows how dangerous this flu season is. Healthy people are dying from the flu. Let’s let each other prioritize our health!

Also, this is what I originally pictured cancer to be like. I thought I was going to be feeling sick, no energy, and in bed all day. It’s actually been quite the opposite for me and days like this are extreme and rare. So I’m happy that most of my days are pretty normal and I’ve only ran into a handful of these rough days.

What’s Ahead

I only have ONE week until I am scheduled to deliver the baby at 36 weeks. From now until then, I’m trying to stay as healthy as possible to be ready for delivery. Even though I am delivering a month early, baby boy is growing and stretching by belly skin to no end. I’ve only gained 15 lbs with this pregnancy (granted it could be more, since my mass shrunk), but this baby is in the 82nd percentile in growth and already over 6 lbs at 35 weeks pregnant! One more week to go!