Teresa Ponce

Dearest Survivors Committee, My name is Teresa Ponce and I was born and raised in California.  Growing up my family did not have much money or resources available to us.  I made a decision to come to Oklahoma to attend Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  I had fifteen dollars in my pocket, a plane ticket and all of my belongings in two suitcases.  I put myself through school, obtained a Master’s in Food Science and have worked hard my entire life. This past June I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma stage 2C, at the age of 33. My cancer was specifically in my left breast; however I opted to have a bilateral mastectomy because the risks of it spreading were so great. After having both breasts removed and my many struggles that ensued, I have confidently decided to not have reconstructive surgery.  I want my scars to tell my epic story and hopefully inspire others to take charge of their health and be courageous to deal with any adversity. Below are a few reasons why I believe my current circumstances warrant my family and me a much needed vacation. My husband Daniel has been in Mexico since August of 2012. We have been battling a very time consuming immigration case in order for him to obtain his residence visa. Daniel had to hear by phone of my diagnosis, missed my mastectomy surgery and has been absent for all my chemotherapy sessions. I cannot begin to imagine the worry, stress and uncertainty that Daniel has to face on a daily basis; not being physically present to take care of his wife. Since his absence, I have been both mother and father as well as bringing in only one income. Daniel and I have a beautiful, loving and vibrant five year-old daughter, Danessa Ponce. Danessa started Pre-K this past fall and has been a huge help to her mommy during this hurdle in our lives!  It is extremely hard for me to let my daughter see me like this; bald, no breast, sick and scars all over.  Through many conversations, interactions and prayers it seems that Danessa has had some peace in her heart about me being this way. We envision better, happier and cohesive days as a complete family again.  Because of my daughter’s smile, her laugh and the time we spend together, she has given me the most aggressive willpower to fight.  Days being numbered and tomorrow never being promised became a quick reality in the Ponce household. But this too shall pass. Danessa and I have made the best out of every single situation, and in return we have the most sacred, pure and humbling relationship that a mother and daughter could ever ask for. My mother Mary is a four-time cancer survivor (2x Breast, Cervical and Melanoma) who has not only had to be my caretaker but my daughters as well. My mom is currently on disability herself, recuperating from her double mastectomy and chemotherapy. Due to the severe nausea and bone weakness that chemo causes me, I am unable to take care of myself much less my daughter for the two days post chemo sessions. My mother travels an hour from Morrison to Enid every week then turns around and drives me the two hours to Cancer Treatment Centers of American in Tulsa. She then drives us back to Enid and stays for two days to cook, clean and take care of Danessa and me. My mother has been my back bone and strength throughout this entire journey. It breaks me down to see my mom work so diligently to get my daughter ready for school, cook our meals, do laundry, maintain the cleanliness of my home and yet go home and do it all over again. If she were to have a few minutes to spare, she calls family members and friends to provide status updates on my progress, which drains her emotionally.  In my truthful opinion, my mother Mary deserves a much deserved and needed vacation more than anyone I know, including myself. Unable to work I have been on long term disability since September, following the expiration of my short term disability. I applied for Social Security Disability back in August, been denied once, appealed, and have been waiting patiently since October still with no approval in sight. With my monthly income, which is only 60% of what I made while working full time, I pay all the bills, groceries, copays, send money to Daniel in Mexico when needed, as well as assist my mother for gas money for her weekly travels to my home. Due to absolutely no unnecessary spending what so ever, thankfully I have been able to meet my monthly mortgage and utility bills every single month thus far. This past Christmas, coworkers from my work, church and Danessa’s school so humbly and generously provided her with abundant gifts; just enough to make her Christmas a little bit more special this year! Danessa’s dream is to some day visit a beach and most importantly play in the sand. She is a lover of water, period. Here in Oklahoma we have small water parks; she adores them and can spend hours splashing in the water and riding the slides. But that is the extent of her experience. Danessa screams, shouts and jumps with joy at every single TV commercial that displays a sandy beach. She asks me all the time if she will ever be able to feel and play in the sand. In my mind there would be no better gift for my little girl than to bring her to the ocean and the paradise that is Hawaii. Neither my mother nor I have been fortunate enough to visit Hawaii’s tropical islands. I dream of lying in the clear blue ocean, allowing the salt water to wash over my scars, inhaling the fresh breath of sea salt in the air, the warm sand to calm my skin, the sun rays kissing my tired body. I pray to be the memory that comes to mind when my daughter thinks of her very first sand castle. I desire to see her face when she first lays eyes on that deep crystal blue sea and white sandy beach. Just the very thought of walking hand in hand with my daughter collecting sea shells on the beach shore every morning fills my heart with courage and reason to fight harder.  I’ve also envisioned my mother wearing a one piece swimsuit, sarong wrapped around her waist, blowing in the breeze. I see her with her feet up in a lounge chair, margarita in her hand as she raises her face to the sun. I want inner peace for my mother; a chance to clear her mind, soul and body, even if only for a short while. Restoration, peace and a chance for her to let go of all the fear, worries and tears she has spilled in my name since June. Let someone else cook, clean and cater to her. No driving. Rest, restoration and rejuvenation for this strong, incredible woman. Teresa Ponce 2 It would be an answered prayer, a miracle and a rare blessing to have our “3 generations” vacation. A rare celebration, a moving tribute, not only to my survival of cancer but to overcoming a fight, a fight that was fought and won by three generations with support, love and hope. As I write this I have five sessions of chemotherapy left. Since my cancer initially spread, I will be tested thoroughly and if there are no signs of cancer cells I will then advance to radiation. Radiation will consist of daily treatments for a period of six weeks. God willing, all of my treatment will end in 12 weeks, or sometime in April. Danessa will be done with school on the 22nd of May, so June will be ideal for us to be blessed with a much needed vacation.   Regardless of the outcome, I want to express a huge “thank you” in advance for what you all are doing. Being a victim of cancer or watching a loved one battle cancer is in itself the same. I truly believe that caretakers and those most closely to those suffering from cancer are the ones that are affected the most. Family NEED time to get away from the home-to-hospital routine that they are subjected to. Vacations bring healing, family bonding and restoration by allowing families to stop, regroup and regain their footing. Unfortunately this costs money, money that is being consumed in order to keep a loved one alive. Again please let me express my sincere gratitude and say thank you.  Thank you for bringing smiles to faces that for so long have only seen tears. Thank you for not only thinking about the cancer patient but also those that support and care for them, doing all they can to help. May God bless you tenfold for all the good acts of love and hope that occur in your organization! Truly & Sincerely, Teresa Marie Ponce