Picture it: August 2004. Gainesville, Florida. A 24-year-old woman stood in a small meeting room on the University of Florida campus. She was head to toe in black Ann Taylor—a pencil skirt and matching blazer, to be specific. She was doing her best to look studious and serious. But, hidden underneath her polyester blouse was a gold cursive nameplate necklace inspired by Carrie Bradshaw AND Jennifer Lopez.
“Tell me, Veronica…” one of the three professors asked, adjusting in his chair. “What methods did you use for your ethnographic study?”
The young woman stood tall.
“Well, Professor Batista, I used several methods of empirical field work…”
The questions continued for another hour.
Finally, the professors asked the young woman to step out of the room.
“What would Carrie do?” She thought as she sat on a wobbly office chair, waiting for the professors to decide her fate.
Drinking a cosmopolitan while shoe shopping was not an option at the moment, so she decided to pray—which was probably not something that Carrie would do.
Just then, the door creaked open. One of the professors signaled for the student to enter the meeting room.
“Well, Veronica, we have reviewed your research. Congratulations. You have completed all of the required course work. You have also provided thorough research…”
That’s when she tuned out. She smiled as she imagined herself as Jennifer Lopez, jumping up on the table in five-inch-heels, pulling a pin out of her hair to reveal her long locks, tearing off her black outfit to expose a gold sequence body suit. Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got!! I’m still, I’m still…
“Veronica?? Ms. Sparks??” Her JLo dream was interrupted. “Congratulations, Veronica. What’s next for you?”
“Well, professors. I know most of my classmates plan to continue their studies or perhaps start meaningful careers… But I plan to do something GREAT. I’m going to move to Dallas, buy some super-cute new clothes, and read US Weekly every single day.”
Yes. I wore this in public. No, it wasn't Halloween.
I had just defended my Master’s Thesis. And, my brain hurt. I was ready to take a break from the academic world. I needed a sabbatical from classes and research and granola. (I studied Latin American studies. Most of the students in my program were rain forest conservationists. They were very granola. And, I say that in the most loving way.)
I had been in school for twenty consecutive years. My brain was craving junk food in the form of light conversation, reality television, and social life. And, Dallas was the perfect place to binge. So, I happily collected my diploma and moved to the Big D.
Just as suspected, there was no shortage of flash and bling and twenty-something fun. My best friends from undergrad already lived there. So, I was welcomed with open arms.
For ten years, I kept things light. I loved reading celebrity gossip magazines. I watched makeup tutorial videos on YouTube. I kept stacks of fashion magazines handy. And, I could name every Kardashians (AND every Jenner—I’m embarrassed to say.) This is how I lived and I was content.
In that ten year window, I met and married the man of my dreams. He was kind and compassionate and we had several mutual interests—except for my brain junk food.
One evening, while watching The Hills, I flipped through an In Touch magazine waiting for the commercial break to pass. My husband, who was passing through our living room, paused to ask, “Why do you fill your brain with that trivial stuff?” I don't think he actually didn’t use the word “stuff”—he may have used a different word. Either way, I was offended. How could anyone say such things about Spencer and Heidi?
I rolled my eyes and kept reading.
Three years, two babies, and five seasons of Real Housewives later, I found myself at MD Anderson cancer hospital. I noticed that the hospital offered classes meditation, yoga, and tai chi. This was interesting to me. I was curious. Why would a cutting edge medical facility offer these specific classes? I started digging and found several articles about how mind/body practices can be beneficial to cancer patients.
This lit a fire in me. What else (besides modern medicine—chemotherapy, drugs, surgery, etc.) will help me heal?
I downloaded an app called “Calm.” This app was designed to help people learn to meditate. It was genius. I started practicing everyday. Mediation was terribly difficult for me. (Often times, it still is.) But, I was determined to learn. My anxiety decreased, my blood pressure lowered, and I found myself smiling more.
My interest in meditation lead to interest in mindfulness, which lead to a greater interest in spirituality. Being closer to God made want to be braver, kinder, and more compassionate. I became interested in empathy. I started devouring books about venerability, love, and grace.
I started drinking green juice (a blended medley of broccoli, cucumber, kale, and other greens) and doing whatever I could to honor my body.
Looking back at last summer, I realize that God was planting seeds. I truly believe that He was arming me for the biggest fight of my life. I didn’t know it then, but cancer was lying dormant in my body, like a sleeping bear. While I was reading about anti-cancer nutrition, visualization, meditation, and honoring the mind and body, the bear was stirring.
One year and five days after ringing the celebration bell (to celebrate the end of treatment,) I would discover cancer recurrence. The bear had awakened from hibernation. And, she was here to kill.
But, I was also ready to fight back. Meditation was my helmet. And, God was my suit of armor. I was (and am) protected.
Last week, my oncologist marveled at how I lived and thrived with minor symptoms considering how advanced my cancer was. I was easing back into CrossFit, running, and doing yoga a few times a week—-All of this without coughing or wheezing or any lung symptoms. I am convinced that if I had waited much later to find my recurrence, I would be dead today. It was such a blessing that we found the cancer when we did.
Hindsight is 20/20.
I can clearly see that my shift from Real Houswives to Anne Lamont (a hilarious and heartwarming Christian writer) was not a coincidence. My intense hunger to learn about God and the human body and the extraordinary power of the mind was not by accident. God was giving me a toolkit that would help me heal and thrive throughout the deep, dark valleys of cancer. Hell, I may even survive this situation. I’m prepared for whatever happens. And, I am at peace.
To be totally honest, I still love an occasional article about Taylor Swift. (Who is she dating now?) And, sometimes celebs can offer great knowledge. I mean… It's like I got this muuuuuusic in my mind saying "it's gonna be alright!"
Green juice in a champagne flute.