My Life As Cancer Warrior

Cancer Warrior
Written by Monica Mateo

Cancer Survivor: My Life As Cancer Warrior. Monica Mateo shares her courageous story with Identity Magazine readers.

Sharing My Story As Cancer Warrior

If it weren’t for modern medicine — I wouldn’t be here. My timer was up and my number was called at the age of twenty-three when I was diagnosed with Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma ALK+. I was young and scared along with feeling utterly mortal.

I knew death happened, but it always seemed so far away. I underwent rounds of chemotherapy along with radiation and went into remission April 6, 2009. It felt like I was living in a tornado for six months and was finally released back down.

I was disoriented and traumatized.

I could no longer be the reckless twenty-three-year-old who always had a cigarette in her hand and a beer in the other. I could no longer drink a large coffee for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I had to shape up and love my body again.

I needed to finally understand that I was officially not only a survivor, but a warrior.

So, what was my next move?

How was I supposed to live the rest of my life? I could either sulk and pity myself or I could surrender. I decided to surrender — I allowed myself to feel every ounce of pain, fear, and terrifying experience that I endured.

I allowed myself to understand that I was human and alive. I allowed myself an opportunity to mourn my old life as I made room for my new one. Most importantly, I allowed myself to cry. I didn’t want to be strong any longer, I simply wanted to surrender.

I wrote the memoir, The Cancer Warrior as a way of healing. I needed to listen to my throat chakra and release my truth into the world. To me, a warrior is a person who pushes through hardships while being scared. I was petrified, yet no one knew. My memoir, The Cancer Warrior allowed me to expose myself to the world.

I felt the vulnerability of people reading my darkest truths, inner secrets, and hardest parts of treatment. I needed people to understand that cancer was not about ribbons, but a person whose life has truly changed. One thing is for certain, without cancer — I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. I wouldn’t be able to appreciate and fight for the life I have created eight years later.

Identity Magazine is all about guiding women to discover their powers of Self-Acceptance, Appreciation, and Personal Achievement. We ask that every contributor and expert answer  the Identity 5 questions in keeping with our theme. Their answers can be random and in the moment or they can be aligned with the current article they have written. In that way, and as a team, we hope to encourage and motivate each other, thus inspiring you to Get All A’s.

1. What have you accepted within your life, physically and/or mentally? Additionally, what are you still working on accepting? Now, we’re talking about resignation, rather stepping into, embraced, and owned.

I had to accept that for the rest of my life I am always going to check the box on the medical form that asks if I had cancer. I will have to live with the knowledge that cancer is sneaky and can come back for round two.

2. What have you learned to appreciate about yourself and/or within your life, physically and mentally? On the other hand OR in contrast, are there elements of who you are that you’re still working on appreciating?

My body, mind and soul. I used to be extremely critical of myself pre-cancer, but my thoughts of beauty changed dramatically. I had a huge lump growing under my jaw and had to face the world with it. I tried to hide behind turtlenecks, but couldn’t hide from the truth. Then when the lump finally subsided with chemotherapy and steroids, I had to deal with a chemo rash on my face along with hair loss. My idea of beauty was uprooted and I had to rediscover my true self. I was more than my physical body — I was a mind and soul.

3. What is one of your most rewarding achievements in life? Tell us not only what makes YOU most proud but also share the  goals and dreams that you still have.

I am proud of myself for publishing The Cancer Warrior. I still can’t believe that I have a memoir with my name on the cover. I feel so proud that my son can one day read it and know that his mother achieved her goal. I also feel amazed that I stuck through the entire process and have a legacy that will remain. I am currently working on a second memoir called She Named Her Olivia, which is based on pregnancy loss. My ultimate dream is to have a lake house with my husband and write books for a living (a girl can dream, right?)

4. Of course, we all have imperfections, or so we think. In truth, we are all perfectly imperfect. What are your not-so-perfect ways?  Likewise, what imperfections and quirks create who you are–your Identity?

I love this question. In truth, I worry about what people think of me. I have my memoir out for the world to read and it contains some real heavy thoughts about how I view the world. I worry if people will judge or accept me. I am human and that’s so important for people to remember. I love every ounce of who I am, but I am still very human.

5. “I Love My…” is an outlet for you to appreciate and express all the positive traits that make you…well…YOU! In fact, sharing what you love about yourself will make you smile, feel empowered, and uplift your spirit and soul. (We assure you!) Therefore, Identity challenges you to complete the phrase “I Love My…?”

I love that my body can get into crazy yoga poses even after giving birth to my son. I love that my belly isn’t so perfect and that I birthed a human being. I am madly in love with my curly hair that I no longer straighten because it shows people my unique essence.

About the author

Monica Mateo

Monica Y. Mateo is the author of her debut memoir, The Cancer Warrior. Monica is an eight-year survivor of cancer, which made her the warrior she is today. She is a social worker and has been in the field for ten years. She is currently working with at-risk youth in an urban school setting. Monica is a yoga addict and vegan who devotes her free time to volunteering. She is a fiancé and mother to an amazing little boy.

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