While running the foremost Christian institution in the country, Jerry Falwell and his wife, Becky, lured a pool attendant into a love triangle and a financial scandal that would shock the world in God. We Lust premieres April 20th. But you can listen to the trailer now wherever you get your podcasts. This is actually happening features real experiences that often include traumatic events. Please consult the show notes for specific content warnings on each episode and for more information about support services.
I was forced into being vulnerable, I was forced into being present, I was forced into sort of existing suddenly with my lights turned on. And I think that's what happens when you face death. All the weird habits and regret and anxiety. There's no room for it. No time for it. From eye witness with misalign you are listening to, this is actually happening Episode one 185. What if you kept shaking hands with death? If you love this is actually happening and you're looking for another podcast to binge.
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That's Everleigh. Welcome. I grew up in a really loving, creative household. My is from Greece. He came to Los Angeles when he was 18 and started working in restaurants. My mother was originally from New York. She's Puerto Rican and her family moved to Los Angeles when she was about five or six. And so I was born and raised here in L.A.. Truly, the immigrant Los Angeles experience. Growing up in L.A. in sort of the 80s and 90s, I think people don't realize that when you were an immigrant or you came from an immigrant family, your goal was to assimilate.
Your goal was to have a nice house, make sure your kids spoke English and English, only went to a good school, got a good job. That was really the tenants of our household. We didn't learn my father's language, Greek. We didn't learn Spanish. It was all about assimilation. Growing up, we originally lived in Huntington Park, which is a great neighborhood, and it was predominantly Mexican, and so we sort of just fit in.
People just assumed we were Mexican until it came to roll call. So my real name is Aphrodite. I'm named after my father's sister. And so the minute my name is called, everyone in the room snaps their gaze to me. And they're like, Aphrodite. What kind of name is that? That's not like the Latin names we're used to hearing. And it became like carrying a boulder every day at school. And I begged my mother to go to the front office and have them change it because I just I didn't want to be different.
And that's been a hard identity to reconcile because it's also allowed me to have really close access and proximity to whiteness. And with that comes a lot of privilege. In your multicultural, you almost feel like nothing. You're not Puerto Rican enough, you're not Greek enough. They cancel each other out. So so I move through the world with access to whiteness, with access to cultures almost as a blank slate. But I remember one moment distinctly where we're looking for homes and the real estate agent turns to my mom, who's light skinned Puerto Rican, and says, I don't think I'm going to sell this house to you.
We don't want you throwing diapers in the street here. And it was the first time I had experienced racism towards my family, and that was when sort of the bubble of identity start to crack. Only recently, with the term Latin ex, for example, I was able to say I have had the experience of a Puerto Rican person, I have had the experience of a Greek person. I have had the experience of an immigrant. But it just doesn't look like the stereotype or the obvious.
Eventually, junior high and even a little younger, I struggled with self-esteem, I was sort of the ugly sister, I was a tomboy. I think all those things also crippled me in terms of my identity and who I was and how I felt I could express myself. I think growing up for me because I was a tomboy, femininity and expressing that did not come easy to me. And I feel like every time I tried to wear makeup and wear my hair a certain way or wear a dress, I just didn't feel comfortable.
And so I did as much as I could to be invisible. I have definitely the stereotypical story of I discovered drama class and found a bunch of people who felt just like me and that was sort of a shift in high school. You know, it's just you find people who let you be weird and there's sort of a reparative experience that happens that when you're home and your your parents are shaming you, for one thing, you get to go to school and your your classmates are like, that's hilarious.
We want more of you. So then after high school, I went to community college. My dream was to get into film as a writer and a director, and I went through this program called Inner City Filmmakers, and it was there that I met another filmmaker who was an undocumented immigrant. One day he told me and a friend over dinner that he was going to be deported and I immediately, without hesitation, I said, I'll marry you. And we did it, we planned this really small wedding and Zuma Beach, and then I drove myself in my wedding dress there and in studying for our immigration test, we fell in love.
So we started dating. We were married for seven years, together for five. It was an important relationship to me. It was the first time I had been wanted and loved as a woman, which is growing up as a tomboy and not feeling feminine enough. It was so vital to have that love and that acceptance. So twenty five years old, I had to postpone going to college, I had gotten into UC Santa Barbara for literature and I postponed because I got this amazing job working for this producer, Brooke Breton.
She was a producer on Avatar and master and commander. And this was an amazing opportunity. So I was like, I can go to college any time, but I can't get a job like this. And I was actually her nanny. And I asked her, I said, hey, can I work at your production company during the day? And the minute your son gets out of school, I'll be your nanny again. And she said yes. And so I worked at this really tiny animation studio, and that's what I did, I worked as a during the day and then I was a nanny at night.
And from there I got a job at DreamWorks Animation. I had never thought I'd be in animation. I wanted to write and direct features at the time, and I worked there for three or four years and then they open their TV division. And at the time I was like, I want to be a TV writer. That is my dream. I was able to transfer over to their TV department. I was a script coordinator, which is such a hard job to get.
I had this amazing opportunity. I was about to turn 30 and I was feeling like wild life. My life is on track. So I grew up since I was a young kid with weird health anxiety and remember, my first earliest memory was we had learned about chemicals, I think, in first grade. And I came home and my mom had mop the floor in the kitchen. And I freaked out that if I stepped on the wet floor, I was going to die.
I was going to poison myself. And so I sort of had this weird anxiety about health growing up and was always on edge about it. I think the hypochondria was worse in my teens and early 20s, but there was always this sort of fear like this hyper awareness fear that, oh my God, something terrible is going to happen. I had such heavy health anxiety, I refused to go to the doctor, I didn't see a gynecologist until I think my late 20s, I refused to go.
For me, it felt like avoiding a diagnosis of anything was the only way to survive. And I didn't see the dentist. I mean, I really neglected my health as a way to stay healthy, which is so crazy. I would just have a symptom, obsess about it, WebMD about it. I assume it's the worst thing and monitor it and then it would go away and then then the minute it would go away. Next symptom. Oh, my God.
It must be this. You know, I had this big fear around cancer all through my 20s, and I would do so much research about these ailments to the point where I diagnosed myself with a cancer that women can't even get. Cancer is that thing you hear, it's like the worst thing that can possibly happen to you. It is a death sentence and at some point a friend of mine had gotten cancer. And I remember being like, why do I feel like I'm going to get cancer?
So I took this class at SAG, a class for actors, and it was all about having intuition during the audition process and they brought a few people on stage and one woman was a medium and she was talking about intuition versus fear and how that comes through. I remember her saying that intuition is a really small voice, it comes in and it leaves if it's attached to any fear or any big emotion, that's most likely not. And she mentioned as an example, everyone should take a journal and have a little intuition journal.
And it came out so not attached to anything, so I wrote it in the journal Natalia's Cancer. So it turned 30 and the show that I'm on at DreamWorks TV gets canceled, so I'm laid off and two weeks from my insurance running out because I don't have a job anymore and I feel this weird pain in my right breast. And I'm obsessing about it, I'm Web meeting all day, all night. I'm tracking the symptoms for cancer because at this point I figured, oh my God, I'm right, I'm going to get it.
And I am freaking out. My friends are like, it's nothing. You're being crazy. All the stuff you think, like you're way too young. You're being insane. So I think a week before I'm supposed to lose my insurance, I go to my gynecologist. He orders a mammogram and a biopsy. Get the results, my doctor asked me to drive in to see him, and I'm like, that can't be good. So my friend Deborah, she's like, Well, I'll meet you there just in case.
Go into the office, the doctor reads me, My diagnosis is like it's cancer, it's breast cancer. And I'm just in complete shock. I can't cry, I can't ask him any questions, and my brain is a complete blank, I can't even process. What do you think? I almost don't even believe it. The whole drive over there, I was filled with anxiety over hearing the news and then the minute I heard the news, it's like my brain shut down.
Here I am, someone who wrote, I'm going to get cancer in my little book, you know, two years before, and the other intuitions did not come true at all. The only one who came through with number seven, Natalia's cancer. My friend Deborah is sort of asking all the question on my behalf, because I just was in too much shock to even ask next steps or now what or how bad or is it anywhere else? I mean, all the things you should know right away.
And I was just sort of staring at him blankly. I can't remember the drive home, I remember being home and Deborah had called our other friend Elizabeth, and they came over and I think that was the first time I cried and I just didn't know what to do. I was just crying. I had no idea. I was completely unprepared. It's amazing what I found comforting when I was telling people right away, people, it's going to be fine, you're going to be fine, we'll figure it out.
And I remember telling my friend Tana's and she said, well, well, that fucking sucks. And that, to me, was the most comforting. I didn't need to hear it's going to be fine. You're going to be fine, you're going to survive. You've got great doctors. We'll figure it out. We'll get you the best care at that moment. I don't even want to think about doctors or treatment at that moment. My brain is saying that fucking sucks.
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Turns apply. Originally, my prognosis was stage three, and because it wasn't in my lymph nodes, it got downgraded to stage 2B and it's only in the right breast, it's not in my lymph nodes. It's not anywhere else in my body. I'm a young person and my prognosis was good. And I had been working for this woman, Tatiana, and I told her I was like, I I'm not going to have health insurance. And she was truly my guardian angel.
She's like, I'll pay for your health insurance. You can work for me when you're feeling good and when you're not feeling good, you can lay in bed. And she's the one who allowed me to even have care. Otherwise, I would not even have Medicaid because I had lost my job.
So at this point in my diagnosis, I feel good, like every anxiety I've ever had goes away. It was weird. I think when you're having XIRI, in my experience as a healthy person, your mind can go to the worst case scenario. The minute someone tells you you're in the worst case scenario, that anxiety goes away. It was almost like I was living my best and worst life at the same time. It's now about, OK, how do we solve this problem?
Not having anxiety, especially when you're diagnosed with cancer, with such a gift, because all I had was hope, it was like, I'm going to get through this, I'm going to be a survivor. There was no feeling at that time of I'm going to die. My health plan was that I was going to do chemotherapy, I think, twenty eight rounds, and they see if they shrink the tumor and then maybe you get surgery. First thing that happens is you lose your hair, and that, to me, is the hardest part of cancer treatment.
It's the physical manifestation of your illness. And I remember it was my friend's 30th birthday and she had catered this whole thing outside in the backyard. And I had chunks of my hair started falling out chunks, not just a strand or two big chunks. And I remember seeing a chunk of my hair over the buffet table. And I was so embarrassed. And my friend Stephanie had said, the minute you need to, like, will come over with the razors and we'll shave it.
You know, we had this whole shaving party, people brought different platters of food and music and took turns shaving my head, and it was really emotional because that that, in a way to me was me accepting I have cancer because I think for someone like me who comes into her femininity expression sort of awkwardly at that point, I had sort of pieced together this feminine identity. And now I was going to lose my hair and I had to accept cancer.
And I have to accept yet again to tell you, you failed yourself on the femininity front. It's interesting, what cancer showed me was that I was living my life dialled to regret, I'm going to regret all the things I should have could have done. I want to write a book and then a year passes by. Oh, I should have done two pages a day. You set a goal, but you never make it. You never reach it.
And what cancer kind of shows you, I think is presence. And you have to be present right now. You can't regret it because your hair is going to fall out either way. So I was forced into being vulnerable. I was forced into being present. I was forced into sort of existing suddenly with my lights turned on. And I think that's what happens when you face death. All the weird habits and regret and anxiety. There's no room for it.
No time for it. Suddenly, my career aspirations didn't have as much weight, it was it was instead about connecting with my friends and my family and learning to be open and learning to ask for help and learning about my own resilience. All those things, those basic things of making money and and looking good and aspirational stuff, it didn't matter. I had realized how much vulnerability I had lacked with my friendships, like I was the person who no one really knew how they felt.
I would just make a joke or be the fun person. And now I had to cry in front of people, which is something that I wasn't comfortable doing. I had to ask for help. Now I tell my friends I love them. There was a fear of that. And I think the cancer sort of took that away and was like, no, you have to be vulnerable. This is what life is about. So we did six rounds of chemo.
One was super cardio toxic, and I remember being 30 years old, I could barely go up the stairs and we did a scan and it was growing. I had spoken to a surgeon and said after six rounds, if this isn't shrieking, we have to do surgery. And so I was like, OK, let's do a surgery. And that's when I had to decide to get a double mastectomy. Having to move to surgery was scary when they're telling you it's growing, you have no idea of what other tissues it's destroying or what else it's doing to your body.
It's moving so quickly. And I had meetings with my doctors and, you know, there was a chance that you don't get to keep your nipples, which was something for someone like me who has a complicated relationship with her body. I was just like, am I going to look mutilated? Am I going to look crazy to someone else? You know, I'm going to have breast implants. What does that mean for my feminine body? What does that mean for my sex life?
But you want to live, so you just sort of put the surgery on the books and you hope for the best. So I have my double mastectomy in 2015 and Santa Monica in a really nice hospital, all my friends come to visit to the point where they annoy the nurses. I feel so loved. I'm high on morphine, having the best time I come home to my parents. That's where I'm going to recoup. And suddenly the pain of having my breasts sort of carved out of my body hits me.
And all I can think about is rolling myself into my mother's pool and drowning, it was so painful, nothing I had ever experienced before. You can take as many boxes as you want, the pain doesn't go away, it just clouds your mind. And if I couldn't have my body intact, I definitely wanted my mind intact. And I just sat there and I remember, again, not being able to cry. And my mom finally went to the grocery store and I was lying on the couch and I was watching.
Tig Notaro is comedy special and at one point she takes her shirt off and she shows her discectomy. And I started crying. It was almost like her telling her story about it finally gave me what I needed to cry and to feel like I wasn't alone and to be able to process and to see someone who went through something that I had gone through on stage and thriving that moment. I was like, I can do this. I can deal with this pain.
At least I thought, if you can get through that, you can get through anything. That's how I felt. Surgery is a success and getting breast implants. I got to keep my nipples and feeling good five years go by, I'm in remission, everything's going fine. I'm living a completely normal life. I'm drinking and eating normally. I'm working now. I'm able to travel. I mean, all the things that you can do before the sort of closeness I have with my friends goes back to normal.
We now see each other just every once in a while. It's all goes back to normal. My anxiety was gone. I think I was more up for adventure, sort of the cliche that life is short. And so in that period of time, I was looking for what was the most fun adventure. But I am working for this woman and we're playing adult make believe and we're you know, we opened a legal cabaret in her basement and we did a graphic novel.
And we we ended up opening a prison art show. And we're traveling all over the country. And I almost forget I had cancer at that point and I just felt like I did it. I conquered it. Five years go by, I have bronchitis, or at least I think I do, I'm on all kinds of steroids. It's not going away. I go see my oncologist and just on a whim, we ask for a scan just to see no one's thinking cancer's anywhere.
And they find what they think is cancer now in my right leg. So it's metastasized. I had no idea breast cancer could even go to your lungs, and now I have to decide, do I do chemo again? That didn't work or do I remove my lung? This time I'm angry, this time I have access to my emotions, I was so angry. And all those feelings of regret that had gone away, I had them again, I was like, how come I didn't check sooner?
Why didn't I get a scan in February instead of waiting until March? Like, I can't believe I dropped the ball. There was no hope, the second diagnosis, it was just anger, anxiety, I could not believe I was reliving it. I was like, I don't know what to do. Finally, my oncologist was like, listen, if you were my kid, I'd have you cut it out. And so November twenty eighteen, I had my right lung removed.
I don't think I could have rolled into that hospital, gone under anesthesia and been able to have that cut out without being somewhat detached in the hospital again. Give me an epidural. And I had learned from my mastectomy that that's not going to help. Just give me two Tylenol and I'm going to learn to deal with the pain. It was almost like I had to be like almost like a monk. And I'm training. I know more about my body.
If I can feel my pain, if I can't feel my pain, I don't know if I'm healing. I don't know. I just I just needed access to the pain.
And I remember sitting there and I was sort of thinking, OK, what what kind of fantasies can I have for lying in the hospital that will help me get through this? I was like, all right, I'm going to think of my best life, what is my best life look like? And I was surprised when it wasn't this huge house or a private island. It was sitting with coffee and the nice view. I think when I got cancer the first time, it taught me about vulnerability, the second time it was this feeling of enlightenment, which was that you can find joy anywhere and your ideal life is sitting with a nice cup of coffee, looking out a window.
You can find that anywhere. I had to really evaluate how I wanted to spend my time, and at that moment it was like seeking joy, joy is the only thing to live for. It's not a career. It's not some wild adventure that you can tell a great story about at a dinner party. It's like what little moments bring you, Joy? Because sitting in a hospital bed, unable to breathe with a heart rate of like one 50 is maybe one of the most horrible places to be.
But if you can find joy even in that, that says something about the way you can live your life. This is a crazy surgery, if I thought my double mastectomy was hard. This is like boss level in a video game. First of all, you have to learn to breathe now with one lump. So much can go wrong. It affects your heart because your heart now shifts in your body cavity. You have to learn to walk again.
I mean, it's insane. It's a crazy surgery. I think the movie version of having cancer and surviving is that suddenly, oh my God, I can do anything I want. I can eat, pray, love my my life away. And for me, I was actually surprised that that's not the feeling I got. I think the feeling I got was this idea of presence that to me was the enlightenment that I got because I could now move through the world, having been through the worst of it, knowing that even having a small conversation with my mailman and laughing could be the best of it.
And it didn't have to be this huge shift. I didn't have to sell all my belongings and go backpacking through Europe. I could have it with the life that I had now. Enlightenment is so not linear, it's like you can feel enlightened and then the next day you'll totally shitty and had to have another body part carved out of me. I just thought, how can you live like this? What is the point of having goals? What is the point of having relationships if the cancer is just going to keep coming back?
What's the point? It's all very existential. My life has no meaning. I might as well just give up and die. This is not how I want to live. And then, you know, little by little you can walk and you can breathe and you start getting used to living with one lung and all becomes a sort of new normal. And suddenly that hope and that feeling of joy comes back and you're like, oh, wait, life could be amazing, whether it's long or short, I can have an amazing life and I can have goals and it is worth it.
So I recover and back to work, I'm feeling good, I'm sort of yet again receiving and reconciling a new identity, which is disable. You know, I can't go upstairs that fast, I am out of breath all the time and so I have to slow myself down, which is a lesson I had to learn even in conversation. If my adrenalin spikes, I sort of lose my breath. So I'm coming to terms with that. At this point, I'm working.
Everyone's like, you look great, you look great, look better than ever. And I'm like, I should have had that lung removed maybe years ago, but I'm feeling good. I'm acclimating I'm back to normal life. I'm able to work. I can drive myself. I can do all the things that I used to be able to do. My health anxiety suddenly comes back and I'm convinced I'm going to get cancer again and I'm paranoid and I'm back to every symptom needs to be checked and I need to be scanned every four months.
And back to that kind of thinking. Health anxiety this time shows up like I know all the questions to ask. I know all the diagnostics to get constantly texting my doctors. What is this? What is that? I'm doing all this like crazy research just because I feel like that was the only thing I can control.
And just on a routine scan, we find a little spot on my kidney, and this is in May of 20 20. Quarantine happens and I'm pumped because what happened in quarantine is how you feel when you have cancer, you can turn any way which way and something's going to get you. That's why I felt like, oh, my God, it can get me anywhere. So I was really adapting well. And then May comes around and I have this little spot on my kidney, but I'm like, OK, this is the third time, hopefully this is the last time.
So my reaction to the third time finding my kidney, I was like, OK, what are the next steps? It became very action oriented and then at home and friends came to visit me. I just cried and I was like, I don't know if I can keep doing this. But I kept doing it, I mean, I kept pushing forward the next step. This is the third time we've just got to remove it. We've got to move fast.
And I have to say that surgery was the easiest to bounce back from. It didn't even feel like I had removed anything. I always joke that I schedule a body part removal every couple of years just to stay skinny, but the truth is with every surgery, it gets harder and harder on my body. It gets harder to relate to my body and so many scars. But my relationship to my body is complicated because I love my body. It's been my partner in this.
It's been what's getting me through. It's been what's helping me return to normal. But I'm now feeling at this point how exhausted it is, how aged it's become. I feel like I wonder sometimes if it's only now a vessel to fight cancer, if it only exists now to beat this illness to to have surgery. Have I trained my body to only do this one thing? I don't know what it means to, like, go for a run or to workout in this body anymore.
I don't know what it's like to have sex in this body anymore. The ways in which I could use my body before cancer. I no longer understand.
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Get started online at rocket mortgage dot com slash happening call for cost information and conditions. Equal housing lender licensed in all 50 states and MLS Consumer Access Dog Number 30. Today's episode is brought to you by Audible. If you are looking for the best way to listen to Audiobooks podcast and meditation programs all in one service, check out Audible. Audible is the leading provider of spoken word entertainment ranging from best sellers and new releases to celebrity memoirs, languages, comedy, true crime and now podcasts.
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You can start exploring Audible with the free 30 day trial. Now visit audible dot com slash happening or text happening to five hundred five hundred. That's audible dotcom happening or text happening to five hundred. Five hundred. So my kidney removed and I think like a month later I go in for my routine scan, the doctor called me, they found a cool sub centimeter spots in your lung. I hang up the phone, I immediately start crying. This, to me, feels like the end.
I thought the kidney thing was the end. This now feels like whatever is in charge of this universe wants me to die because I'm managing every other surgery and diagnosis so well and it's just not enough. So I find this out, I'm really sad, I only have one lungs, of course, this now feels like all that regret. Why did I have the other one removed when they do chemo? I should have done chemo. Maybe the chemo would have killed it and I wouldn't even had to remove my kidney.
Now I'm really thinking I fucked up. I fumbled the ball. I'm doing all this research and I find the struggle that they just approve, that's been really good and I now have to start infusion. You know, you get the surgery and it's really intense pain, and every single day you get better and better and there's some hope in that. And I found with the chemo, your body gets worse over time as they try to kill the cancer.
It could barely take a shower, I could barely stand for 30 seconds, and so that's been really hard to find hope when the more treatment you get, the worse you feel. And suddenly it's back to those thoughts of like, this is not a life to live. What is the point? My friend Lindsey was like, hey, I think it's probably time you see this death, Dualla, because now death anxiety has moved in. Like a birth doula, a death toll is meant to instead of ushering the beginning of your life.
It's sort of the end of your life, come to terms with it, make arrangements. I thought it out because it felt like making this relationship with death was, for me, the missing piece in my cancer journey. You know, most people don't know what's going to kill them. I know it's going to kill me. And so we have to come to terms with that. I get this number for this death toll that we talk on the phone.
I'm expecting like an old white, crunchy hippy lady and I show up and she's like this young Filipino mom with tattoos. And we do these really simple kind of like write down what you want to get rid of. And we burn them in this candle and then we start doing these meditation. At first it was just really simple visions I was having. Then by the third or fourth session, it almost felt like I was doing drugs. It was insane.
You know, we're sort of working up to the death, which she called the death meditation. She had me lie on the floor and I had to say, I am living and I am dying, and that's OK over and over and over. I am living and I am dying, and that's OK. And I burst into tears because it was the first time I think anyone allowed me to say I am dying because this thing with cancer is nobody wants to say, well, shit, yeah, you're dying or death is very close, closer than ever.
Everyone wants you to feel you're going to make it. You're going to get through your special. And she was the first person who let me say it out loud. And I remember having this vision as I repeated it, I was sort of in my own stomach and it was all choppy dark water, and I started to feel nauseous. And suddenly the vision was of me throwing up this water. And in the dark water embedded in it were television sets.
And on the television sets were the expectations that I have ever had for myself and that anyone else had ever had for me. Whether that was career or how I should look as a woman or how I should fight cancer, all the expectations suddenly came up out of my mouth and sort of washed me onto this beach. And I remember looking down at my hand and this vision and seeing my skin sort of peeling the paint does on an old window. Feeling this sense of rebirth in that moment of making making amends with death allowed me to be like, all right, we can live out however many days you have exactly how you want.
And that was powerful. The only other vision I had was it was actually about my body and I was a little kid and I was looking up at the stars and my mother's head was in the way. And then I remember looking back down and I was in a creek, my feet were in a creek water. And then I looked back up and suddenly I was in the ocean and I kind of heard this voice that said, you haven't even scratched the surface of what your body can do.
It was the sense of not believing my body could fight this with me anymore. And it was kind of this reassurance of, like, you got this. It's interesting to have that in the death meditation because, you know, you're trying to sort of come to terms with the end. And I got this sort of hopeful message of like, this isn't the end. You can do this. There is a lot of expectation from myself and from other people, I think you get cancer and people expect you to look a certain way to be a certain way.
They project things on you. Warrior brave. I think for me it was important throughout the last six years that I break that mold. And I think in that moment, saying I'm dying out loud allowed me to say, hey, you don't have to fight if you don't want to, you don't have to be a brave warrior. You don't have to be anything. You don't have to be successful. You don't have to have left this earth with children and a legacy.
All of that can just be pushed aside and you can just exist in each moment present and joyful. And that'll be enough for as long as you have. Up until that meditation, I was expecting for things to go back to normal. I had this expectation deep down that I'm going to have a normal life again. I'm going to do this damn chemo, and then I'm going to have normal life, just like I did the first time I had five years of normal life.
And what's important about coming to terms with death? It's like, what if right now this moment is the best it's ever going to be? That's sort of what I'm coming to terms with now. What if right now this is the best it'll ever be? After my kidney was removed in June, I started this new drug called Delfi, I was on that until Thanksgiving went in just for a routine infusion and suddenly got disoriented and couldn't breathe. And I started throwing up and my doctor had me admitted to the hospital.
And in the hospital they did a scan and they found that the Mets, my lung had grown. And I also had now an enlarged liver and I had a few spots in my liver. At this point, I shook hands with death. I'm like, listen, as long as I'm not suffering like we're good. My doctor comes in and he's he's just such a fighter and he's like, I'm not worried about you, we're going to go on a new drug right away.
And you really kind of jump from lilypad to lilypad until you run out of swamp. So I'm on this new treatment now and it's been rough, I'm living with my parents again, it's really hard for me to eat anything. Now I wake up throwing up more days than I don't. My hair is growing back, which is kind of fun, but it's rough. I never had to do chemo for this long, and there's always the fear of it not working.
I don't have a prognosis, no one's told me how long I have. I don't want to ask. Some days it feels like it's only a matter of time and some days I feel like I just have to get through the next three months and I'm going to survive. It changes every day. Like today. I had a really good day. I didn't feel that sick and I was able to eat. And so on days like this, I feel like I got this.
And then yesterday I felt like shit. And that's a day when I'm like, yeah, I'm going to die.
Not meant to sort of live past twenty, twenty one. For me, the death toll, our meditations, our work together, the idea of death doesn't scare me anymore. I feel it as a sense of relief. It's not something I'm hoping for necessarily, but I do have a calmness around it. And so I think in that way we accomplished our goal. I have since stopped seeing the death, Dualla only because when you're trying to come to terms with death, it's sometimes make it makes it hard to come to terms with living.
And for me, it's about how do I come to terms with this being my best life. I'm having to ask myself, OK, what can we do in this moment that is your best quality of life right now? And sometimes that means laying down and sometimes that means sitting outside in the sun. There's so much I want to do, whether that's traveling or I still want to be a TV writer and I can't commit to any of those things.
And that sucks. It sucks to not be able to look forward to things. A lot of the feelings that come up are resentment, why me, why do I have to be the person suffering? Why can't I just be put out of my misery like I'm resentful of people who get to have a normal life? I'm resentful that I have to do this over and over again. And that surprised me because I'm someone who's like all love and I am able to cultivate such a high level of joy.
And so when the feelings of resentment started coming up, I felt like a horrible person. So I became really interested in the idea of ancestral trauma, and then I remember my mom sort of in my cancer journey, always saying, if you need someone to scream at and to punch me, like, let me know. And it was always this call to violence. And I just thought, my family has experienced grief and trauma for so long that they can't even recognize it unless it's overtly violent.
And I started to take that thesis and understand my own relationship to grief and trauma and to illness. And I realized what was able to keep me going and to allow me to walk into the hospital and have my breasts removed and have my lungs removed and have my kidney removed. Was this program, this detachment to trauma and grief. And now as I do this death work and trying to reconcile these feelings of grief, I'm trying to reacquaint with them because I don't want to suppress them.
I don't want to follow this sort of legacy in my family where we don't talk about it, that we just we just are sick or we just deal with it or we just swallow it. I'm really trying to unpack that. With each diagnosis, my relationship to people has changed. The first diagnosis, I was really close to everyone when I was going through treatment and I even reconciled with my ex boyfriend and he was very present. And then the minute I got, well, sort of the attention people put on you goes away and suddenly you feel this abandonment.
You're like, oh, my God, which is a totally normal feeling. And it's also totally normal for people to go back to their normal life. And the lesson in that is it's OK. How do you now cultivate these amazing friendships and relationships outside of an illness? I think with the lung, that one made me feel the most alienated because at that point, you know, no one knows what it's like in my age group at the time to deal with chronic illness and having to slow your life down.
Now, I have to say, I feel very close to everyone and I feel very connected and I feel very loved. I feel like whatever walls I had up in the way of vulnerability are long gone. I don't think I could build a wall at this point. The most challenging aspect I'm finding with all this uncertainty is, am I going to suffer for the next two months just to die? Like, can we get this over with? That to me, is the question I ask myself every day.
Is this for something or am I just going to suffer for another couple of months and then leave the planet? You know, it's almost like you wish you had a crystal ball. I can't remember the first time my mother told me the story, but basically she's in her 20s, early 20s. She already has a kid with my dad. They're young, married couple. They don't have much money. And she gets pregnant with me and she's decided to have an abortion.
They just can't afford it. So she schedules her DNC and her sister just as a coincidence, asks her to take her to the psychic. So my family, we're Puerto Rican. The psychics are like going to see the doctor. It's very routine in our household. So she takes her sister to the psychic and she tells the story about the psychic suddenly bursting out of the room and looking at my mother and saying, I know what you're thinking. Don't do it.
And it was about aborting me. And she cancels her abortion appointment. And I loved this story, I thought it was like my Marvel character, origin story, I really loved it because it does make me feel special. It does make me feel like I have a sense of purpose in this world. And I sort of lived with this idea like I'm here for a reason, whether that's to be a writer and tell really great stories or to do something amazing in this world.
And the first time I got cancer, I was like, oh my God, it's to beat cancer and it's to help other people. And now, as I'm sort of battling cancer forever and ever, I wonder what would happen if I did get aborted. Like I think about this alternative sliding doors universe where I wasn't here and I'm not so sure of my purpose on the Earth anymore. It's so interesting to have this feeling of purpose in the world because it's such a privilege, and now that I've lost my sense of purpose, I, I do feel lost.
My lack of sense of purpose affects the way that I fight this cancer, because I don't know if there's a reason for it anymore, I don't even know what the point of me being on this earth anymore is. Is it to help people? Is it to make relationships? I mean, I don't know what it is. And that feeling sucks because I think every day you want to wake up and feel like you're doing something for a purpose. But I think this process over the last six years really revealed my resilience.
I still haven't lost that feeling of resilience and that, to me, surprise me. Before this, I had no idea the level of being able to bounce back, the level of being able to find with positive in it, the level to be able to express all my emotions, my sadness, my anger. The moment you're catching me right now is so complicated because there is this there is this hope and want to live and there is this cultivating of joy.
But with all that, you can't have all that without the shadow side, which is this feeling of uncertainty, this feeling of what am I even doing here? I guess there is no ending to this story just yet. And what's interesting about being confused and being in the middle of this complicated period of my life is that maybe the lesson is acceptance and accepting. There is no answer right now, but I'm up for the challenge. Today's episode featured Natalia Parvati's Natalia is a writer from Los Angeles.
You can find out more about her on her Instagram at Cholla for Hire. That's L.A., the number for HAARP. And on her website, Natalia Provectus Dotcom. That's Natalia Parro HVA as dot com. Since we recorded this episode, Natalia's treatment has been going well. She is living independently again and working on her memoir, Ghosting My Death Doula, a series of funny essays about her battle with breast cancer. From London. You're listening to this is actually happening, if you love what we do, please rate and review the show.
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Today's episode was co-produced by me and Sarah Marinelli with special thanks to that. This is actually happening team including Ellen Westberg. The intro music features the song Alabi by Tipper. You can join that this is actually happening community on the discussion group on Facebook or it actually happening on Instagram on the show's website.
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