A Story of Love, Cancer, Loss and Hope

Next week marks  5 years that my late husband, Fernando passed away. It feels like it was yesterday, yet a lifetime ago all at once. I wanted to finally share my story, not for pity (eww) but in hopes that one day it will make its way to someone going through loss and help them feel less alone. I remember scouring the internet for hours trying to find other stories similar to mine. I didn’t find much, but the ones that I did find helped me so much. So here’s my story. Our story. It’s a story of love, cancer, loss, but most importantly it’s a story of hope and faith. You are not alone. 

Fernando and I met in 2005. We were introduced over the phone by a mutual friend. She insisted that I had to talk to him or in her words, “Carmen he’s a firefighter, get on the phone.” I was just 20 years old and he was 23. We kicked it off and got each others AIM screen name. I’m dating myself here haha, but for those of you that don’t know that stands for AOL Instant Messenger. Remember that? We started out as friends and eventually started dating. 

Two years later, after I finished college, we got married. We were married on April 1st, 2007. Yes, we got married on April Fool’s Day since it was the only day the venue had available. I felt like the happiest woman alive getting to marry my best friend. We traveled, worked hard, went on many adventures and even bought our first home. 

Six years later we welcomed our son, Andy into the world. Life was good. Life was really good. I actually remember having that same thought one Wednesday morning. We had dropped off our son at preschool and decided to go kayaking. It was a beautiful, sunny day. As we were kayaking, I looked at the sky and thought about how good life was in that moment (a little too good) and got this weird feeling. Now looking back, I feel perhaps it was God preparing me for what was to come. 

Two months later, while Fernando was at work, he ended up going to the hospital in the middle of the night because he developed kidney stones. He eventually had surgery to have them removed, but there was still this pain that wouldn’t go away. It got to the point where he knew something was just not right. His stomach started swelling and we immediately went to the doctor. I’ll never forget that day and the look on the doctor’s face when he looked at his scans. He looked so worried. He told us that there was fluid in the stomach (ascites) and he needed to be admitted right away. Ascites is usually the sign of only two things, either cancer or cirrhosis (chronic liver failure). After spending two weeks in the hospital and running several tests, doing biopsies and an endoscopy it was confirmed that Fernando had Stage 4 stomach cancer that had spread to his peritoneum. It’s the words nobody wants to hear. It’s the words you think you will NEVER hear. 

The news became worse when the oncologist told us that it was terminal and any chemotherapy treatment would only be palliative, meaning to extend life, but never as a cure. That day they gave Fernando 6 to 9 months to live. As unbearable as that sounds, we were filled with a peace that can only be explained as God’s peace comforting us. We decided that day we were going to fight with everything we had. We had so much hope that we would beat the odds. 

We switched up his diet, tried every natural remedy under the sun. You named it, we tried it. Fernando also started chemotherapy one week later, which happened to be the day before Christmas. He had chemo at the hospital and then had to wear a chemo pouch that he would take home that would slowly drip chemo for another 2 days. It was so hard watching him open presents with our son thinking if this would be the last Christmas we would spend as a family. 

Fernando slowly started to feel better and in January we took a trip to New York to visit Memorial Sloan Kettering, one of the top cancer centers to get a second opinion. New York was one of Fernando’s favorite cities, and we always enjoyed our time there. It was like a little mini getaway from all the uncertainty that was going on in our lives. The oncologist there basically suggested that he continue on the same chemotherapy he was on—-and so he did. Fernando would get chemo every two weeks in Miami (where we live). The days after chemo were really hard. He would feel very weak and nauseous and would sleep most of the day. But after 4 days, it’s like I got him a piece of him back. He was even able to get back to work on light duty, since he couldn’t fully go back to work as a firefighter. 

After four months of being on chemo we got one of the best news ever. They could not find any tumors in any of his scans. They said he was cancer free. We felt like we got our miracle. We even celebrated with a trip to Disney. 

That miracle however didn’t last too long. Three months later after stopping chemo, Fernando started to feel pain in his stomach again. He was experiencing the same swelling in his stomach from when he was first diagnosed. After running scans they confirmed it was ascites and the tumors were starting to grow again. In fact, the cancer never really left to begin with, it was just too microscopic to be detected in scans. We were crushed. I had never felt so much fear like I did that day. But again I thought to myself, we could still make it. We just needed to have hope. 

The next couple of months would be some of the toughest months of our lives. Fernando’s health started to decline very rapidly. We would spend most our nights rushing to the ER because of all the issues the cancer was causing. On August 24, 2015, the day after his 34th birthday, we would make one last trip to the hospital. He was admitted on that day and would spend the next 38 days there.

I slept in the chair next to his hospital bed and would come home only to take a quick shower and see our 2 year-old son before heading back. I was very fortunate that my mom and in-laws would take turns taking care of our son. I didn’t want to leave Fernando’s side, not even for one second. He started a new immunotherapy drug, and I was so hopeful this would be the miracle we had prayed for. 

One day in the hospital bed Fernando told me, “If I don’t make it, I need you to promise me you’ll remarry. We are not meant to do life by ourselves.” He also made me promise I would brush Andy’s teeth every night before bed and put him in baseball and soccer classes. This absolutely crushed me. I insisted that he was going to be okay, we WOULD get through this. But that just shows you the type of person he was. He was always so selfless and thinking of others before himself. He grabbed me by the hand and asked if he could have one last dance with me, and so we did. We slow danced in the middle of his hospital room as the monitors beeped in the background. 

After a few days in the hospital, Fernando was no longer able to eat solid foods and lost so much weight. It was so difficult seeing my once strong, healthy husband wither away. He was suffering and in so much pain. Not being able to do anything was nothing short of torture. He started having hallucinations and only had a few hours of lucidness throughout the day. At this point, the doctors met with me and thought it was best that he be put in hospice. My mind however could not process that, or should I say, didn’t want to process it. I was still holding out for our miracle. That night, like many others, I cried so much on the cold bathroom floor. 

On October 1st, 2015, I woke up at around 6 am to head out to a work assignment. I had not worked in more than eight months to help take care of Fernando. He insisted that I take the job and so I did. It would only take a few hours and I would be back by 11 am. I headed to Univision studios where I did a TV segment, I still don't know how I mustered the strength to work that day. After that I headed to a blogger event that was about raising awareness for Breast Cancer Awareness.  It was at the Miami Beach Woman's Club, which I thought was perfect because it was only 10 minutes away from the hospital. Before I left, I had arranged for one of Fernando’s cousin to be there with him while I was out. 

A few hours after I left,  I received a phone call from his cousin saying, “Carmen please get to the hospital.” She didn’t say anything else. I remember pleading with God as I drove to the hospital. When I got there, I parked the car right in front of the entrance and ran as fast as I could to the elevator. It was like something out of the movies. This isn’t happening I thought. 

I got out on the 8th floor and could see at a distance Fernando’s cousin and nurses standing outside of his room. It was in that moment that I knew my worst fear had come true. He was no longer with us and I collapsed on the floor. 

My life was forever changed that day. Knowing him, I know deep inside that he waited for the moment that I wasn’t there (or his parents) for him to pass. Like always, he was trying to protect us. At first I was upset for having so much hope. We didn’t get to say good-bye. He didn’t write any letters for our son. But then I thought, it was THAT hope that got us through. It was hope that kept us going. I’ve learned that when life tries to weigh you down, it’s hope that relieves the pressure. It’s also the hope of heaven and knowing we will see each other again that continues to push me forward today. He was not afraid to go, because of his relationship with Jesus Christ he knew exactly where he was going. 

Not only that, but Fernando’s faith helped deepen my own. You see, it's so easy to have faith when everything is going great and everything is perfect. But what happens when things to go as planned and life happens. My faith came out of this even stronger. 

Fernando's passing also fueled me to live each day on purpose. To not wait to take the trip, to not wait to say I’m sorry, to take the adventures. Each day we are given is a gift. I truly feel that when you lose someone, you gain a new perspective on life. My hope is that you don’t have to wait to lose someone,  to really start living. 

It’s been five years that Fernando passed away. I’ve kept the promises that I made to him that day in the hospital. Me and Andy have gone on so many adventures, we've traveled the world. We haven't let life pass us by. Deep inside I also had hope that I could love again and as you might already know (if you follow me on Instagram) last year I remarried.  I have no doubt that Fernando played a big part in bringing another amazing man (Julio) into our lives. Not only does Julio embrace my past, but he also embraces keeping Fernando’s memory alive. Last year we welcomed our baby girl Valentina (meaning brave) into our lives. Sometimes our stories don’t end the way we expected or the way we prayed for, but that doesn’t mean it still can’t be beautiful. God can give you beauty for ashes. 


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