Many years ago, when I was about eight years old, other kids my age would ask among themselves, “what would you do if you were told you only had a few days to live?” You must wonder why kids would talk about such intense topics considering we were just that, kids. But you see, we grew up in the Dominican Republic and were exposed to many urgent situations such as hunger, loss, poverty, death, and natural disasters, to mention just a few.
When the question about “my last wish” was asked, my answers were pretty much consistent with those of other kids. And as we got older, our priorities changed. “I would want to eat my favorite meals,” I would say at the age of 7. At the age of 11, “I want to travel all over the country with my grandma,” which to me was a big deal because I never traveled farther than the country side, which was only about 10 miles away from where I lived.
What inspired “the last wish” question was that there were usually two or three funeral processions through our neighborhood each week. The cemetery was one block away from where we lived. This created an opportunity for curiosity, imagination and fear.
When I was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 32, no one asked me what I would want to accomplish before I die. Thankfully, that was not on the list of “weird things people said to me.” Instead, I asked myself:
“What would I want to accomplish in life before I die?”
Although my cancer was not a death sentence it sure put things into perspective for me. I was more aware of death than I ever was prior to my diagnosis. It made me examine my life to the extent of wanting to know more about what would make me happier moving forward, and how to create a situation for that to happen. It was time to make decisions, and make them quick, because time also felt shorter for me.
When I was diagnosed with cancer, I instantly felt the need to write my happiest memories: my childhood stories with my sweet grandmother (mama) and grandfather (papa). My grandparents took me in from the moment I was born and raised me until the age of 14. I owe them a lot but, unfortunately, I am not able to care for them today the way they did for me because they died years ago. So instead, I decided to write memoirs about my childhood as a form of my appreciation. My goal is to one day publish a book of our stories together in the D.R. I’ve already picked out a title. It will be a collection of short stories, and I’ve already written a few.
Why did I wait for tragedy to strike to accomplish a dream? I blame the “Big D” (denial) for this one.
Thanks to the Visible Ink program, which is sponsored by my hospital, MSKCC, I was given the opportunity to submit up to two stories for publication and/or staged reading. I submitted one about my cancer experience, “The Misunderstanding,” which they did not choose. In a way I was happy about that because I didn’t want cancer to get more attention than what really mattered to me.
My second story, “Respect,” which is about a beautiful memory I have with my grandparents was chosen for both the 2015 Visible Ink Annual Anthology and a staged reading. Guys, the staged readings feature actors, singers, and dancers from television, film, and the Broadway stage. Can you believe it?! I still can’t believe my story will be performed on stage. I feel extremely fortunate.
Today, at 6 PM, I will be honoring my mama and papa, Nellis Lopez Cornielle and Sigfredo Matos as a form of appreciation for all the unconditional love they gave me growing up. I hope they hear me loud and clear: THANK YOU.
Also, a special thanks to my sweetheart for supporting me, encouraging me and always giving me feedback. Thank you, too, to all the other writers who participate in the Visible Ink program — you all inspire me in so many ways.
I prayed for this wish to come true so thank YOU, too.
Wondering about those kids now, my childhood friends, I hope there isn’t a reason such as cancer for them to be having their favorite meals, or traveling around the country, or to make their “last wish” happen.