Marilyn Santiago

Photojournalist
    
Location: Puerto RIco
Nationality: American
Biography: All my free time, I spend with my cameras wandering around. Photojournalism Diploma from New York Institute of Photography.  I love meeting people and listening to their stories. Human experience, the greatest story there is.
Public Story
Not a Happily Ever After, After All
Credits: marilyn santiago
Date of Work: 11/09/16 - Ongoing
Updated: 11/08/19


                                                                            
  Cancer; that terrible word is something that goes into two categories in our minds, either they died or they lived happily ever after.  Rarely, and for some of us something new, we think of being a survivor and still not live happily ever after.
There is no doubt in my mind every time I get to meet an extremely vibrant, charismatic, happy, and bigger than life character, that the life conditions or past has been abysmally difficult. So far, it has not failed me once.  I just know they have been through something very bad, difficult, life altering.  I wait, observe, and listen from a distance until the curtains drop and I get to see the truth and learn a new lesson. Only then I understand where all that love and thirst for life comes from.  The first question that always comes to mind, almost unconsciously is how? How did they get here? I know how I got here, I have my share of brokenness that not even time can alleviate, but I do too understand life goes on. But there are different kinds of pains that brings different ways to see life. Every experience is different.

P3

This woman I met as briefly as a year ago is such a character.  All you can see from afar is this not so tall woman with this great personality that catches your attention and instantly makes you feel happy. One of those personalities that you cannot help but feel good to be around.  The kind of person that will bring a smile, or more likely big laughs without even trying, just by being herself. Her happy and resilient self.


P3b

Now cancer free as I have learned, I also learned to my surprise, how we just think as free cancer patients to be happily ever after and don’t give more thoughts. As someone who haven’t had a cancer conversation up close with anyone, there are many things I have no idea how they work. The only people I have known that has it, are not close to me so I can talk to. With this being my first close encounter with a survivor, I never thought of the meaning of “quality of life” to have a negative connotation. I didn’t really stop and think, let alone imagine, how life after cancer could be. I am learning that for some, the disease may be gone, but they are left with side effects that will never leave. A painful reminder of those dark days.
You would never imagine this woman that seems so happy and unstoppable to be living with such side effects and a quality of life that could leave many others living in shadows, living in sorrow and unhappy.  You can’t help but wonder, what moves her? What gives her the strength?
What started as a dentist routine visit was the beginning of it all. It’s inconceivable that some of the horror stories can come in the middle of a fairy tale,she was pregnant with her daughter Stellita. One day, one visit, one or two hours it’s all it takes to transform a life, for better or worst.


P9c

Facing a big change in her life, routines, and expectations she started or more likely, incremented the time she spends with her family, taking care of them and be positive. Still, pain was always there and it was brutal. Trying to hide it all from them even at the expense of herself. Only the bathroom at night when everyone was asleep was her witness.


P9


The aggressive treatment consisted of 6 months of chemo every Wednesday and 40 sessions of radiotherapy. She lost the ability to eat solid foods, cry, sweat, to salivate and vaginal fluids. Despite it all, she never cried, never complained, she toughen up and concentrated on be on her most positive state of mind. Her prayers where simple – “thank you for one more day, help me survive the day” and so on.
A week after the last treatment she was in the hospital yet again for a cellulitis on the area of the tumor. Her husband refused to visit; and when he finally did, she knew that part of her life was over. Over all the pain she has been though and all the fight, that was even worst. She was still fighting for her life, but he gave up long before. But life goes on, the kids need her now more than ever and that’s what makes her go on, to live a simple life, help and take care of them. She started doing things she enjoyed, she embraced solitude, started helping others that are living through the same process her relationship with God has become stronger and above all, she enjoys her kids to the fullest.
After 17 operations, living in a constant hunger still she says: “I wouldn’t change anything. I was happy before, but I am even more happy now. Tomorrow is another day. That’s my mantra.”



P20b

P21
                                  
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By Marilyn Santiago —

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