Decatur resident Monica Lopez is the bold cover model and story for this year’s Breast Cancer Awareness section, which will be on the newsstands next Wednesday.
For the interview last week, she barged into the office, apologizing profusely. Unbeknownst to me, it was a few minutes past our scheduled meeting time.
“I’m so sorry I’m so late,” she said. “I was on my way out the door, and it’s just that there was a rabbit, a chicken and two squirrels on my back porch.”
I waited for the punch line to the story – maybe the rabbit attacked the chicken while the squirrels provided backup? Maybe all the critters tried to enter her home? Nope.
“I sat there thinking, ‘Oh my gosh. This is so country,’” she said. “But it was so cute. I just had to sit back and admire.”
And I just had to sit back and smile.
Lopez, who has been battling breast cancer for almost year, doesn’t take anything for granted.
I’ve always admired her vibrant personality and unique take on life.
Monica is, well, Monica. She is a second-degree black belt; she threw her daughter’s Sweet 16 party at a water park and got down on the dance floor with the best of them.
She stops and smells the roses on the bush outside her church, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic church in Decatur.
“I always tell my kids, ‘Always remember to stop and smell the roses,’” she said. “Because if you don’t, life passes you so quickly you won’t know what happened.”
Even though she has a college degree, she prefers to clean houses and work on ranches because that makes her happy. She loves fully and cares and deeply, and she lets you know by the way she remembers details anyone else might easily forget.
This interviewed solidified all of that.
Despite the subject matter, the conversation was filled with hearty laughter and witty jabs. But she also opened up about the painful aspects of the journey, the emotionally draining struggles.
But we always came back to a profound viewpoint.
When asked if she would have reconstructive surgery following the mastectomy of her left breast, her response was:
“You knew me before, right? One’s gone. You know me now. Am I any different?
“I’m not one to have surgery,” she continued. “I’m not one to be vain. This is my battle scar. This is who I am now. I like putting my hand over my heart and feeling it closer.”
Throughout the interview, she reiterated how passionately she didn’t want cancer – or the possible outcomes – to consume her life or the life of those who surround her.
“This isn’t the end of the world,” she said. “Life is not going to end because of me. If I die, I go six feet under, and you know what? I want these kids to go on – play soccer, go to college. If it happens, it happens. You deal with it, and move on. But you don’t sit back and wait for it and cry about it.”
Because even in the face of the hardship this disease has brought on her and her family, Monica considers herself blessed.
“Don’t feel bad for me,” she said. “I don’t want that. There’s people going through worse. It could be better; but it could be worse. People have bigger struggles. Mine’s not that big.
“I’ve been blessed with cancer.”
And I’ve been blessed to get to know her and tell her story.
Erika Pedroza is a reporter for the Messenger.