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KERI (PART 1)

That December 2018, I went skiing with my kids and I fell really hard on my chest. Then February, that was my birthday month--I turned 39--I felt a lump after the gym. I was trying to get my sports bra off, and I was like, “What's this?”

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MEETING FRANCIS

Are you familiar with Mars? It’s this disco. In November 1997--ever since that day, he would call me every single day and ask me out. Even on a Sunday. So that’s how it started. He was really persistent, and I guess that’s what I saw in him. He's such a determined person. And when he's focused on something, he works really hard for his goals.

He was also a basketball player in [De] La Salle University. I think that was like preparation for me, because now he's in politics. Back then, when he was a basketball player, our days would revolve around his schedule, his practices. If he has a game the next day, we can’t go out. He has practices, which is like everyday, he can't stay out late.


Like in politics, if there's an important event, like a fiesta or the graduation of a public school--he has to be present. I guess I'm adjusted to that already. It wasn’t so hard shifting from his basketball career to politics. We dated from 1997. We married young. We got married in 2001. Now we have 4 kids.

MARRIED TO THE MAYOR

I'm a shy person, although I don't think a lot of people will agree. It's really hard for me to talk to a lot of people. But then, I like to reach out and educate women going through the same breast cancer journey. It's easy in a way because Francis, he guides me though it. He encourages me, like, “No it's OK, you can talk to them. Just think that you're doing something good.”

He lost by only a thousand votes. That made it even harder, and heartbreaking.

He motivates me. I enjoy helping him in his projects, and at the same time, he's very supportive with the projects I want to do in San Juan for women and children, with regards to their health and education, and their well-being in general.


THEIR BIGGEST HURDLES

We've been through a lot. We've been dating since I was 17, and at the time he wanted to make it in basketball. But he was undecided whether to shift to business or politics. Well, definitely, it's not as hard as what I've been through. This is, by far, the hardest one.

Day 1 of Francis Zamora as Mayor, and Keri as First Lady of San Juan
Francis was waiting for me outside. After the ultrasound and the biopsy, I told him, “I think they found something else. They wanted to biopsy also a lymph node.” After that, my doctor said it is cancer.

Prior to this, the second hardest one was when he lost the [2016] elections. That was stuff , because I've seen him work so hard. And you know Francis, he's not the type that he’ll work hard for one thing, and then he'll stop. It's continuous. Even when he lost, every single day he would still be out there. It was 2019 when he won. He lost by only a thousand votes. That made it even harder, and heartbreaking.


KERI’S BREAST CANCER JOURNEY

Back in 2018, that was March, I had myself checked--physical examination, which I do yearly with my OB. With the pap smear, and all that. She [my OB] felt nothing. That December 2018, I went skiing with my kids and I fell really hard on my chest. Then February, that was my birthday month--I turned 39--I felt a lump after the gym. I was trying to get my sports bra off, and I was like, “What's this?”

I wanted to finish my son’s preschool graduation. Right after that, I checked in the hospital that night. And they found more cancer in my lymph nodes, which bumped me up to Stage 3.

I called my friend who's a doctor, and I asked if he could help me get a mammogram. Because usually you get mammograms when you hit 40. I was thinking, when I turned 39, I'm going to have so much fun in the last year of my ‘30s. And then the following year that's when I'll do all my medical stuff. But then that happened.

My friend helped me get a mammogram. It was highly suspicious. I researched for doctors, and through family friends, and they recommended Dr. Felina Cruz. She's also from my school--I'm from Assumption College, so that made it more comfortable. He scheduled me for a biopsy and an ultrasound. That was two days later. When I did the biopsy and the ultrasound, they found a suspicious lymph node. This is apart from the lump.

After my mastectomy, they took out my left breast, and they took out 20 lymph nodes on my left side.

I was really freaking out. I wasn't ready for another thing. Francis was waiting for me outside. After the ultrasound and the biopsy, I told him, “I think they found something else. They wanted to biopsy also a lymph node.” After that, my doctor said it is cancer. It's estrogen and progesterone-driven. She said, “You're probably Stage 1B to a 2A, but I can't tell for sure until I see what's inside.


I had my surgery 2 weeks after, because I wanted to finish my son’s preschool graduation. Right after that, I checked in the hospital that night. And they found more cancer in my lymph nodes, which bumped me up to Stage 3. It was really hard on me. I was floating for months. Even now sometimes I think about it, and I get scared.


A DEEPENED FAITH

After going through all that, I can honestly say that my faith has really deepened. I really leave it up to Him [God]. I'm still scared, but it's manageable. I can control that fear, especially when I pray. I just realized, you know when people go through something hard and they become so religious? It's so real. You know, before I'm like, “OK, does that really happen?” Like, life changing. And it does. I don't know if I'll be able to cope as well if i didn't have that faith. So after the surgery, I had to rest for a month, and then...This was a mastectomy. It was my left breast.

Praying the rosary is my vitamin, everyday.

MASTECTOMY

My doctor said, in preparation for chemo, I'll be losing my hair. She knew my hair was such a big part of me. Because my hair used to be this long [motions to 4 inches below the shoulder], and really full. I loved my hair!


That was my struggle. And she said, “You know, I know this salon in Shangri-La called Heads, and they can use your hair as a wig. You're gonna still look like you because you still have your hair. I went there a day before my chemo, but it took 3 months for them to make it so I had to wear a lot of accessories in the meantime. It was just so funny because I remember the day I was crying so hard that the girl who shaved my head started crying, too. And I was like, “Are you OK?” It was funny, but sad at the same time.

I wanna give up already, after the first cycle. Can I do this? I have five more to go. But then I was, like, thinking, “You know, my kids need me. I need to do this, I need to finish it.”

CHEMOTHERAPY

The first cycle was the hardest. I had 6 cycles. You know, I never had anything. That was the first surgery I had my whole life. My kids are Lamaze--well, two of them are Lamaze. I hated needles. After the first cycle, my body really got shocked with all the chemicals and all that. I felt everything--nausea, headaches, joint pains. Everything.


I really felt like I wanna give up already, after the first cycle. Can I do this? I have five more to go. But then I was, like, thinking, “You know, my kids need me. I need to do this, I need to finish it.” Thank God, I made it to the 6th [cycle]. After that, I waited 2 weeks before radiation. Radiation was 33 weekdays, that’s everyday. It wasn't so bad compared to chemo. It was a walk in the park.

It was really hard on me. I was floating for months. Even now sometimes I think about it, and I get scared.

I ended active treatment, which is chemo and radiation, on September 28. And then I flew to Lourdes in France as a thanksgiving to Mama Mary and God. I went with my mom and my sister. That was [in] October, and then I started my hormonal treatment in November. My hormone treatment, it's like a hormone blocker. It's a pill, which I'll have to take for the next 10 years. I'm taking anti-hormone pills and my supplements--my Vitamin D, magnesium, calcium.


My doctor also suggested to get a port. After my mastectomy, they took out my left breast, and they took out 20 lymph nodes on my left side. Since they took out lymph nodes here [motions to left side of her arm], I won't be able to use it for any I.V., or blood pressure, whatever. So everything has to be done on the right.

I remember the day I was crying so hard that the girl who shaved my head started crying, too. And I was like, “Are you OK?”

Since I’ll only have one “arm” that they can use, my doctor suggested to get a port. A port looks like this [shows port]. It's actually another procedure where they put it inside and hook it, they connect it to a large vein. This is what they used for my chemo, instead of using the veins on my arm. So this actually saved my veins from dying. I had it on on for 17 months. I just took it out 2 weeks ago.

You can have [the port] on for 10 years, but I didn’t want it in me anymore so I opted to just have it taken out. It was inside, in my chest. Though it was fairly comfortable, you can see it when I push my shoulders back. You'd see this round thing there [circular motions on upper right shoulder]. Honestly, it was painless. I'm glad I had it.

When I was newly diagnosed, I would wake up in the middle of the night, shaking. And that never happened to me.

It's [chemo is] like an I.V. drip. I had three medicines--TAC [Taxotere, Adriamycin, and Cyclophosphamide] chemo. Three different medicines in one cycle. After 1 bag of medicine, there's another bag--so 3 bags. I would sit in for about 4 hours every cycle. My cycle is every 3 weeks.


LIFE CHANGING

My kids are like, “Oh, so you're religious now, Mom?” But it's true--it's life changing. Praying the rosary is my vitamin, everyday. And it calms me down, because after going through that, and after all the anxieties and all the fears, it really helps. When I was newly diagnosed, I would wake up in the middle of the night, shaking. And that never happened to me.


So I was like thinking, “Francis, what's happening?” I mean, I've never felt stressed before, so it was the first time I felt that much fear. After a few months, things felt, you know, got better. I prayed really hard, and that really helped me a lot. I'm trying to not worry about the things I can't control anymore, and just do things within what I can do.

Story of breast cancer warrior, Keri Zamora, founder of Caring Keri, and wife of San Juan Mayor, Francis Zamora

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