The Elixir Profiles: Julissa Pérez

BY Eileen Z. Fuentes (@EileenZFuentes)

Julissa Perez - Hospital

Q. From personal experience I know that cancer is generally viewed as an older person’s disease. How did you discover your illness?

A. Cancer wasn’t even a thought or concern to me. At my age, the thought of cancer seemed so unlikely. Even though my doctor had suggested a biopsy, I didn’t consider it until 7 months later. I had finished working out and while getting ready to go home I looked in the mirror and pushed my head back to wipe the sweat off my neck and noticed a huge lump on my throat. It was the scariest looking thing I had ever seen. I immediately called and made an appointment. Not only did I learn I had cancer, I also discovered it had already spread to my lymph nodes. I was disappointed with myself and thought about how I had delayed the process. I kept thinking that it might not have spread and complicated my situation.

Q. What type of treatment did you receive and how did it impact your physical and emotional health?

A. To treat papillary thyroid cancer, which is the type of cancer i had, they had to first perform an 8-hour surgery called (total) thyroidectomy to remove the entire thyroid gland. After surgery, I underwent radiation. The doctor had to go under my nerves and through my right shoulder, where the cancer spread. It created trauma to the area and nearly paralyzed my entire right arm. I had physical therapy for months to help regain sensation and function. Later, I had to take a radioactive iodine pill for 3 consecutive days. Because of possible contamination to others, I had to be isolated from everyone for 5 days.

This entire procedure impacted me not only physically but psychologically too. I can’t tell you how much I cried being home alone and going through. However, I feel that this horrific ordeal brought me much closer to God. Not only was this emotionally draining, it was financially difficult as well. Physical therapy sessions took place 3 times per week and my copay was $50 for these mandatory visits… and at the time I could not work.

Julissa Perez - Neck

Q. Could you tell us about the unique challenges you faced after your diagnosis?

A. The function of the thyroid gland is to take iodine, found in many foods, and convert it into thyroid hormone. Since I no longer have a thyroid, I was obligated to be on medication called levothyroxine for the rest of my life to restore balance. If I fail to take it, my symptoms may recur. This includes weight gain, depression, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, low body temperature, coma, and even death.

You would think that after learning this, it would prompt me to wake up every morning and immediately take my medicine. That has not been the case. Not being used to this new routine, there are times when I forget to take it.

Julissa Pérez

Q. Is there anything in particular that you found beneficial that you did for yourself during that difficult period?

A. Praying and building a closer relationship with God has definitely helped.

Beauty Mark

Q. What is your aim for the first annual BEAUTY MARK event and where do you see it going in the future?

A. The goal for the first annual My Beauty Mark event is to help bring awareness within the Inwood and Washington Heights community, particularly amongst the Latino population, which I find are less conscious of these issues. I am particularly passionate about the younger members of the neighborhood who may under the false belief that they are not at risk for this or any disease. Cancer does not discriminate and I am proof of that. I want to raise money to support patients in need by reducing their financial burden. It is my goal to use this platform and my personal experience to build my own non-profit organization to assist those in need. I want to create a place for others to come to for resources, love, inspiration, education, support, and unity.

Get your tickets to Beauty Mark event here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/my-beauty-mark-cancer-awareness-event-tickets-25939766540

Related:

My Heart: Eileen Z. Fuentes

Vibes: My Ode to Heavy D

The 14 Archetypes of Healing

Brain cancer survivor, singer: “Music is my main form of therapy” | CBS News

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