As a photographer, and self proclaimed artist (smile) my biggest coping mechanism has been taking pictures. Even as a child, I would stock up on disposable cameras and drive my grandparents crazy to get them developed for me.
I documented everything about my father's cancer journey in pictures. From the day of the diagnosis, to the emergency hospital stays, the treatment, the rehabilitation, the home hospice, and his death.
It's hard for me not to be emotional seeing these pictures. So many different thoughts and feelings that I experianced these last days. His last month of life.
My dad had gotten a cold that winter and it just would not go away. He was stubborn and would not let my sister or myself know just how bad he felt.
For a while his cold symptoms had even seemed to clear up. But by early spring he had developed a terrible cough again. A lump in his lymph nodes on his neck had began to form. He believed they were just swollen because of his cold, so he did not say anything to us.
My father was never the type of person to see a doctor. I was never fully sure if it was fear, or trying to avoid the financial burdens of medical care. He was always like this. As long as I can remember. Stubborn single father who always tried to put everyone's needs above his own.
When he finally let us know what was going on, his lump was as big as my fist. I was terrified, but I tried so very hard not to let it show as I knew it was my turn to be strong for my father.
We went to the ER and left with a recommendation for a cancer specialist. I remember before the official diagnosis feeling so hopeful. I had done a lot of reading online, and originally doctors believed he had hodgkin's lymphoma. A very scary cancer indeed, but it had really good survival statistics. We were ready to fight.
When my father went in for the biopsy he had a lot of trouble breathing and was admitted to the hospital. We waited a week for the results of that test. Rapid test showed he indeed had cancer, and doctors began to discuss chemotherapy with us. But we had to wait for the official diagnosis with the cancer type.
I was still very hopeful. I got to know his oncologist very well over this week. His nurse too. I was bugging them every day to see if they had results as the hospital we were in seemed to know nothing.
This week seemed to last a year. The wait. It was terrible.
I remember getting the call. The call. The life altering call. I was sitting in my friends car outside the hospital. I had been doing over night stays with my dad and was getting ready to go home, eat and shower. For whatever reason, the phone did not ring and went straight to voice mail. I played it on speaker. Right away I knew by my father's oncologist's tone that things were really bad. I had never heard sadness in a doctor's voice before. And he said he was sorry. So so sorry.
Up until this moment we never heard the words Lung Cancer. And I never in my life had heard of Extensive Staged Small Cell Lung Cancer. I knew nothing.
I later learned the 5-year relative survival rate for stage III SCLC is about 8%. SCLC that has spread to other parts of the body is often hard to treat. Stage IV SCLC has a relative 5-year survival rate of about 2%. My father discovered his in stage 4. Some doctors classify anything that has spread past the lungs as "Extensive Stage Small Cell Lung Cancer". It's a terminal cancer with very little treatment options.
I hid in the tiny bathroom of my dad's hospital room, I sat on the floor and I cried. I punched the sink. I felt like I was going to throw up. But I got up, looked in the mirror and said "get it together, Lopez... get it together, Taylor." Wiped my tears away, and went back to sit with my dad.
We agreed to do Chemotherapy to shrink the tumors to help with breathing and extend quality of life. We learned that this would not be a cure, and that they could not even properly give him a true estimate of time. Just that if we didn't do the chemotherapy, it would be very soon.
After chemotherapy, my father almost seemed to be getting better. His growths did decrease in size. And we were all feeling hopeful. We were told perhaps a hospice would be a great option for us. I don't think anybody was ready to hear that.
We were moved to a recovery room on the top floor. It was bigger, private and had a view.
The chemotherapy caused huge painful blisters all over my father's legs. A rare side effect. Something we were not ready for and would continue to worsen and grow until the end.
We were warned about his chances of pneumonia and infection. But were told to remain positive.
He went from the hospital into a rehabilitation center for a while to learn to use a walker and adjust to his new life. Things seemed great at first, but then my dad started to feel really sick.
That's when the ground was ripped from beneath our feet. Our worst fears had came true and my dad had developed pneumonia.
He was tired. He didn't want to fight anymore and asked me to call a hospice so he could come home. He hadn't been home for nearly a month. I think that in part made him want to stop fighting faster. He just wanted to come home. And decided against more hospital stays to treat the pneumonia.
He lived exactly one week from the time he came home from the rehabilitation center.
I have a long post about the spiritual experiences I had during the last week of my dad's life, and I will link it here: (Saying Goodbye To My Father; A Lesson In Faith) https://www.sugarygiggles.com/blog/saying-goodbye-to-my-father-a-lesson-in-faith
We had an amazing hospice team that I will forever be thankful for. I am not sure I could have done it without their amazing help and resources.
My father died at home surrounded by people he loved. I wish that we had more time, and that things would have went differently. I remember at one point in the hospital him telling me not to worry, because he was not ready to go yet either.
Not a day goes by that I don't miss him and that I don't think about him. Grief is truly a journey that we will go on forever.
I shared a lot of these images before in a collection, but I did not offer any real context to them. I simply said "my father's cancer journey in pictures". That's it. I really can't believe it has taken me 2 years to make this post. To clarify what all these images mean.
The endless medications, the breathing machines, the hospital stays... all of it. Even now, I feel like I have not put enough weight into my words and that I could do better.
I am posting this to let others going through similar know that they are not alone. That their feelings and emotions are valid. I don't think anybody can fully understand what it is like to have someone you love diagnosed with a terminal disease. Knowing that they are going to die.
We all need to be kinder and gentler to each other. We only get one life. And your time on this Earth is precious.
I know I haven't written in a while. I guess it started to feel a bit trivial. But tonight I just miss you so much and I really needed to talk to you. So here I am.
Not sleeping well tonight has lead me to googling people from our past. I found out that Marco died in 2012, but Flo passed away this past April. She lived to be 97. Can you believe that? Her obituary had photos and she looked good in them. How I remembered her as a child. For some reason I assumed she probably already had passed away and I felt bad for not reaching out.
I left a comment on her obituary thanking her for being a wonderful neighbor and that it really does take a village to raise a child. I thanked her for being a good friend to grandma and said that perhaps they are your neighbors up in heaven.
Whilst thinking of people from the past, I saw that Doc and Marsha are still living. And he is still practicing medicine part time in Florida. I hope they are happy in their later years. Doc is into his 80s, right?
Things with the kids are good. They seem to love their new schools and Ashlie will be starting college soon. You would not believe how big Poppy Marie has gotten.
Tavo's dad has been spending a lot of time with Robbie, but I know he misses you a lot. We all do.
I didn't know who else to tell about Flo and Marco other than you and Lauren...
I was thinking about writing Brian again. Just so I can maybe get a response letter. But I guess that is silly isn't?
Why did you never tell me you played the bongos? Or made leather belts and jewelry to sell in the city? Your life before kids is so interesting to me. I wish I knew more.
I am going to try and sleep now. Good night dad. I love you and I miss you.
I got to see Okkervil River preform tonight and it was everything I thought it would be and more. Will is just... amazing. You felt his vibe and energy shoot from the stage into the crowd. Soon as he walked out, I cried. Tears of joy and happiness... tears of sadness.. I felt things that I have never felt in my entire life. This overwhelming peace and gratitude.
Okkervil River and Will Sheff is something I wrote about constantly in my old blog. Losing the writing about them when I deleted was one of my more sad experiences with the loss of my blog. I wish I did not delete the blog in a rush of emotions when my father passed. I would have love to have been able to look back on them today.
So as the posts are gone and if you're not close to me, you won't know my love and history with band...so let's talk about them.
I first discovered their music through an internet friend of mine over ten years. I believe the first time I listened to them was in 2004. I was instantly addicted. I had never heard music that was so unapologetic and raw. It drew you in and forced you to open your mind.
Their music has been here for me during some of the worst times in my life. Growth, change, divorce, death... you name it... I experienced with the help of music therapy through this band.
He writes so beautifuly, honest, and open. You feel what he does. He is an amazing story teller. You can see what is going on in his head as the songs continue to play.
Here are some photos from our night.
Adjusting to life in Illinois has been interesting to say the least. I am just trying to take it all in at a one day at a time pace.
I am realizing that with this new space and place I don't have to constantly walk around on eggshells anymore. I don't have to fear what people think they know of me or how they define me.
I have changed a lot in the past two years. Losing my father has caused me to change how I looked at the entire world around me.
One morning I woke up and I looked in the mirror and saw a person I did not like...a person I did not know. I spent ten years of my life trying to fit into a mold I did not belong.
I spent the next year searching and I found myself again. I found my reason and purpose to be in this world. But I still felt incomplete. I was surrounded by people who didn't want growth or change in their lives. Or they wanted it, but were not willing to fight for it.
You are a lot of who you put yourself around. Their energy and vibes feed into you. Not only in our friends... but our neighborhood and community too. When I realized this, I knew I had to leave. I could not strive to be the person I was meant to be and have the life I wanted for my family in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
My husband and I spent the next year researching places to live. We looked into about 10 states, but only put in for job transfers in Washington, California, Illinois, and New York.
We were approved in both Washington state and Illinois. However, we went with Illinois because they offered more money, was closer to family, and had several gated communities / subdivisions.
I wasn't sure what to expect and how my life would fall into place into place here... but so far I am loving the direction things are going.
Every afternoon it's been nice weather, Poppy and I have been walking the nature trails in our subdivision. Poppy brings her tablet to take photos and I bring my camera.
The beautiful spring birds are out. My favorite are the Redwinged Black birds and the Tree Swallows. I had to look up their names on google and now I am inspired to journal them. I ordered a "birds of Illinois" book and plan on learning as much as I can.
You can probably expect a lot more pictures like this (smile). I really enjoy bird watching and nature photography as a whole. It's relaxing and nice to have something I can share with my toddler.
You may have noticed a few small changes to my website. It's a bit more clean and cut down. Also, I have a new facebook page!
These changes come with our move and grand re-opening this summer. Facebook wasn't letting me location change my old business page, so the new one was needed.
The biggest change is to my digital promotional photography. I wanted something that would protect/mark my images, but would maintain a very fresh clean look. Not drawing attention away from the images. As always, client albums for your personal use will be watermark free. I hope everyone enjoys the change as much as I do.
I continue to struggle with not having you in my life anymore. We're coming up on two years since you've been gone, but lately it feels like day too...not year two. I worry that I am not getting better. Sometimes I fear that I will never get better.
I find myself angry a lot. At myself, at the world. At everyone who can get up in the morning and live their lives. I am so livid that nothing feels the same. Like the colors around me. The greens in the grass, the golden oranges in pinks in a sunset. They don't look the same to me. They look off... like when I didn't set my apature properly. Like I am looking at a world with not enough light.
I am haunted by the things that were not said. Before you died.. the morning you passed you told Robbie there was still so much you wanted to tell me and it kills me that I will never know.
I am not the most loving person in the way of hugs or physical touch. And I wish, as an adult I would have hugged you more. I wish I could have given you more actions than words. And you know what I think about? Holding your hand as you passed and the last time I did that before that day. I think I was 12 or 13... you grabbed my hand to cross the street and I remember thinking oh god what if someone from school sees me. I feel guilty now for thinking that.
I am a mess of guilt and burdens that I know are not exactly mine to bare but it doesn't stop me from feeling them all. Knowing things were not my fault doesn't help me sleep at night.
We are soon entering the 3rd month of 2018. Tavo and I are faced with a life changing decision and I have no idea what to do. We are so very lost and I desperately need your wisdom. I feel like you are the only one who could have lead us in the right direction. Honestly, dad? My life has been a string of choices that haven't always been in my best interest since you passed. I find it so hard to even think about the direction my life should go as to me... my whole entire world has stopped moving.
I guess... here is some good news. I have reached back into therapy. That is where this letter is coming from. I am trying to deal with my PTSD in a constructive way. This letter. I know you will never ever read it, but maybe some day someone will come across it. Maybe it will help them.
I love and miss you. I hope there is more for you. I hope in some way you are still you and you are happy. I love you very much and I think about you every day. I know if I could be half the person you were my kids will be ok.
I will continue to write to you. And I hope that some day these letters won't be so sad.
"At some point in your childhood, you and your friends went outside to play for the last time and nobody knew it."
" I can live with god and with suicide.
The same thing holds if I close my eyes....
It's a truth so pure it can kill you dead..
A taste of heaven mixed with hell inside of my head."
The past almost five years on Zivity have been a very positive experience for me. It has allowed me to create art with my friends whilst also making some new ones along the way. Including a great network of models and photographers. Before Zivity, I really didn't have a place to share my work or express myself in the ways I wanted. They allowed me to push my creativity to places I did not think possible. I was able to win several photography contests and with the help of my beautiful friends, be featured on the front page with the best of the best. Seriously! Some of the most amazing artistic nude photographers from around the world. My work was side by side with theirs. I was completely overwhelmed with emotions during my features. And of course a lot of fan girl moments to be had. I know a lot of people are upset with their decision to close. I had a wide range of emotions, but now I am just sad that it is ending for us, but glad it happened. A lot of people have asked me what this means for my ART, especially my adult work... and the answer is, I really do not know. Thank you to all the fans of my work, the beautiful ladies I have worked with over the years, and the backers who support my projects. And especially thanks to my friends and family who "proof" my work before it goes public. I know I drive you all crazy. Goodbye Zivity 💞 Thanks for the memories.
I really thought that this year it would be easier. I could come into November feeling productive. Host a #LungCancer project, have a happy Thanksgiving dinner, smile on your birthday... but I have not been able to do anything. I still struggle to get up in the morning. And this past month has been one long string of what feels like never ending anxiety and depression. I could give you a fancy metaphor about dark deep holes forming below me that I fall into. Not being able to climb out...That feeling of absoulte hopelessness. But....Maybe simply saying that the part of me that died in June of 2016 is now killing what was left of the person I used to be. If you could see me now, I know you would not be pleased with what you saw.... Still, even that isn't motivation enough to claw even a tiny hole to peek at the light that was once there. I used to be the happy friend. The one always making jokes and people enjoyed being around. Now I have no one left. And I can't blame them as I don't even want to be around myself. I miss you, dad. You were the only person who understood me and loved me unconditionally. You were more than a father, you were my best friend. I wasn't ready to say goodbye. None of us were. There were just so many things that were unsaid. You were supposed to see Ashlie graduate and tell Poppy stories. I don't like being the oldest in the family. I don't know how to guide and keep everyone together. I feel like I have failed you and I can't keep my promises. As I write this I just feel even more crazy as I know you will never read it. Your consciousness, your energy is moved on into space or the Earth... you.. the things that made you, you are gone. And grasping that just tortures my mind. I am so tired of being tired.
I get a little tired of people who assume that just because you have kids, you are automatically completely uncool, and that all your time is spent wiping babies from head to toe, giving spit baths, criticizing their every move, volunteering for PTA, blogging in your spare time, clipping coupons before crock potting a pot roast, ironing the clothes, bleaching the whites, mopping the floors, harvesting your eggs, sewing for your etsy shop, scrapbooking the little things, taking pictures of everything they do, saving for college, reading Dr. Suess, socializing at the bus stop, sweeping the floor, laughing over coffee with your jogging stroller, wearing your birkenstocks and listening to Baby Einstein.
Just because I DO THESE THINGS OCCASIONALLY.
Does not mean for one second that sometimes I don’t just want to be a kick ass girl with streaks in her hair, a ring in her nose, a tattoo on her arm, concert tickets in her purse, vodka in her fridge, a leather mini-skirt in her closet, her best single friends and a standing reservation for Las Vegas once a year with a don’t ask don’t tell policy, and the desire to just once be seen as more than the mother of 5 kids. Sometimes I just want to be seen as a “Maggie”. A “Maggie” with an extremely adorable set of children… (I joke, but sometimes it's hard to over come labels. )
Married + 5 Children
Born in New York
Living in Chicago Land
Italian + Mexican American household
Published Photographer + Artist
Lung Cancer Activist + Advocate
Social Media Enthusiast
Openly in Grief Therapy
Believes in Freedom Of Religion
Studied Animal Science
Backpacking + Hiking
Crystals + Meditation + Yoga
Writing + Scrapbooking + Blogging
Foodie + Cooking + Baking
Tropical Fish Keeping
Coffee + Coffee Shops
Travel + Road trips
Okkervil River + Good indie bands