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Survivor Stories: Marisa Ramirez

In Her Own Words, 'Yup, Buddy'Marisa Ramirez

I spent several days last month debating whether or not to go to San Antonio. My 72-year-old father, a newly published writer, had called to invite me to a reading at the local bohemian bookstore and coffee shop. A “Short Story Revival,” he called it.

He said he hoped to spark a discussion on the merits of the short story — and, if audience members were so moved, allow them to buy a few of his books.

They would come, he was sure

He’s always been sure. As a kid, I never worried when he was around. We’d get where we needed to go, bills would be paid, everything would be OK. “Yup, buddy,” he’d say to assure us.

When my mother’s disease progressed to where we didn’t recognize her, and I’d look at him with unsure eyes, he’d say, “It’s OK. Yup, buddy.” And I’d believe him. His assurance comes from a weathered life — migrant worker, Marine, widower, patient. Dad’s endured the slings and arrows — and is here to write about them.

Calling him five years ago to tell him I had cervical cancer was the worst call I ever had to make. Happy to hear from me, he asked about my husband John and my young son Alex. We may have talked about the Dallas Cowboys or the lack of rain.

Then I told him.

He was quiet for a long time, and I realized he was crying. It was an awful sound that I tried to drown by conveying in great detail my treatment plan, how I wouldn’t lose much time at work or too much weight. I even tried to tell a joke, anything to fill the distance with words and not sobs, especially not my own. But then he stopped, took a deep breath and said, “It will be OK. Yup.”

An identity crisis

Before Nov. 3, 2003, I was sure who I was. I’d spent years becoming Houston’s KTRH Newsradio’s Marisa Ramirez. I’d been John Cannon’s wife for five years and was getting used to being called Alex’s mom. Adding “cancer patient” to that list was surreal, alien and uncomfortable. Who would I be now? I wasn’t sure.
When you lose your footing, it’s natural to fall. When each shower leaves the drain clogged with hair, when walking across the room drains you, when you rush to take the pill before the nausea comes, who wouldn’t feel each layer of identity peeling away until all that’s left is what the radiation leaves behind.

It takes focus and faith to find your balance: to shampoo gently, sit and sleep and let the nausea have its moment. When I turned unsure eyes to the girl in the mirror, she looked tired and weathered. But deep in that reflection were my father’s eyes, telling me it was going to be OK. And it was.

So, I went to San Antonio. I was the proud daughter in the back of the room when my dad read from his new book and detailed his philosophy of the novel versus the short story. He’s OK, my dad. And so am I. I’m John’s wife, Alex’s mom and Fernando’s daughter. I’m a cancer fighter and here to write about it. Yup, buddy.

Marisa Ramirez is a veteran news radio journalist, currently a media representative at the University of Houston and a cervical cancer survivor.

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