“ Whatever you do, don’t let cancer be the one thing that defines you, but do let it be one of the many experiences that makes you even more awesome than you already are.
Marisa Mir is a mAss Kicker on a mission. As colon cancer survivor, she found her calling. She is very active in her community with Houston’s Hispanic Health Coalition. She is also a member of the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s Young Adult Alliance Membership Task Force. She now works as the program coordinator at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston helping people connect with others who can lead them through their unique journey. She is the developer of MD Anderson’s Cancer180 program for young adults. We were very lucky to find Marisa and ask her a few questions.
mK: Hi Marisa, thanks for hanging out with us. Let’s start with… What/ when was your diagnosis? How did you find out about your diagnosis? How old were you?
MM: I was diagnosed with colon cancer on July 17, 2002, after a not-so-routine colonoscopy. I was 29 years old. You know the saying “things happen for a reason”? I totally believe in that. Just before my cancer was found, I was working at the American Cancer Society and was invited to attend a colon cancer support group meeting to talk to the attendees about upcoming events. While I was sitting in the meeting, I started reading the latest ACS health brochure on colorectal cancer and noticed that I had been experiencing some of the symptoms listed. I went home, spoke to my husband about it and the next thing I knew, I was sitting in the gastroenterologist’s office asking for (more like demanding) a colonoscopy.
mK: What were your symptoms?
MM: Stomach cramps and LOTS of bleeding from the rectum.
mK: Why did you start working at MD Anderson? What do you do there?
MM: I started working at M. D. Anderson because Samantha Brown beat me out of the Travel Channel gig, haha! In all seriousness, my cancer experience left me with the desire to work closer with cancer patients and their families in a capacity where I could be of emotional and informational support to them and/or help find the support they need. When I saw there was a position with M. D. Anderson Cancer Center that would allow me to do just that, I seized the moment. Well, first I did a happy dance then I rushed to apply for the job.
I guess it must have been in the cards or the moon was properly aligned with Jupiter because I GOT THE JOB! As a program coordinator for the Anderson Network, I connect patients, caregivers and family members with others who have been through a similar experience in hopes that they will become their source of encouragement and knowledge through their dark journey. I have also developed a support program for young adults called Cancer180 that provides opportunities for those affected by cancer in their 20s and 30s to connect with each other through social outings and activities around the Greater Houston area. That’s been the most fun and very cathartic.
mK: You are a Native Texan right? What is the best thing about Texas?
MM: Real Tex-Mex food and Austin.
mK: OK, we heard a rumor that you like to destroy opponents in video games. How often do you play the Wii?
MM: About once a week, which is not as much as I’d like to.
mK: Who is your hero/heroes/ who do you look up to?
MM: My 83 year old grandmother, who in her heyday, did not miss a day of work in 20 years of employment, mowed her lawn until she was in her mid 70’s, raised five children practically on her own and has no qualms about setting out on adventures by herself. She’s one tough granny that no one dares to mess with.
mK: She sounds feisty! We need people like that to look up to. So what motivates you?
MM: Everyday, I am motivated by the people I love and admire.
mK: When was the first time you felt like yourself after your diagnosis?
MM: That’s kind of a tough question to answer. I definitely don’t feel like the person I was before my diagnosis and don’t think I ever will. I guess I’ve just accepted my new normal and adapting to a different life; one that I feel is even better than before because now I don’t stress as much and I enjoy more of life than I used to. Life’s too short not to enjoy it.
mK: After a traumatic experience, no one is ever the same. What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
MM: Well, I usually crack myself up, but what really makes me laugh is people who love themselves too much, pageant moms, my husband, my crazy family and friends and The Office. I cry when I see children or animals hurt and I get angry when people are not held accountable for their actions. Oh, and also when my DVR doesn’t record The Office.
mK: Technology is supposed to make things more convenient, it should make things easier, not cause headaches. What was your toughest challenge during or after treatment? How did you overcome it?
MM: When I was told that my ovaries would have to be removed for fear of the cancer spreading to them – I was told this by three different doctors – it was very difficult for my husband and I to accept the fact that I would not be able to conceive. It took a few years for us to overcome it, but now that we’re a bit older and have gotten used to our somewhat carefree lifestyle, we’re perfectly content to spoil our nieces and godchildren rotten and then send them back home for their parents to deal with.
mK: What is your guilty pleasure?
MM: SHOES!!! At last count, I had about 126 pairs. Is that a lot?
mK: uhhh… do people at a Star Trek Convention know Captain Kirk’s first name? Where do you store all those shoes?
MM: They take up most of what’s supposed to be my husband’s side of the closet, but men don’t need that much closet shoe space anyway, right?
mK: OK… Random question time… If you could go back in time for one day in your life, what would you do?
MM: I really have no regrets about the choices I’ve made in life, but if I could go back in time, I guess I would have chosen to be a news reporter, just so that I could say “Reporting from the Cancer Has Been Eliminated, What Do We Cure Next? Summit, this is Marrrisa Riverrra Mirrr, for Channel 5 news.”
mK: Hahaha, very cool. What do you like to do in your spare time?
MM: Travel, listen to live music, watch indie and foreign films, play Wii games and recently, I’ve gotten into photography – nothing very artistic or worthy of publishing, but give me time.
mK: Photography is a great creative outlet! What are you doing now?
MM: Eating baked cheetos and listening to one of my fave singers, Ximena Sariñana. She’s the Mexican Fiona Apple mixed with a little Norah Jones and a younger Natalie Merchant. Check her out…even if you can’t understand the lyrics, you’ll enjoy her groovy sounds.
mK: Definitely have to check that out! Actually, do you have any advice for people that get daunting diagnoses?
MM: People react differently in times of crisis and I say that when you’re diagnosed with cancer, if you feel angry, get angry; if you feel like crying, have a good cry; if you want to laugh, then laugh ‘til you bust a gut. Whatever emotion you want to express that will help you deal, go with it because there is no right or wrong reaction. It’s all therapeutic. And don’t forget to have a little patience with your loved ones; they only want to help.
mK: Tell us something people probably didn’t know… anything.
MM: Not many people know that one of my life goals is to go on an archeological dig in Egypt. I would love to discover the mummified body of a pharaoh, along with all of his buried bling!
mK: Sounds cool. Before we let you off the hook… Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
MM: Whatever you do, don’t let cancer be the one thing that defines you, but do let it be one of the many experiences that makes you even more awesome than you already are.
Thanks for hanging out with us Marisa! Marisa Mir the first Wii Sports reporter for Channel 5, an active young adult survivor, and female Indiana Jones. Check out her profile on Facebook! She has the inside scoop on a lot of young adult issues and colon cancer issues. Be careful though, she might be eyeing your shoes… j/k