The Courage to Become | Frances Saldivar-Morales
Sisters, you never know what kind of impact you are having. Keep doing good work, being kind, staying steady. We don't have to preach, or gather a following or have a fancy business to make a difference. Do what your heart calls you to do, and do it well. That is plenty. The universe will do the rest.
Tonight, I want to share a letter with you. This landed in my inbox in March and I've been waiting to share it with you - to shine a light on Frances ( tonight's author) and also to remind you that you matter and YOU DO MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
When I wrote The Courage to Become, I had no idea who I would impact, seriously. But the more days go by, the more I realize my experience and my sharing and truth have impacted women and families that I never would have imagined.
Enjoy Frances' story. It's one of challenge and courage, grace and triumph.
It truly was a pleasure meeting you at the book signing on Saturday. I didn’t expect to be overcome with so many emotions when we spoke, but I appreciate your kind words, warmth, patience and suggestion to email you. This gives me an opportunity to share how your book made a difference in my life—almost breaking down in tears aside.
I graduated from WHS in 2002, and although we never crossed words, I recall you being an upperclassman and drum major when I was a pacesetter. I immediately recognized your face about a year ago while scrolling through Facebook. Being from the same small town, we have several mutual friends on social media and one of them must have shared your page re: Confidence Revolution. Faith and positive/inspirational/motivational content have been my guiding light and driving force through tough times.
“Outgoing,” a word no one would have used to describe me! Growing up, I had a few close friends, and standing out would have been mortifying. I just wanted to study and earn good grades to go to college and earn a degree—all of which I did, not standing out. In 2007, at the age of 23, I had a Master of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders and began a career as a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) in my home town. I accomplished a lot, and before I knew it, I had a career that paid well enough to live a comfortable life and help my parents. As a first generation Mexican-American, my drive stemmed from my parents’ hope that their children would get an education greater than what they had the opportunity to accomplish.
From 2010-2013, I experienced symptoms that my doctors could not put their finger on: shortness of breath, significant fatigue, a dry cough that just wouldn’t go away, and eventually, I began spitting up traces of blood when I coughed. During that time, I underwent multiple chest x-rays, allergy tests, TB tests, took allergy medications and used inhalers to no avail. In the fall of 2013, my now husband and I experienced a miscarriage. I was 7 weeks along when it happened. I know they say you experience shortness of breath during pregnancy, but it usually occurs much later in the process. During those 7 weeks, I felt my shortness of breath intensify. Working as a pediatric SLP, depending on my patients’ abilities, I’d plop on the floor with them, jump around, or carry them from one location to the next if they were infants. I couldn’t understand why I needed to catch my breath so often, even when talking—because, hello, that’s my bread and butter as an SLP—so early in the pregnancy.
If we were going to try to get pregnant again, we needed answers about my lungs. My family doctor decided to send me to a pulmonologist to get a high-resolution CT of the chest. One week before Christmas, on December 18, 2013, we got the answer: Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM). I felt overwhelmed with emotions: shocked, sad, scared, and RELIEF—I finally had an answer! I was 29 years of age.
"LAM is a rare and progressive lung disease that occurs almost exclusively in women. It is estimated that for every million women, 3-5 will have LAM. LAM is so rare, that the medical community is not familiar with it, and for this very reason, my symptoms went undiagnosed for three years. Because of its effects, LAM is often misdiagnosed as asthma, emphysema, or chronic bronchitis. Chest x-rays are not sufficient to detect LAM."
Is it my true belief that God had other plans for me. I always had that tunnel vision—work hard, earn a degree, make a difference in children’s lives, work, work, work. My career was MY THING; I worked my butt off to get there! In 2014, my LAM diagnosis progressed from a ‘mild’ to a ‘moderate-severe’ stage. I experienced 2 back-to-back right-lung collapses, invasive lung surgery, chest tubes, was on supplemental oxygen 24/7, began taking the only medication that could potentially slow LAM progression, and began consulting with Houston Methodist Lung Transplant Center. I had to leave my profession--MY THING. I have undergone much emotional and physical pain, but through this, I have learned to push my limits and to "stand out" for a reason. I have further explored the things I never thought I could do. I’m not completely there in terms of putting myself out there, but I AM evolving. I think it was God’s way of saying that there is SO MUCH MORE out there. It’s unfortunate that sometimes, the only way we step back to REALLY appreciate life is when we go through life-changing experiences. You know how they say, “What advice would you give to your younger self?” I think a more gratifying way is to SHARE your experiences with others before they ever go through any negative experiences in hopes that they will grip to something in your story and use it as a life lesson.
In “The Courage to Become,” you talked about leaving your career, making less money, and feeling less powerful and scared. I completely related with that. Before leaving my profession, I earned more than my husband and not once did it ever make me feel “more than” him. In fact, I felt we were equal. We both had a career in the healthcare field—we met at work—and I never had to ask him for money, nor did he to me. I took pride in being able to pay MY car, MY student loans, etc. on my own. It took an emotional toll on me and much, much time for me to come to terms with the fact that WE are a partnership. No matter what the situation, we will have each other’s back. I too feel blessed with “the one” I chose and that he chose me too.
LAM took a lot from me, but it has also opened so many doors. I have found other passions, including yoga, reading, considering adoption, and being an active advocate for myself and others living with LAM. Since diagnosis, family and friends have helped me host two LAM Awareness 5K’s in the RGV, and all proceeds went to The LAM Foundation to help fund research for a CURE. I had the opportunity to speak to a large room of LAM patients, family/friends, researchers and clinicians about my LAM diagnosis and hope for a cure at a LAMpoisum conference. I became a LAM co-liaison for my region and am a source of support for newly diagnosed patients and all those living with LAM in my region. My co-liaison and I host annual regional meetings for patients, family/friends and the medical community. I make it a point to speak to others about LAM because it truly takes a village to make this rare disease known—which is why I shared the LAM pamphlet with you. The more people that are aware, the more likely we are to find undiagnosed women to share hope with. I also take part in LAM research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in hopes of finding other treatment options and a cure in the near future.
Many have complemented me on my positive outlook despite the circumstances. The reality is, we all have it in us, we just have to choose. Sometimes, we’re just blind to all that is in us because we get so caught up in our lives. You and other writers/speakers continue to motivate me to LOVE and LIVE intentionally. After reading your book, although we never met, I felt like I knew you, and you were that friend that you can speak so openly to—hence why I practically wrote my life story in this email—oops! Your genuine, raw accounts of experiences encourage others to stay motivated. The way you spoke about sisterhood has a deep-rooted connection in my heart, because that’s what LAM women call each other, "LAM sister.” A sister is someone you love dearly and want the best for; you have a connection, a bond. I could feel the love your poured into this book, and the guidance and inspiration you wanted to impart on those reading it! Thank you for the prayer at the end of the book. May you truly know your life had a ripple effect on mine.
I'm Catia, a woman, wife, mama, sister, sister friend, you know -- I wear a million hats just like you.
One of my biggest whys is that I want people to feel good about ALL of who they are. Including you.
If I could choose ten words that best describe me I would say: honest, welcoming, giving, curious, loving, earnest, empathetic, spiritual, playful, and sassy. Let's add: adventurous. That's 11.
Nice to meet you!