It's a very funny thing to grow up and start looking back on the other "grown-ups" who have filled your childhood. Once tall, all-knowing, and sometimes intimidating figures simply turn into fellow human beings; people to reflect on, learn from, and relate to in a whole new way. And thanks to social networking sites like Facebook (they do have their benefits!), we can re-connect easily and often. In the past few years, I've had the chance to be in touch with many inspiring mentors, teachers, and professors from my past. One of those special individuals is Liza Talusan.
I spent 13 years (Kindergarten - 12th grade) at Friends Academy, a Quaker school on Long Island. It afforded me so many opportunities, but in retrospect one of the greatest gifts was its faculty. I first met Liza in middle school when she was a faculty leader of "Natural Helpers", a peer mentoring group I was part of in high school. Liza was undoubtedly known as one of those "cool teachers" - and not the kind that had to try for that title. Her personality was laid back, understanding, and just plain fun. She also formed Friends Academy's first a capella group - the Quaker Notes (for that name alone, she deserves a spotlight, right?) and we got to sing together for a while!
From left to right: Joli, Evan, Liza, Jada & Jorge -
a beautiful family
It wasn't until this past year, though, when I started paying attention to Liza's amazing blog, that I realized what a phenomenal woman she really is. As the wife of Mr. Vega (the coolest of all theater teachers who also worked at Friends Academy), the mother of three beautiful children, and a full-time administrator at Stonehill College (Director of Intercultural Affairs), you'd think she'd have her plate more than full. But it seemed Liza discovered an entirely new level of energy and passion once cancer entered the scene.
On August 17, 2005 Liza's family was hit with life-altering news: their oldest daughter, Joli, was diagnosed with Retinoblastoma (a childhood cancer arising from immature retinal cells in both eyes) at age 2. In the years to come, Liza fought this battle hand in hand with her daughter and modeled true strength and love on the face of adversity (to the left is this dynamic duo). Not only did they find courage, but they found meaning in this fight. Liza went on to become involved with families coping with Retinoblastoma and still works hard to spread awareness today. Cancer crept into other parts of Liza's life as well. Finding out that she was a "pre-vivor"(someone who is genetically positive for cancer but has not yet developed detectable tumors), just like her two sisters, could have had disastrous effects for someone so full of life. But Liza transformed even this news into something wrought with purpose, dignity, and beautiful strength. To be honest, Liza makes it that much easier for me to keep fighting my fight - she's living proof that nothing's out of reach.
While I began these spotlights intending to write about people currently living with chronic illness and/or disability, I thought Liza's perspective was an especially powerful one. As a pre-vivor and someone particularly motivated to live life, we can all learn so much from her. And if you didn't think Liza could be a bigger rock star, did I mention that she's about to run her SECOND half-marathon this October? It's an endeavor she has named "Marathon B4 Mastectomy" and writes about eloquently on her awesome blog. But enough out of me. At this point, let me let Liza's incredible voice speak for herself...
In January 2010, I decided to do a "Marathon B4 Mastectomy". While I knew I wasn't going to run a full marathon before my surgery, I did commit to running a 1/2 marathon. C'mon .. "Half Marathon B4 Mastectomy" just didn't have the same ring to it! About 20 people joined me on this journey and, in June 2010, I ran my first 1/2 marathon. I came in nearly last, but I crossed the finish line! I felt so proud of myself that I signed up for a second 1/2 marathon that I'll be running in October. Now, while your readers don't know me, I always mention that I'm 5'3", 190 lbs, and certainly not built like a runner, especially a distance runner. I'm living proof that plus sized women are also strong, determined, disciplined, and motivated athletes, just like the skinny gals!