“My Voice” by Britta Aragon

Britta and Javier Aragon

My first experience with cancer came when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease at the age of 16. Back in 1992, the “C” word was rarely mentioned, spoken only in whispers or behind closed doors. Fortunately, I was young, and as they say, ignorance is bliss. I wasn’t aware of the severity of the disease. To me, I was sick, but I was going to get better. There was no doubt. After all, I wanted to be with my friends, go to the mall, and feel well enough to do all the other things teenagers do. Little did I know this positive outlook would play a big part in helping me heal.

The doctors prescribed one year of chemotherapy and radiation. However, I had to undergo only 5 months of chemotherapy—and no radiation! I remember my doctor’s surprise as he watched my progress. Back then, I thought it was one of the best times in my life. Encouragement flowed from my family and friends, and my friends’ parents. I was so focused on getting better, my cells seemed to listen to my commands.

After that experience, I realized life is a precious gift, and can be taken away in the snap of a finger. It made me a stronger person, and I know it helped me develop my free spirit and positive outlook on life. I now believe that no matter what happens, I can trust it will turn out all right. My experience with cancer gave me strength, and thankfully so, for 10 years later, I had to call on it once again to help me get through a second round with the disease—this time, with someone I dearly loved.

In 1999, my father—Javier Aragon—was diagnosed with colon cancer. Though concerned, I was optimistic, for my dad was full of strength and confidence. As time went by, he had recurrences in his liver, lungs, bones and brain. He went on to beat the cancer four times in 8 years, and I grew more and more amazed at his strength, determination and faith. He became a role model and inspiration to everyone around him. Unfortunately, in May 2007, the cancer returned for a fifth time—with a vengeance—and he passed away on August 7, 2007.

My father touched so many people with his enduring spirit and positive attitude that he forever changed many lives—most assuredly, my own. I remember while he was going through the treatment, I would talk with him, sharing this experience we had in common. We felt grateful to our cancer community for all they had done to help us. We wanted to give back, but didn’t know how.
Meanwhile, I witnessed all the side effects chemotherapy and radiation had on my father’s skin, hair and nails. I wanted to learn more, but found few resources on the dermatological effects of cancer therapies. I searched for community forums with instructions on caring for things like darkened nails or lost eyelashes, or that might talk about the toxic overload most of our personal-care products dump on the skin and body, but I came up empty. What I found were a lot of confused cancer patients who didn’t know how to ease their embarrassment, discomfort and pain.

When my father passed on, I realized that my purpose as a survivor and caregiver was to change this situation. I wanted to deliver everyday, useful information and tools to help fighters and survivors deal with side effects. I wanted to reach out to those people who, like me, were looking for answers and not finding them. And I wanted to share what my father and I experienced, to give others hope that they can still live their best lives while surviving this disease. So, Cinco Vidas was born. Cinco Vidas (which means “five lives” in honor of my father’s five cancer victories) is an online community where cancer fighters, survivors and caregivers can find natural, non-toxic ways to alleviate side effects from chemotherapy and radiation, as well as gather information and inspiration from experts and from each other.
Being a cancer survivor, to me, means pure gratitude. I got a wake-up call and listened to the message—that every day we’re alive is a gift, and we need to remember to treat it that way. We simply can’t afford to waste time. We must do what that little voice—that spirit inside us—is compelling us to do.

I believe when we get cancer—because it strips us of so many things, like vanity, pride, and materialism—we’re invited to transcend our human selves and connect to a higher spirit, where we find our purpose and the meaning in our lives. It compelled me to dig deep and reunite with that higher power that now guides me daily. My life has never been the same. I was given a second chance! Cancer forced my spirit wide open, and now, despite getting hurt along the way, as all of us do, my life has been richer because of that openness. Only with an open heart can we listen to what life is calling us to do, and following that voice is what gives us true joy and fulfillment.

Soon after I finished with treatments and was given a clean bill of health, nutrition, alternative healthcare, skincare, and makeup became my passions. I started studying everything I could get my hands on. I knew my purpose was to teach others about health and toxicity, and to help those currently struggling with the disease to use tender, wholesome ways to gain comfort and relief. I’m particularly committed to educating everyone about the dangers of toxic ingredients in personal-care products. As shoppers learn to read labels and rid their lives of harmful, sometimes carcinogenic, ingredients, I believe that together, we’ll change the industry. Even if we succeed only at making a few more lives a bit healthier, my purpose will have been fulfilled. But if you look around, you’ll see—we’re witnessing a shift in consciousness toward a healthier world. Everyone deserves safe, natural products that are readily available and affordable, and if we demand it, eventually, I believe we’ll get it.
Being a survivor means I’m grateful—grateful for every day of my second chance at life, and so thankful to be able to use my experience, strength and hope to help others along the way.