One Latina’s uplifting story of faith, love and comedy
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he one word that scares everyone is cancer. But that doesn’t apply for Veronique Martinez (Miss Nikki), 42, of Latin descent, who turns this dark, horrifying word into comedy. Despite the 10 tumors fighting in her body and the left breast that she lost to it, she remains positive, happy about life, and most of all – laughs off her illness. She describes herself as a cancer comedian.
“It was crazy that I was able to make people laugh about cancer and my experiences. I had a nurse who told me, “it’s people like you that change the world,” and she flipped a switch. “I haven’t stopped since,” said Miss Nikki who has been on stage ever since with some of the funniest comedians, raising funds for breast cancer through motivational speeches.
“Laughter is the best medicine. If I cried as much as I laughed, I would have died a long time ago. Laughing is my way of giving it [cancer] the finger. I let cancer take my breast—not my life.”
Miss Nikki was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2010. She went through all the treatment procedures and in 2011, she thought she had beaten it. But in 2012, her cancer came back. It had spread throughout her body. Now she is terminal in stage four.
“Never did we suspect it was going to come back. These cells can be aggressive. My doctor told me, ‘You either had a slow growing tumor of two years and everybody missed it or you had such an aggressive cancer it was overnight,’” said Miss Nikki, who was working for a sergeant for years before she got diagnosed and found her calling in comedy.
A big part of Miss Nikki’s support has been her 17-year-old daughter and her Puerto Rican husband Edwin Martinez, whom she married on Feb. 25 this year. But before marrying Edwin, Miss Nikki was in a horrible marriage and ended up divorcing her ex-husband last year.
“I told him, “You are either with me or leave me now.” My life was very stressful. I worked crazy as a single mom. I had no help from her father. I had four jobs. I was stressed about finances. I had little to no sleep all the time,” said Miss Nikki recalling the time before she got together with Martinez.
“I remarried. I am very happy now. He is with me at every show. He goes with me to chemotherapy. He said, “I will be with you till the end,” and he is.”
When it comes to Miss Nikki, Martinez holds not only a big love for her, but also a very soft spot. “We are always together. We laugh it off,” he said. “It hurts because I love her. My uncle died from cancer. I don’t want to lose two people at the same time in my life,” said Miss Nikki’s husband, tearing up. He still remembers the day he first saw her and fell in love with her. Despite his fear of hospitals and his pain, his sacrifice overcame that and he is with her every step of the way. “It’s not the hardest times. The hardest times are when you truly lose the person you love. Make the best of the times because if you give up, you won’t know what you miss.”
“Society has taken away what priorities are with family. We don’t want to lose that connection. We go out without our phones to make sure it’s about us,” said Miss Nikki, holding her husband’s hand who she has been friends with for seven years.
Sophia Garcia thought her mom was going to die when she found out Miss Nikki had cancer. ”I am going to lose my mom,” she thought. “I just broke down and cried until my mom decided to console me. She said, “Mommy will beat this.” “It just made me feel like there was actual hope,” said Garcia. “I always told her that she is funny and should do comedy. I just pushed her until she had her first show and it was amazing.”
In eighth grade, Sophia shaved her head to show support for her mom. “Instead of being so negative about things it’s nice to see my mom laugh and smile instead of cry and be depressed on the couch. Cancer is a severe problem and my mom is trying to make it a positive instead of being so down about it.”
Miss Nikki recalls that the hardest part about cancer is not the illness itself but the financial hardships she faced.
“As a single mom, the state wouldn’t even help me. I wasn’t getting child support. At that point, I was concerned about my daughter. I get about $1200 in disability. My rent is $1200. I had to fight to get LINK. They told me I could get $15 per month. I didn’t even have a car. I was walking back and forth to my treatments. People don’t see that side to it,” said Miss Nikki, who even planned her own funeral to make sure her family had the money to pay for it. “Nobody could have told me it will be so hard financially. I can only pay $3,000 to cremate myself because this is the cheapest option. I have to think about what’s going to happen with my husband and daughter. I think cancer organizations need to find a way to give scholarships to families to financially help them get by. People need to realize cancer doesn’t have a calendar. It doesn’t care about economic status. It comes anytime.”
One thing that Miss Nikki points out as a Latina is that most Latinas don’t like talking about cancer because of fear and shame. “I knew a woman who was Latina that didn’t want to talk to her family about it. I told her, “Don’t be selfish and keep this to yourself.”
“I would rather show my scar to a woman who is scared to get a mammogram to show her that five minutes of pain can beat a lifetime of what I am going through. I also knew someone who didn’t even want to talk about hair loss. Latinos don’t like to talk about it. Women feel they are less of a woman. Men walk out the moment they hear cancer. It’s that old school mentality. If he leaves you, let him go. We can overcome these stereotypes and fears. No one should go through this alone.”
“Everybody has a choice to get treatment. It’s not a death sentence. Only you can make it that,” said Miss Nikki, who has more upcoming comedy shows in the Chicago area.
“I just hope to change the life of at least one person. I hope people will reach out to me. I joke about chemo – it’s my happy hour. “
This post is also available in: Spanish