SANFORD – Odalis Ramos knows what it feels like to be pampered, to have people who care about her show up and shower her with gifts, affection, and very strong reassurances that they will always be there for her.
On a videotape recorded recently, Ramos lit up with excitement as she opened her gifts, saying “I love candles!” and “Oh, I’m going to use this so much.” It was a feel good event, as any party should be, filled with laughter and warm feelings all around.
Ramos said she so very much needed that kind of support, because it gave her the inner strength to keep fighting, and to have the resolve to never quit.
“A lot of things happen in life. I never ask why,” she said. “I really, really, really love my life.”
There’s something else unique about Ramos, said Amy Raith.
“She is always smiling and helping others,” Raith said. “It’s just amazing to see who she is, through everything she’s been through.”
For Ramos, it truly has been a long and harrowing journey. She was battling multiple sclerosis for years, and struggled to maintain her ability to walk, and lost her eyesight four times.
A lot of people would have found it incredibly difficult to cope with that condition. But for Ramos, that journey got even more challenging when she received a devastating diagnosis: breast cancer.
“They said, ‘Well, I have bad news, you have breast cancer,’ “ she recalled. “The first thing I thought about was my kids.”
On Tuesday, Ramos was the guest speaker at the Sanford Woamtec networking lunch, held at the Patio Grill in Sanford. Although she talked about the painful journey she went through as a breast cancer survivor, there was no hint of anguish, self-pity or despair in Ramos’ voice. It was a life-affirming speech by someone very thankful to have fought cancer — and won.
“Ladies, do your mammograms,” she told the women attending the luncheon. “It can save your life. If you have to go through what I went through, it’s not the end of your life.”
The Sanford Woamtec networking lunch is an opportunity to build a positive networking atmosphere where local professional business women get together to share ideas, offer one another support, and create stronger business alliances.
“Woamtec is the premiere networking group for professional women,” said Raith, director of Woamtec’s Sanford chapter. She also operates her own business, Amy Raith Hair & Makeup Studio in Sanford, a professional hair and makeup company specializing in women’s beauty, which includes salon services, bridal, photo sessions, seminar and conference hairstyling and makeup, and formal events.
“Here,” Raith said at the luncheon, “you get to meet the other women who are hungry to hear who you are.”
Raith also used the luncheon to put the spotlight on another organization that works to empower women: Compassionate Hands and Hearts Breast Cancer Outreach, which was founded by Channel News 9 anchor Vanessa Echols, herself a breast cancer survivor, to extend a helping hand and compassionate support to other women struggling with this illness.
It was the Compassionate Hands and Hearts volunteers who reached out to Ramos when she so desperately needed that emotional support.
“We are all volunteers who know how difficult the cancer journey can be,” Raith said.
Ramos called that outreach a “basketful of love,” and if anyone thinks it doesn’t make a huge difference in their cancer fight, they’re wrong, she said. Her own story very much demonstrates that, Ramos added.
She recalled living a very happy life, working for years in retail, raising wonderful children, and having so much to be thankful for.
“My parents put me in an amazing school where I learned music,” she said. “I learned how to play piano and I learned how to sing and play saxophone.”
In a school where boys drastically outnumbered the girls, “I was the coolest chick in school,” she laughed.
The medical challenges she faced started early.
“When I had my son 25 years ago, I couldn’t walk,” she said. “My mother came from Puerto Rico to try to help me to walk again. I started to walk with baby steps.”
But it only got worse. She went blind four times, until physicians were able to determine that she had multiple sclerosis, and 12 lesions on her brain.
“I’ve been in a wheelchair many times, and I decided if I did … I had to look good,” she said. “I never let anything outside of me take over my goals in life.”
Combating that illness was more than enough for any family to handle, and Ramos was not expecting, three years ago, that a mammogram would deliver even more agonizing news. The treatment for her breast cancer would require a double mastectomy.
“I said, ‘Okay, let’s take it off, let’s do whatever we have to do,’ ” she recalled. “How would this cancer dare to take my life?”
But it didn’t. She underwent the operation, successfully.
“I saw long scars, no breasts,” she said. “I used to feel so sexy with my breasts and I used to feed my kids with my breasts and they were a part of my life. But I am a warrior. I have the scars to prove it.”
She had reconstructive surgery, and today is cancer free. Ramos said she never questions why bad things happen, she only rejoices at the good things. Her strong family, the friends she made through Compassionate Hands and Hearts, and her faith in God all carried her through this battle, she added.
She recalled that after the surgery, as she was beginning a slow recovery, “The only thing you can do is lay down in bed and look up. And that was my opportunity to speak to God.”
Raith said she hopes the luncheon meetings not only provide women with an opportunity to network and build valuable contacts for future success in their careers, but also inspires them to aim high and constantly chase their dreams to the fullest.
“Don’t let anything get in the way of your goals and dreams,” Raith said. “You’re completely capable of being successful at what you do.”
To learn more about Compassionate Hands and Hearts, log on to www.compassionatehandsandhearts.org or call 407-864-6458.
To learn more about Sanford Woamtec, call 407-322-3000 or log on to http://Woamtec.com.
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