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Freska: On the Air and Straight To Our Hearts

If you’ve visited, worked or lived in the San Francisco Bay Area the past twenty something years it is very likely that you have once been inspired by her voice, verse, and positive vibe in her music sets.

She has amassed a loyal fan base numbering in the millions (and still counting)—most, if not all, consider themselves as her friend, myself included.

So what to do and how to reciprocate…

My boxing coach and mentor Master Danovis “Dee” Pooler suggested inviting her to our first informal meet-and-greet as friends and supporters of Bay Area Boxing, Muay Thai and Tae Kwon Do communities. It was planned as a reminiscence party about the glory days of Norcal boxing, kickboxing and Muay Thai.

In a flash, there we were one summer day at the Coconut Bay Thai Restaurant in Burlingame face-to-face rubbing elbows with Freska.

(Freska is on the far right in this photo).

The Freska we’ve known and admired- what her witty takes on family, love, and friendship- beamed like never before.

We could not contain our excitement—Coach Pooler, former WBC Female Heavyweight Champion, Kru Mark Tabuso, MMA fighter Jonathan Burdick and our family members as we reminisced about old friends like Luisito Espinosa, the departed Alex Gong and James Buggs, and the Bay Area fight milieu looking back two decades.

I learned a little bit from our friend Freska who, she explains, also faced life the best way we all should, with courage and resolve. It was heartwarming to learn that she finds joy in her work, her two teenage daughters, her life partner, her Ducati motorcycle, her hikes, and her two dogs.

The self-made radio star and one-time piano student, aspiring singer, and caring daughter revealed her mantra———“There is no quit in me!”!

I will keep some of the topics we discussed during our conversation tucked away in my heart, though I am proud to report that her favorite boxers are Manny Pacquiao, Luisito Espinosa and Gabriel “Flash” Elorde whom her late father, a former US Navy man and amateur boxer, also admired.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, please allow me to re-introduce one of my heroes, a fellow boxing fan, a fighter in life and the epitome of a Filipino-American…If you do not already know her, here is Freska on the air, on the net, and straight to our hearts.

Welcome to my World
By Freska Griarte
Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Life after Breast Cancer: Accepting Change and Slowing Down

This has really been bugging me and I just have to get it out, especially since I had to sleep in the middle of the day and I woke up late and missed jiu jitsu practice. It really has been a struggle for me to accept that I CANNOT do things the way I used to before I went through cancer treatment. I feel I am more fatigued now than I was when I was going through chemotherapy and radiation. I really don't remember sleeping this much until the very end of radiation when my skin was just raw and burnt. But during that time about 6 months ago, I felt I had a reason as to why I was tired...I was going through active treatment and my body was just going through so much. Now? Hah! NOW??

Now all I do is take a pill every day and some vitamins and I feel like I ran a 100 marathons even if I slept 12 hour days for 4 days straight, sometimes 5. Well, ok, I'm back on the mat training in jiu jitsu at least twice a week and started 2 days of physical therapy a week as well. I thought that a month into it I would be able to adjust and read my body's needs better regarding rest and sleep. I was wrong.

I still ALWAYS tell myself, "I am so happy to be alive! Just enjoy life. You have a second chance to experience the world with a much deeper appreciation for EVERYTHING." While I am so very thankful that I am alive, I am anxious to LIVE and much. Having said that, I find myself being so tired and having to limit my activities which makes me feel like I can't, "live and do" as much as I would like. As a matter of fact, that's exactly what it is and that's why I am frustrated and sometimes sad.

Rewind to about a year ago in February or March 2013. I was 2-3 months post op and 1 to 2 chemo infusions into my set of 4. My college track coach Tom and I spoke while I was going through chemotherapy and he was happy to hear how I was dealing with treatment and the whole breast cancer diagnosis. I remember sitting on my couch upset that I had lost all my hair but happy to be talking to my coach as he was someone that I always admired and always had great advice. He knew how to draw the best out of his athletes and just the best out of people in general. He said something that has resonated inside me since our conversation. He felt that I mentally broke down my cancer treatment how an athlete would with their workouts and season. In his eyes it made things easier for my mind to process, especially when it came to the slew of side effects and how I was getting through the pain. It made sense. Athletes push their bodies to the limit all the time. They understand that they will be sore, they will sometimes go through injuries, there are good and bad days. I went through surgery, chemo and radiation like I was "training"... and I WAS... but for something much different than I had ever trained for in my life. There was no trophy at the end of the race or a gold medal or even a "winners" podium. There was simply just LIFE at the end of my "beat cancer" training and I trained very hard to achieve that.

Fast forward to today Monday, January 27, 2014. I am here, sitting on my couch, hair growing back, AND REALLY TIRED. I am frustrated that I am so fatigued from doing pretty much nothing. I did have PT (physical therapy) today and still can't believe that just that has made me THIS tired.

I am 12 months post op and I still have numbness under my arm because the nerve endings that were severed during surgery haven't grown back and may never. I am also 8 months post chemotherapy and 6.5 months post radiation therapy (in later blogs I'll go into detail about my experience during that time). Spending time with my physical therapist rehabilitating my body and getting rid of scar tissue and adhesions are painful and exhausting, so much that I need to sleep....A LOT. But I have a reference point because of the physical training I had done for many years of my life. With much confidence, I can say that I can tolerate the physical pain just fine. It is trying to get out of that athlete mindset that I need to do. I find it extremely difficult but it is necessary in order for me to heal, be at peace, move on and enjoy what the new normal is for me.

I often find myself upset because I can't lift as heavy. I can't train as long. I'm not as fast. My memory has been affected. But most of all, what upsets me the most is the time my body spends repairing itself. I know it needs it but recovery is 3 times longer if not more from doing SIMPLE things like a hand bike for 5 minutes. It kills me that after an activity like that today I had to nap and by doing so I missed jiu jitsu. IT'S A DAMN HAND BIKE FOR GOODNESS SAKE!!! I used to swim 3000 yards swim practices, run 200 meter hills 10 times with crazy intervals for track with 1 mile warm up and 1 mile warm down, 8 timed mile workouts for cross country with a 1.5 mile warm up and 1.5 mile warm down...geez man...I'm a 2nd degree black belt...and NOW I'M TIRED FROM JUST BREATHING!!!

This mentality or maybe even ego, however, is what is holding me back. I can't be thinking of all the things I used to be able to do before cancer because my "new normal", as doctors like to put it, is so far from what it used to be and it's just not realistic. I should not be trying to dissect this process of healing as I did when I was going through active therapy. It's just not the same thing. I am finally understanding what they meant when they said fatigue is cumulative. But I can't tell you exactly how upsetting it is to hear my doctors keep extending the amount of time till I feel "normal". The latest one is 2 years!! WHAT? 2 YEARS? ARE THEY SERIOUS?? I'll be 42 in two years!!

I know they have seen people like me all the time so they should know. I really have a hard time giving into that. I am not used to being idle. I told one of my teammates that I would get emotional sometimes before I stepped on the mat. I literally would wipe my tears away before bowing on the mat because I was so happy that I could train again. But now sometimes I find myself in tears driving to or from practice because of the reality of where my body truly is. I don't want to just be a cheerleader for my team. I want to bring pride to my team and not just "red shirt" for x amount of seasons. My jiu jitsu coach always tells me, "Don't let great ruin good Fran". My boyfriend tells me, "Be patient, listen to your body, adjust, adapt, improvise and overcome." I feel like I am doing those things but I realize I have to do them better, especially the "be patient" part. =( I should be proud that I am even back on that mat but that's not enough for me. I want to achieve more and I want to do it now but I can't.

What I have learned is therapy and recovery are 2 different things just as an athlete is different from being a cancer survivor even when that survivor is an athlete. I guess what it boils down to is that I have a hard time letting go of thinking of myself as an athlete and transitioning myself into knowing I AM A SURVIVOR and I am so very lucky to be sitting here to even say that. SOOOOO many others have lost their lives to cancer and I'm here sitting around complaining. Instead of doing that I should take pride in the fact that a survivor is on a whole other level than just being an athlete. In the beginning I thought I understood that but I guess I still have growing to do in that area of understanding. As I said earlier I want to achieve more. I want to do it now but I can't, however, I WILL. I will by accepting change and slowing down by being more patient with myself and simply just enjoying the ride...because SURVIVING CANCER IS NOT A SPORT IT IS A LIFESTYLE.

Click here to view a list of other articles written by Emmanuel Rivera, RRT.

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