After she was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma, actress Lourdes Colon decided she would record and share her journey via YouTube. In her very real version of reality TV, Lourdes shares the highs and lows of her ongoing life and death battle with cancer.
It’s a struggle that has played out very publicly via social media, including Facebook, where updates on her condition and news of fund-raising events are shared with more than 2,000 “friends.” Family and friends regularly offer prayers and words of encouragement, such as:
“Thinking of you and wishing you were here! I luv ya my forever friend. fight girl fight !!!”
“Dear Lourdes, sending you love and light…”
“You are in my prayers every day.”
“Never stop fighting!”
The 46-year-old actress, who had a guest starring role on the TV show Without a Trace, starts to cry when recalling her diagnosis in September 2010.
“The moment my doctor told me I had cancer and it was verified, it was like every cell in my body was speaking to me, and it was like you’re not doing the treatment, you’re going to do it natural,” she says. “And you’re going to make a difference in the world.”
The irony that she wanted to make a difference and didn’t know how is not lost on Lourdes, as can be seen in this emotionally raw video. At one point, she calls someone for coaching, noting: “I want to be powerful, and right now I’m falling apart.”
The desire to inspire people was the impetus for Option C, the title of her video series, which she hopes to turn into a documentary. Lourdes’ goal is “to inspire the world to no longer fear cancer but rather take it on, become powerful in your decisions and beat it once and for all no matter what anyone says. It’s your life. Take it back!”
According to the National Cancer Institute Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a cancer of the immune system. Medical experts expect more than 9,000 new cases of the Hodgkin’s disease in 2012. As with most cancers, it’s often treated with chemotherapy or radiation or a combination of the two.
GOING THE NATURAL ROUTE
Always one to follow her own path, according to family members, Lourdes has chosen to fight her disease using strictly natural alternative methods, including a healthy diet, herbs and vitamins to reduce or rid her body of the disease, and by seeking alternative treatment at a facility in Mexico. No chemo. No radiation. Though she has no medical degree, Lourdes has become her own medical expert. In her videos, she shares what she has learned and what she believes happens to one’s body when it undergoes traditional methods of fighting cancer.
Lourdes says her two daughters, ages 23 and 26, and Chris, her husband of 14 years, support her and give her the strength she needs when she is feeling weak and depressed.
But her decision to go natural has been a point of contention with some family members, who although they support and want what’s best for Lourdes, have had their own ups and downs regarding the alternative treatment.
In one of Lourdes’ videos, which features family members, her sister-in-law describes Lourdes as positive and upbeat and one of the “greatest events that ever happened to our family.” She also expresses concern “about her decision to fight cancer homeopathically.” Choking up, she says, “I was a little scared because I love her.”
In another video, her mother Sulin Ortiz says, “I’m glad you’re doing this, Tita, and I hope for the best. Cause I love you.”
Her older sister, Yolanda Ortiz of Chicago, has said she wished Lourdes was using more traditional treatment options to also fight her cancer.
“I was upset when I heard ‘Tita’ was doing the treatment she is doing now,” says Yolanda, 49. “She’s my sister so I support her, but I prefer she was doing both.”
Yolanda says she knows traditional treatments for cancer work because their youngest sister has survived five bouts with colon cancer with the help of chemotherapy and radiation. Yolanda admires Lourdes’ positive attitude, but questions whether “Tita” would be healthier today if she would have undergone chemotherapy from the start.
In late March, things were looking bleak for Lourdes.
But more recently, Yolanda has come around, feeling more positive about Lourdes’ course of action after having talked to her sister. In a recent Facebook post, Yolanda shared that “Option ‘C’ is working for her (Lourdes). She went from terminal to doing good, but now needs her last treatment.”
Her treatment is not covered by her husband’s medical insurance (most health insurance companies will not pay for anything other than traditional medical treatment for cancer). So again, taking an unconventional route, Lourdes has turned to the Internet and social media to help raise funds for her treatment. It’s been a rough and emotionally exhausting ride for Lourdes and her family.
Friends and family have made pleas on her behalf: “Please help save her life…donate what U can.” Fundraising events have been held in Los Angeles, where Lourdes and her family live, and funds have been raised via the actresses’ website, CreateOptionCTheDocumentary.com and GiveForward.com, a website that allows people to create web pages that “empower friends and family to send love and financial support to patients as they navigate a medical crisis.” In a video, Lourdes was seeking $42,800, while the GiveForward goal was to raise $20,000. Of that total, $3,831 was donated.
The medical director of the facility where Lourdes went for treatment issued a plea on her behalf on GiveForward:
“Lourdes’ health has reached a critical stage and it is seriously threatening her life. So much so that if she does not get treatment soon in a hospital setting she will be consumed by this disease and its accompanying damaging effects. Unfortunately, Lourdes and her family have reached a point that her finances have depleted. She is in dire need of financial help from family, friends, and anyone that can donate for her cancer treatments. We at the Integrative Cancer Therapy Center have started helping her with as much as we can.”
CREATING OPTION C
The title for the documentary came about because people who are diagnosed with cancer have three options, as Lourdes explains it. “A is hand your life over to the doctor, do no research for yourself, just do everything the doctor tells you to do. B is you do nothing at all, you just continue to live your life until you die.
“Option C is you take your life back, do the research, find out all of the things that are out there that kill cancer, talk to others who were terminal and went natural and beat it…and so on.”
THE HIGHS AND LOWS ON VIDEO
Lourdes began posting videos about her cancer on her Tita Ortiz YouTube channel in December 2010. She hopes the videos will show people living with cancer that there is hope, even as they struggle with their experiences and emotions.
“Even when a doctor tells you you’re going to die and only have three months to live,” she says. “He doesn’t know, and if you believe it, you’re just stressing yourself out and killing yourself.”
Her videos range from one emotional extreme to another. In her June 21, 2011, she gives viewers an update on her natural treatment and she is smiling and upbeat. But by July 5, 2011, she is pale, looking tired and feeling the pain of fighting the disease. “I’m feeling like crap,” Lourdes shares.
After shooting a few videos, Lourdes realized that she had not seen a Latina share her experience with cancer in a video journal. Lourdes says she knows she cannot predict her future, and plans to release her documentary no matter the outcome.
Not only is she hoping to show cancer patients to use natural methods to fight the disease, but also to have a good attitude. She hopes the documentary will also remind others to eat healthy and exercise, because in her younger years she says “I never exercised, I ate 95 percent desserts and 5 percent fruit.”
In a September 2011 video, Lourdes dances and sings along to “I Will Survive,” ad libbing along the way. Mid song, she says, “Life is here now. And I’m alive.” Making a waving hand gesture, she sings: “I don’t love cancer, baby, I said bye to it.” She adds: “Alright now go, walk out the door ‘cause you’re not welcome anymore, not in this vessel,” Lourdes says, pointing at her body. She calls getting cancer a blessing and says she will survive.
In a January 2012 video, Lourdes sings and dances to “I Just Want to Be Your Everything” by the BeeGees. “As long as I’m alive, I’ve got something to say” she says, as her granddaughter looks on. She ends by looking straight into the camera, throwing a few punches and says, “Because I’m going to beat it. I’m beating it…every cell in my body is healthy.”