Sunday, November 1, 2009

Over the last few years since my 2nd place finish in the Ladies event I have embedded myself in the local poker world. I have had my ups and downs for sure. There are always men who believe that women should not be allowed to play poker especially in the existing poker rooms which were already a tight club of down home boys. I tried very hard to stay under the radar and just play the game that I love. Surprisingly in the process I believe I made some lifetime friendships of even the guys whom I thought would never change their ideas and beliefs. I hope that I had brought some changes for the better in this close nit society. That said I am a tough cookie and I don't back down easily especially when we are talking poker my passion. I think some of this is due to the tough women poker players in my family like I've said it is something in my DNA.

I started to play in not only tournaments but in live games as well. These are cash games which are totally different than tournament play because every dollar that you have on the table in play is equal to a dollar in the real world so if you lose 300 dollars in a pot that is actually 300 dollars out of your pocket, not just chips for a set amount that you risk at the beginning of a tournament. I started to do well in cash at the beginning before I developed a fear of losing lots of money even though you get your money in with the best hand. This is called a bad beat and every poker player gets them and it is necessary to go through this to become a good player. It teaches you patience which is an essential part of being a good poker player.

About 3 years ago I noticed we started getting more women playing in these local games and I could not be happier I was no longer the target for misplaced anger by men getting bad beats. It seemed to start becoming much more acceptable. I met a woman named Vanessa who with her husband would come every week to play in some tournaments. We had a lot in common. We are about the same age, both have young kids and we both love the game. All of a sudden I noticed that Vanessa and her husband had not been coming for a while and started to ask why. When I found out that Vanessa had developed breast cancer it devistated me. I couldn't believe someone my age 37 at the time could just out of the blue get this horrible affliction that took the life of my grandmother 30 years ago. To my surprise Vanessa and her husband started coming back to the poker room about every week or two during her treatments which I thought was incredible and shows what a strong individual she is. In a way I envied her because she never stopped living. Not for one moment talking to her I felt was a life lesson. She never lost her optimism or care for others while I'm sure she was going through hell. I never heard her complain for even a moment. Vanessa I just want to say you are now my hero. She lost her hair and had a pic line in her arm all the while keeping that warm, caring smile that lights up a room. This woman got through this hurdle in life like a real winner not in poker but in life. I didn't know it then but I had just made the single most important friendship in my life.

After Vanessa got through this and added survivor to the end of her name she decided to move to Florida with her husband and her kids. I was sad but although we were not the best of friends mostly aquaintances I made sure before she left I took her phone number. I just knew this was someone I wanted to keep in my life even if it was fleetingly. Flash forward to August 2009 I had noticed a really strange feeling on my breast it wasn't quite a lump but didn't feel smooth. I attributed this to a massive weight loss which I had just had. I figured my whole body feels different when you lose 100 lbs. and that the lack of fat in my breasts made them feel foreign anyway. I managed to ignore it for about a couple of months and then I hired a girl to work for me in my optical store her name is Maria. Maria turned out to be another gift from god in that she immediately became a friend not just an employee. Maria is a military family member which means she had government run health care coverage. She had opened up to me that she had found 2 lumps in her breast and that the military doctor she had gone to said they should just watch it. She was clearly uncomfortable with this and I advised her to get a second opinion. I said "just because you are military doesn't mean you are not entitled to a second opinion. Get your but to a civilian doctor and get it checked out." she told me she had a huge fear of needles and this was keeping her from doing this. She was afraid that they would do a needle biopsy. I told her "listen Maria I have felt something funny in my breast for a couple of months now and have dragged my feet on it. How about if I go, You go." We will do this together. Will you promise me you will go and she said yes so we both made our appointments. I found Vanessa's phone number in my cell phone before the results of my biopsy came back and called her. I think she was surprised to hear from me it had been about a year since we last spoke. I told her what was going on and she assured me it was probably nothing but that if it is not nothing she warned me that I will not hear anything else the doctor says and to let my husband talk for me. She said even if it is cancer just stay calm and we will get through it this is not a death sentence. When I hung up the phone with her what she said stayed with me so when that call came and the nurse practitioner gave me the horrible news I knew instinctively to hand the phone to my husband and try to stay calm. I was not very successful at staying calm but at least I knew what to expect. I remember screaming I have breast cancer, I don't want to die. How is this happening to me. Why?! I don't want to die! I immediately called Vanessa and she was my lifeboat ever since! It turned out we had the same type of cancer called infiltrating ductal carcinoma and she began to educate me. My new life has begun.

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