One year after her last chemotherapy session, Keri Zamora persists in the fight not only for herself, but also for her community.
“I remember feeling a bit anxious and wanting to ask for additional chemo,” Keri shares with a dash of laughter, proving that humor isn’t lost on her. Recounting what her final day of chemotherapy was like a year ago in July 2019, despite the overriding anxiousness, she knew the battle wasn’t over. “I was ready to move on to the next treatment, which was radiation therapy,” she recounts. Continuing her treatment plan since, the proud mother of four and wife of San Juan Mayor Francis, Keri Zamora has followed a pretty standard plan for her treatment, “Since my breast cancer is hormone driven. I am on hormone blockers for 10 years. I see my oncologist every three months, do breast ultrasound every six months, and do my mammogram yearly.”
Reflecting on the year since that day, she admits that the journey since then was and still is fraught with challenges. “I honestly thought it would be easier and life would go back to how it was before diagnosis,” she says. “I realized that it’s tougher emotionally. It has only been 17 months since diagnosis, so the fear of recurrence is still there.” In her genuine honesty, she still admits to her fears even if she has already made a long ways into recovery. She continues, “I get very paranoid when I feel aches and pains. This whole experience has taught me how to rely and have faith in the Lord.” Highlighting that faith has truly been guiding force for Keri throughout this experience, teaching her to appreciate living in the now, “Prayers, indeed, work wonders. I’ve learned not to plan too far ahead and just live in the present. To not waste time on things I cannot change.”
But never one to just rest on her treatment, Keri shares that she stays active to keep her health up. “Exercise has always been a daily routine for me, and I believe this has helped me in dealing with [the chemotherapy’s] side effects,” she relates. Diet-wise, she has begrudgingly added more greens to her meals. She quips, “One thing I forced myself to do is to eat veggies daily—And I do juicing as well.” She then continues to impart advice for those going through health treatments now, chemotherapy or otherwise, “Eat healthy—avoid food with MSG and to exercise daily even if it’s just 30 minutes or walking (or even just 10-15 minutes for chemo patients).” She also highlights the importance of calming hobbies, “Find time to relax your mind by reading, painting, praying, or anything you enjoy doing. Talking to someone about how you’re feeling is a great way to release tension too.” Keri points out the balance of following a committed regimen of diet and exercise with the ease of just laying back and doing things you enjoy.
On a serious note, the coming of the pandemic earlier this year has stirred some worry in Keri, “To be honest, this whole [COVID-19] situation made me feel like chemo all over again when I had to be extra careful to not get sick because my immune system was down, I also could not leave the bed for 5-6 days ‘cause I was weak.” Still, even with the panic, what she gravitated to keep her calm wasn’t to just keep herself safe but to find ways to help others now in whatever way she can. “I managed to cope with my anxieties by doing what I can from home to help my community—soliciting for donations for our front liners and preparing meals for them, also by keeping my kids busy with activities at home.” These socio-civic projects are mostly focused in San Juan. “I put up the Caring Keri Program to be able to assist the women and their children in our community. My program is focused on women’s health, well-being of teenagers, and protection of the rights of women and children.” For pandemic-focused efforts, she remarks on how they made their projects a family affair, “During this pandemic, my children and I have prepared and sent meals to San Juan Medical Center, [we] have given vegetables and milk to mothers and children in our community, and sent PPEs to breast cancer patients undergoing treatment.” Of course, she also started aid for causes she relates to closely, sharing that, “Last October, with the help of our local government, we were able to sign a memorandum of agreement with Cardinal Santos Medical Center to provide free and discounted breast care and medical services for our constituents. After overcoming breast cancer, I just feel really inspired to help and give assistance to women fighting this disease.”
It’s clear to see that despite all the hurdles, what truly shines through in every chapter of her life is Keri’s open heart—an openness to face all the hardships with strength and an openness to still help those in need regardless of her condition. For now, it was declared that no evidence of the disease could be found in her body, and in several more months she’ll be officially in remission. True, she is still in healing. But if she is blessed in return for just an ounce of the healing she has given out to the world, those several months may not be far long. To this, she ends with, “A meaningful life for me is to be able to impart something significant to a person or a group of people. To be of service to someone in need and to be remembered for that act of service.”