By Raquel — former Planned Parenthood Mar Monte employee
My body has been through a lot. In some ways, it’s miraculous. I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2010. I went through 6 rounds of chemo and 22 rounds of radiation. When I was officially cancer-free, the doctors told me not to try having children for three years — I had always wanted to have kids, but I knew the chances were slim.
After three years, I started meeting with fertility specialists to understand what was possible for me. My doctor told me that there was a 1 in 50,000 chance I could get pregnant.
I met my husband in my third cancer-free year. Eleven months later, I was pregnant.
I was so happy, but cautious. I knew that this was a high-risk pregnancy — high-risk to my health because of my cancer history, and high-risk because something could go wrong with the pregnancy.
I also knew that if anything went wrong, I would have an abortion. The emotional toll of cancer didn’t leave room for doubt.
Today, my daughter is happy and healthy, and just started 2nd grade.
I’m a Latina — it’s the lens through which I view my life and my experience of fertility and motherhood. I have worked my entire career in advocacy, working to build more equitable health and education systems. Having spent most of my life working in the Sacramento and Central Valley of California, I’m far too familiar with the risks that women agricultural workers, the vast majority of them Latinas, face when it comes to pregnancy, because of their exposure to pesticides and the demands on their bodies.
We revere mothers and motherhood in Latinx cultures. We hold them in high esteem, and they run our families, our budgets, our homes. So we must value their right to control their own bodies — including if and when to have children.
Through all that my body has endured, I’ve had control over my health care. I didn’t have to ask a lawmaker’s permission to treat my cancer the way my doctors and I thought was best. Lately, I’ve been having some hip pain, and my doctor has given me a range of options to treat it, from physical therapy to cortisone shots. I don’t have to worry that my state will pass a law stopping me from getting the care I need.
My husband and I would love to expand our family. We’ve been trying for a few years now, and with each year, the likelihood I’ll get pregnant shrinks, and the risks of complications increase. That’s how our bodies are. I know enough to know that if there’s a risk to me or to my pregnancy, I’ll exercise my right to an abortion. But now that we live in Virginia, where the governor has said he would sign any bill to outlaw abortion, it’s possible I won’t have the right.
I’m going to be okay. If the laws change in Virginia, I have open arms waiting for me in California and the airline miles to get there for the care I need. But there are so many people who don’t have these things. I’m sharing my story because I want them to know that they’re not alone, that we’re fighting for them. I want them to know that their body belongs to them, and to no one else.
Raquel, 43, is a communications professional who has spent her career fighting for equity, including seven years working at Planned Parenthood Mar Monte. She lives in Virginia with her husband and her daughter.