When the doctor told me I had a mass in my left breast, I wasn’t surprised. Matter of fact, I knew it and not because I could feel it, either. It was just my sixth sense: for whatever reason, my inner voice had been gnawing at me for weeks to get a mammogram. I was just a few months past my yearly exam when I got the news.

I stared at the doctor blankly and asked her to repeat what she had just said. She was so young, I was convinced she had made a mistake and asked to see the name on the medical chart. She showed me without hesitation and there it was, printed out clearly and neatly at the top of the file: Shireen Cheney-Sandoval.

I swallowed hard and looked away as she repeated the news. I had always been incredibly religious about my yearly exam (despite being what many doctors had deemed too young for a yearly mammogram and sonogram.) I didn’t care, though; I did it because of my family history: both my grandmother and great grandmother on my mother’s side had died of breast cancer.

Prompting me to do extra due diligence: the memory of watching my grandmother suffer beyond comprehension. Cancer completely ravaged her, robbing her of her beauty, wreaking havoc on her brain and destroying her body. She died in my mother’s arms like a weak, helpless child. My eyes water and my chest tightens at the memory. Her death became my catalyst in the fight against cancer, which for me has always been a healthy dose of prevention.  

Earlier that morning before getting my exam, anything and everything that could go wrong did. Traffic was horrible, I was tired and wasn’t in the mood to be squeezed and felt up. On top of my late arrival, my mammogram prescription wasn’t received by Mount Siani, despite my Primary Care physician faxing it several times the week prior. For whatever reason, when the hospital and doctor’s office tried reconnecting again, the prescription wouldn’t go through. They faxed it TWELVE times.

For the most part, I sat patiently and waited, but after about two hours I finally got up to walk out. I couldn’t believe how quickly the day was passing: I still had to pick up some television wardrobe, get my hair done and get to work to prepare for Deco Drive. Just as my feet were about to hit the automatic door, though, I paused and reconsidered. I took a deep breath, backed away from the door and decided to buy a coffee instead. Then, I went back into the waiting room…

A painstaking thirty minutes later, I was cleared to have both exams. If I hadn’t waited, if I had indeed walked out and ignored my inner voice, I never would have heard the shocking news. I tried asking the doctor clearheaded, information-
extracting questions when she told me abut the mass, but I was so freaked out and overwhelmed, having a proper thought was almost impossible. Making matters worse, I was alone.

Yes, alone. It was supposed to be a “routine” examination. Instead, it turned into a dramatic moment, a serious conversation and an incredibly emotional event. At least it was for me; the doctor, on the other hand, was the complete opposite: she was so calm, positive and upbeat, I felt like strangling her just to get the kind of reaction I thought more appropriate.

In a moment of clarity, I decided not to wrap my trembling, sweaty hands around her neck. I, did, however, ask the following rapid-fire questions: “How big is it? What does it look like? What do I do next? Do I have CANCER?” None of which could easily be answered at that moment.

When I finally made it back to the changing room, I locked myself inside a private stall and wept. Why was this happening to me? I was beyond exhausted from the last five years: I had lost a child, gotten divorced, suffered through a major illness (Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome) and fought like a champion through my IVIG (intravenous immunoglobulin) treatments to get better. Recovery itself was almost as difficult as being sick and now, THIS? You’ve gotta be f’ing kidding me.

At that moment it dawned on me that life was this series of happy and sad events strung together delicately, fragilely, like little paper dolls and that the true meaning of it all was actually in the intricate threading holding those moments together. Those quiet, in-between times, when things weren’t happy or sad, were always the moments that allowed me to find peace, depth and meaning in the world around me.

This, unfortunately, was a sad moment and the clarity that I had come to master in my quiet times (after overcoming the aforementioned list of tragedies) quickly evaporated. I could feel the panic rise in my throat as I left the hospital, walked through the parking lot and got into my car. I sat for awhile in silence and let my mind wander where it wanted to…

“Reinvention: The Rusted Jalopy,” is where it settled. I laughed weakly. My blog is my labor of love and so is my writing. Sometimes, the work is overwhelming, but when the words come and the story tells itself, it’s all worth it. When I named this weeks topic, for some strange reason, I knew it was about me. I just didn’t fully get it, until now.

The Rusted Jalopy is an unusual and eclectic art workshop in Fat Village, located  downtown Fort Lauderdale. It’s owned by designer/artist Marlowe Buelvas, who’s speciality is taking repurposed flawed materials (like, copper, steel, metal and aluminum) and reshaping them into something strong and perfectly imperfect.

The irony wasn’t lost on me. After everything I had been through, I, too, was like the things Marlowe recreated. Despite my neurological weaknesses and the emotional toll everything had taken on me, reinventing myself has been the key to my survival.

I don’t like comparing myself to an old car, but truth be told, sometimes I feel like the Rusted Jalopy that sits outside of Marlowe’s shop. The wear and tear on my body from being sick has left me completely worn-out. I’ve had a hard time accepting this and I guess writing it makes it all the more real. I thought if I beat my illness, I could push back the odometer.

Unfortunately, miles are still miles, even if you’re trying to trick yourself into believing they are not. I don’t want to believe that I have physical limitations, but I do and I don’t want to believe that “Reinvention: The Rusted Jalopy,” can still break down, but she does. The proof is in the pudding or rather, in my mammogram.

This may sound crazy, but after everything I’ve been through: all the suffering, all the pain and all the heartbreak, I actually thought I would be granted a free pass. I thought that after so much tragedy, nothing bad would ever befall me again or at least nothing as bad as I had been through.

I know it’s not realistic and perhaps, I told myself this untruth to survive, but now I’m facing the reality of it. The truth of the matter is…I’m flawed and stronger because of it. I guess you could say, I’m perfectly imperfect. Something Marlowe knows a lot about.

Shireen Sandoval: What is the concept behind Rusted Jalopy Decor?
Marlowe Buelvas: Well, I could say we are a truly a unique place in the way we design and create our one-off items, which are based from our metal shaping or also known as coach building skill set. We use old and timely tools such as the English Wheel, Bead Roller, Planishing Hammer and Shrinker/Stretcher, these are all manually operated. We’re a place where you can come and get that one of a kind handmade lamp, furniture, fixture, shelf etc. You name it, we can design it and hand make it in house where we’re always about making it different.

SS: What type of pieces do you design?
MB: Our specialty is metal. We work with aluminum, stainless steel, as well as some repurposed wood and we also use glass while making vintage style marquee style signs and letters, but we probably are more known for our one-off custom industrial style handmade lighting from aluminum and copper.

SS: How did you get your start?    
MB: I started to go to some of the local coffeehouses, gastro pubs, restaurants, clothing stores and all the fixtures and decor looked the same. So I decided to bring my vintage car and vintage motorcycle metal shaping technique to the scene and started to provide one of a kind designs by manufacturing them. Most all of the places were amazed at what we could do for them and give them a style that was their own.

SS: I love your converted garage/office. Describe it.      
MB: Well it’s definitely our style, it’s a homage to the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s with a rusty industrial feel. You really need to see it to understand it.  

SS: What is the most unique thing you’ve ever created?
MB: That’s tough, we are always trying to push the envelope but I would have to say our distillery style lamps. They just start from a flat sheet of aluminum and copper and materialize into this functioning piece of art.

SS: How did you come up with the idea of creating my signature as a sign?
MB: Well, as you know, we are always pushing it. I was on your blog and saw your signature at the end and said to myself that would make a cool vintage marquee style sign. Man, I don’t know what I was thinking! Lol

SS: Was it difficult and are you happy with the final result? I think it’s so cool! I finally get to see my name in lights (laughing).
MB: It’s probably one of the most difficult signs I’ve done and one of coolest and I’m definitely happy with it!

SS: You have such great style. Is it something that’s innate or have you developed it over the years?
MB: Thanks! That’s a hard question I want to say born with it and have just polished it over the years, but I’m always changing and developing. I’m always looking for new challenges and I think thats what keeps “Rusted Jalopy Decor” always fresh.

SS: You’re in the Fat Village area of Fort Lauderdale. At least, on its outskirts; if someone in Miami isn’t familiar with the area, what’s it like?
MB: It’s a small, tight-knit, super energetic community in downtown Fort Lauderdale. We have everything here from a design agency, art classes, prop houses, vintage style printing, vintage style book binding, co-working spaces, a thrift store, a coffeehouse, video photo music studio, a men’s clothing store and a bar. All on one block. This place is simply amazing, you can’t help but be creative.

SS: Your medium is very unusual. What part of it do you enjoy most?
MB: I think it’s just creating things from a hand drawn pencil sketch, making it out of metal, with old and timely tools. There is no fancy CAD designs no big robotic machinery. Every piece is unique and handmade, it just has a soul that way.

SS: It also seems dangerous! Is it?
MB: Yeah, it could be if you don’t pay attention. There are a lot of sharp objects.

SS: I love seeing art being designed, created and given to someone. What is the process like for you?
MB: I think the biggest reward is when someone comes in with an idea that they saw and you educate them on what we do and they change everything they thought they wanted because they were limited to the skill set from the last place they visited. And I love when a customer says 99.9% of the time “wow, you guys can do that”.  I don’t want to brag, but I will (lol.) Our metal shaping and welding skill set is insane; people have no clue until they come in and see what we do.

SS: If I took all of your artwork away, but allowed you to have one piece to carry with you forever, which one would it be and why?
MB: That’s a really hard question, too. Man, I feel like I’m taking my SAT’s (lol.) I don’t know. I always fall in love with every piece I make, so I would have to say my last piece.

It’s so fitting Marlowe would say his last piece is his favorite; it’s a real testament to being engaged in the here and now. Not only is he fully vested in the moment, he also appreciates and accepts everything that comes along with it and that’s exactly the spirit of the blog.

Each look in “Reinvention: The Rusted Jalopy,” provided by Elektrik Boutique on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, is an homage to spring. We chose outfits with a little extra material (long pants, long dresses) to celebrate our last month of wonderful weather.

Jumpers are consistently stealing the fashion spotlight and continue to do so into summer and a gorgeous sundress with a bold print is a perfect transition piece for the South Florida fashionista (all pictured in the blog.) Each featured trend continues reinventing itself.

In the meantime, after clearing my head in my car outside the hospital, I called my mother and told her the news. Of course she commiserated, then ordered me to drive to my favorite restaurant, sit outside on the patio, order my favorite food, perhaps even a nice glass of wine. She told me to enjoy the sun on my face, the taste of the food and to just be happy.

She said: “being in a good place mentally is the best medicine for your immune system.” I immediately obeyed her, because it’s just what my mother ordered. While I wait for more testing on the mass in my left breast, I’m trying to live in those in between moments. I’m also realizing that there’s no such thing as a free pass.

I’m not exempt from “bad” or “good” things happening. “Reinvention: The Rusted Jalopy,” has taught me to embrace and accept all of me, including my health limitations and to be fully present for all of it. Yes, I’m flawed, but stronger because of it. I guess you could say being “perfectly imperfect” is one of my favorite things.

Rusted Jalopy Decor
Twitter: @RJdecor_  
IG: @rustedjalopydecor
FB: Rusted Jalopy

Wardrobe provided by Elektrik Boutique www.beelektrik.com
619 Las Olas Boulevard
Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301
Twitter: @ElektrikBoutiq
IG: @ElektrikBoutique  
FB: @Elektrik Boutique

Twitter: @ShireenSandoval
IG: @ShireenSandoval

Photographer: James Woodley
Twitter: @BritFloridian
IG: @BritFloridian

Hair & Make-up: Odette Hernandez
Twitter: @Odettehernandz

Styling & Assist: Jackie Kay
blog ideas: Jackiekay211@yahoo.com  

Editor: Matthew Auerbach

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