My dad always says The Florida Keys is a place where you go to forget or to be forgotten. I never really believed him until last week, when I found myself barreling toward the southernmost point of the country trying to forget about what was happening to me back in Miami.

A mere twenty-four hours prior to my trip, I had spent a long, emotional day at Mount Sinai Hospital in Miami Beach, where I had undergone a series of appointments and tests to see if a mass found in my left breast was cancer.

The area in question, which happened to be the exact same breast and location in which both my grandmother and great grandmother had developed cancer, was detected during a routine mammogram and sonogram that had been performed a few weeks earlier. (I wrote about the experience extensively in my “Reinvention: The Rusted Jalopy” blog;

Waiting for my test results wasn’t just painstaking, it was borderline suffocating. So instead of watching the clock drip by (it would take anywhere from 24 to 48 hours to hear back from my doctor,) I decided to skip town and rendezvous with my parents somewhere down in The Florida Keys. Coincidentally, they were already in town, visiting me from New Mexico.

Unfortunately, no matter how many miles I put between me and Mount Sinai, it didn’t give me the distance I truly needed from the thought of living my life with cancer or dying from it. God, how I hated  the C word. Even worse, when I let my mind wander, there I was in the hospital all over again: laying face down, half naked and freezing, inside a gigantic MRI machine with my breasts wedged apart, hanging in a suspended position.

The experience wasn’t just uncomfortable: for whatever reason, I felt ashamed and embarrassed. Mainly because my body was failing me – yet again. After a long battle with Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome, the likelihood of me getting cancer just didn’t seem plausible, but there I was getting poked and prodded, in hopes of finding out “The Naked Truth” about what was really going on inside my body.

During the procedure, the tears came quickly and easily. They dripped straight out of my eyes onto the belly of the imaging contraption. Crying when you’re upside down is an odd feeling. Then again, at that moment everything seemed pretty odd, although I didn’t say as much to the technician performing the MRI.

She had been incredibly impressed with my fortitude when she stuck me with a needle and I didn’t flinch. “Wow, that’s a painful area. You didn’t even blink,” she mused before starting my IV that would be used to pump contrast through my veins. Apparently, contrast helps light up the tentacles of cancer when photographed.

My first instinct was to brag to the technician about my superior mind control when it came to needles, but instead, I smiled weakly and remembered the endless days, nights and weeks of Intravenous Immunoglobulin (IVIG,) the live-saving medicine that helped me recover from GBS.

During that time, the needles and ports became second nature. Without mincing words, I grew a helluva backbone. My veins became so damaged and weak, it was almost impossible to hit one. To ensure I received my “liquid gold,” as I used to call it, I would guide the nurse’s needle under my own skin, until it made contact with a decent vein…

One that would be able to sustain a six hour infusion. I’ll never forget the way the medicine burned when it hit my vein and how it smelled when it entered my body. I’ll also never forget how the procedure itself would clear a room. No one could watch it, not my friends or the people taking care of me. I don’t blame them: it was excruciating, but I never wavered, not once, because I had NO other choice. It was all about survival and I did what I had to do.

Just like when I let the technician choose a painful area on my arm to hit my vein. She could have chosen another place, but she knew that particular area was more than likely a sure thing. She just didn’t know that I knew it, too. She also didn’t know that it was the vein I had nicknamed “Lady Luck” during my GBS days.  

It was the vein that always delivered, no matter how littered my arms were with needle marks or how exhausted they were from bruises. Looking back on it now, it was as if the situation always played out the same way. Just as the home infusion nurse was about to give up on getting a vein (because legally they can only stick you a certain amount of times,) I would beg her to try “Lady Luck” just one more time.

She did so begrudgingly and just like that, the nurse would get my vein. I would always smile and say: “Yep, she’s open for business; the business of healing.” That freaking vein became my lifeline and my most trusted ally in the fight against a virus that was hell bent on killing me. “Lady Luck” saved me on so many occasions and became the main gateway into my body that I depended upon.

Once the MRI technician got my IV situated, she asked me if I was okay. I lied and said yes, but I wanted to scream: “No, I’m not okay. This is NOT OKAY.” I wanted to tell her that the room was cold and small and stunk of a medicinal urgency that made me fear for my life. Instead, though, I laid down and tried not to move.

As my tears disappeared below me, I imagined them floating away into a river of medical despair. I thought about all the women who had laid there before me: how did they cope, what had happened to them, did they cry, too? Did our tears stream together finding a communal solace, despite the fact that each of us had to lay there alone and scared? What’s more, I thought about all the women who would lay there after me. Would they be stronger than I was in that moment?

That’s the funny thing about illness: no matter how many people care about you, support you or surround you, the pain and suffering is very much a singular experience. It’s the same with grief. Sure, people can commiserate with your heartbreak, but they cannot carry the burden for you or understand its impact on your heart, mind, body and soul.  

I left the hospital around 7 o’clock that night, just as the sun started to set across the bay. It was a beautiful evening, as streaks of gold and amber danced on top of the water giving off the appearance of shining glass. The light breeze, which helped calm me, blew salty air across my face and into my hair. I didn’t know if I had cancer yet, but I did know it felt great to be alive.

The next day, I officially named my blog: “The Naked Truth,” per the suggestion of Pamela Garcia, who’s one of the owners of Koko & Palenki. Pam and I had talked about the blog a month prior to my medical scare, but as usual, the title and the timing of it all seemed to fit perfectly.

I love the spirit of this blog for a lot of reasons. “The Naked Truth” is about so much more than fashion. It’s about embracing and accepting the skin that you’re in. The trend is all about finding an extension of your own beauty and frankly, that’s something that never goes out of style.

Shireen Sandoval: Why does the nude shoe have such fashion staying power?
Pam Garcia: From spring to winter, nude shoes can be worn with ANY outfit at any time of the year. That’s why they never go out of style.

SS: Can you give us “The Naked Truth” about how to wear the nude shoe?
PG: Elegance is something that never goes out of style, and nude shoes are elegant.

SS: What type of nude shoe should a fashionista be wearing now?
PG: A nude flat sandal, a simple pump or high-heeled wedge – you can’t go wrong.

SS: The nude shoe dominated the red carpet in 2014, why has its popularity had a resurgence?
PG: Because the shoe matches your skin tone! There is nothing highlighting where your legs end, which helps to give the illusion that they go on for much longer than they actually do. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard a woman complain that her legs look TOO long.

SS: You know shoes and they’re not all created equally. What nude shoe is the best bang for your buck (keeping quality in mind) and why?
PG: The Cadey Lee from Schutz. It’s a simple ankle strap sandal that’s timeless. It goes with everything, and you can dress it up or dress it down.

SS: What type of purse would you pair with a nude shoe?
PG: I’m really loving the Jennifer Haley Fringe tote. The quality is impeccable. Also, fringe is all the rage this season as it adds texture to any ensemble.

SS: Is there a particular nude shoe you have in your closet that you can’t live without?
PG: The Cadey Lee from Schutz… I’m telling you, I love this shoe because of its versatility. Koko girls agree, too.

SS: I realize we’re talking nude trends, but while we’re chatting, what other types of shoe trends are in for summer?
PG: The caged sandal and the slip on sneaker. One is great for dressing up, and the other is great for dressing down.

SS: Koko is such a go-to store for the South Florida Fashionista, what request do you get the most from customers?
PG: Our customers come to us with two requests: they want to look and feel great! And of course, they can count on Koko & Palenki to dress them from head to toe for ANY occasion, whether it’s a wedding, a vacation or just an everyday look. Our customer loves coming in to our store knowing they can leave with a complete look!  If I had to pick just one, though, they love our shoes.

SS: What is the one must have shoe for spring and summer?
PG: Wedges!

SS: I need “The Naked Truth” about your shoe closet. How many pairs do you have and which are your absolute favorite?
PG: I have more shoes than I can count. It truly is one of my fetishes. My absolute favorite shoe right now is actually the Cadey Lee from Schutz (can you tell I love this shoe?!) It goes with absolutely everything and it looks sexy at the same time.

Each look pictured in the blog (which is purposely fun, flirty and feminine) is meant to showcase the versatility of “The Naked Truth.” The nude shoe has endless possibilities and is a must-have for any fashionista who wants to step-up her game.

My favorite nude shoe of the season is called the NUDIST, by designer Stuart Weiztman (pictured in the blog.) It’s been a red carpet slam dunk since early 2014, being worn by the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Kate Moss, Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley and its popularity is still going strong. I also love the Cadey-Lee from Schutz, the one Pam mentioned in her interview. It’s very similar to the Weiztman shoe, but more affordable, without skimping on quality. In the meantime…

Last week, I let the blog go dark (I didn’t write anything new) and I took a week off of work (I wasn’t on television.) I’ve never done that before, but after my day at the hospital, I needed to forget.

So for me, heading south made sense. It’s so beautiful and blue when you drive to The Keys, you can barely tell where the ocean ends and the sky begins. While there, I spent quality time with the people I love; talking, laughing, reminiscing, crying, eating, drinking, walking on the beach and sleeping in the noon day sun.

None of which, by the way, made me forget. In fact, it did the opposite. It made me remember all the wonderful, amazing, joyous things about life that we take for granted and then just like that…it happened. At exactly 9:48pm on Friday, April 17th I got a message from Mount Sinai on my phone.

The mass in my left breast was benign. I wept when I heard the news. I’m actually crying as I write this. I got my free pass. Although my doctors are aggressively encouraging me to have BRACA testing done as soon as humanly possible (because of my family history,) for now, I’m relishing in “The Naked Truth” that I’m okay. It’s the best thing I’ve heard in awhile and that’s why it’s one of my favorite things.

(A heartfelt thank you to everyone who has sent prayers, love and kind words of support and encouragement. )

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Photographer: James Woodley
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Hair & Make-up: Odette Hernandez
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Styling & Assist: Jackie Kay
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Editor: Matthew Auerbach

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