Catch Ivana living her best life, sipping her caramel latte with her closest girl friends -- Lucia, Ximena, and Camila -- “...because with them, I can talk about absolutely anything without feeling uncomfortable! I love people that are not afraid to be how they really are, that don’t give a damn about haters and believe in themselves. More importantly, they enjoy life and are happy, instead of being judgmental. And they don’t complain over stupid things.”
Ivana didn’t begin life with an extra scoop of confidence. She remembers a time in high school when she compared herself to her classmates in high school. She felt inferior when she tried to live up to their criticism. She soon realized that, no matter what people said about her, her true self would never change or conform. And the people who said things about her -- they didn’t really know her.
“I am much more than what people think about me,” says Ivana. She finds beauty in diversity, especially when one can look in the mirror and own the body they are.
“You are happy with what you see, and proud of who you are -- it’s beautiful. It takes strength to not let others’ opinions change who you really are. Every day, I see myself in the mirror and I like what I see because I’m unique. I’ve been practicing this way of thinking since I shaved my head for the first time.
I love embracing what other people call ‘imperfections’ -- it’s what makes me different from other people.”
When Ivana was diagnosed with alveolar sarcoma, her definitions of strength and beauty took root. “I’m not perfect, and I would never be,” she realized. She let go of the parts of herself that were superficial and closed-minded. “...after seeing how many people cared about me and how many people who were fake, it made me realize what was really important -- it is love and to be loved that really matters at the end of the day.
Money will come and go, and beauty will eventually disappear, but those moments you share with people who fill your soul will last forever.”
Ivana takes quiet moments to herself to reflect on what she’s grateful for.
Her family and friends who have supported her hold the most important places in her heart, because she believes their love made her the woman she is today.
Alveolar sarcoma is rare for a woman of Ivana’s age, but she’s moved to the United States from Venezuela to try an experimental treatment.
She remembers the shock of her diagnosis, and how her parents broke down beside her. “I was thinking, ‘Well, shit, I need to keep it together,’ because I hate seeing my mom cry. I knew way before [my diagnosis] that something wasn’t right with me… I tried four different chemotherapies until this one I’m taking now, and it’s starting to look like my tumors got smaller.”
Ivana learned quickly that the people who really care for her will stick by her side. She fought headaches and migraines in silence on her own for a long time before finding that a tumor was growing in her head.
The person she was dating at the time brushed her off, but Ximena, her close friend, stood with her, calling her every day to check in with her, reminding her that she was worth respect and dignity and love.
Ivana stays grounded by reminding herself to “live the today” -- “Live asking yourself if you are happy with the decisions you make today…”
She’s not afraid of dying, but her heart is full of her loved ones -- she’ll ask if she did her best to make her mom happy today, because she never knows what could happen tomorrow. “People say it’s kind of sad to think this way about death, but I think it’s more sad to avoid the reality that life is unpredictable, we can’t do anything about it. But we can accept every day as it comes with an open mind and enjoy while we can.”
“When they removed my brain tumor, I felt like I was born again, like a new chance to do things right,” she says. “I have to love more friends and more family, and I knew it was more important to learn how to love myself every day. The way I love me affects how I love other people. When I get sad, I say to myself, ‘This is temporary’, and I see my sister. I just want to be there for her and for my family, and then I feel glad I’m alive. That gives me strength to keep going. I still have a lot to learn, but I’m open to learn and become a better version of me every day.”
To see more of Ivana follow her at @ivanalvivas