This is an article about one woman’s courage. A story about finding yourself in the darkest moments of your life and finding that inner courage, the inner strength and will to stand up and fight towards the path of happiness.
Meet Maria Gallardo Goddard, also known to many as Maricel. She is a mother, a cancer survivor and a fighter. She is a woman who has fought her battles, struggled with her demons and traveled from depression and anxiety, to a home of happiness and contentment.
It was a Thursday morning, the sun was peaking through the clouds and the sound of silence filled the room. The kind of silence that tells you the kids are at school and everyone else is away at work.
It was during this silence that Maricel and I were seated on her back porch, the still water of her pool and vegetable garden in view.
“You look so nervous!” She teased, a cup of fresh coffee in one hand and a cigarette lit in the other.
“I am,” I admitted. It was my first interview and I had an excited feeling that this experience was going to exceed my expectations. It did.
My hands trembled as I pressed the record button on my voice recorder. This was one interview, one story that forever changed my perspective and my life.
“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” This is a quote from Confucius that has resonated with Maricel’s life. It is the best way to describe what she has been through, to where her life is now.
As I look at where she is now, how happy she is, her family, her beautiful children and supportive husband, I can’t help but feel empowered at what a strong woman she is. All the stones she moved, to move her own mountain.
“Depression back in my days was looked at as a sickness. It wasn’t known or
spoken about, as it is now. People were afraid that it was sickness that was not accepted… I felt alone…” Maricel began to describe to me her battle with depression and anxiety.
“When you feel like you’re alone you have a different mindset. I felt like I had no one there, when really I had everyone there. I just felt like I couldn’t turn to them. Instead, I ran away from them – the people that cared about me the most. Instead, I turned to drugs and alcohol…”
She took a drag from her cigarette. “I had all this built up anger and resentment… I hurt people. I wouldn’t care about the consequences of my words, I wouldn’t care if what I said would hurt someone… I was blinded by my fears.”
Escaping from reality
I asked her about her darkest moment, her brows furrowed as she remembered the day. “… I’ve tried to commit suicide. I was on suicide watch. There was also a moment where I nearly over dosed on drugs. I was found passed out on the floor of an RSL club. My mum was concerned, she started yelling at me and I just clicked it. I remember pushing her so hard that she fell to the gutter. But her eyes, I looked at her eyes, even though she was angry, her eyes were filled with tears of hurt and disappointment. I remember just thinking to myself ‘what have I done?’…”
That’s when Maricel decided to escape from her reality and buy a one-way ticket to the Philippines. “Now that I think about it, now that I have more clarity, I think my parents let me go to wake up. Let me experience it all in hopes that they would get their daughter back.” And she was thankful. Living in the Philippines for seven months changed her life. “At the time I was involved with the wrong people… If it wasn’t for my experience in the Philippines, if it wasn’t for what I had gone through, I’d probably be 6 feet under right now.”
“…I went through the worst parts of my life…”
Maricel described her lifestyle in the Philippines. “I had no money, no work. I gambled, drank and spent it all on drugs. I went through the worst parts of my life there. I was kicked out of my families home in Manila.”
She then fled from the city of Manila to her family in the province of Zambales. A place where poverty and struggle is real, where there were only hard working farmers and her own thoughts to keep her company.
“When I was there that’s where I felt the loneliest. My aunt was a pig farmer. There was no running water. There was no one around. I’d spend my days learning how to raise pigs – from the moment the pig fell pregnant, sleeping next to her days before she gave birth, to helping deliver the piglets, I learnt it all. It was my family’s livelihood. I did it because they did it.”
She began to smile. “There was no running water. Only a well. A well that could only draw water once it reached to a certain level. I would use that well as my exercise. ‘How many buckets of water can I draw today?’ I would use that time to meditate, pray, gather my thoughts and reflect on life. That’s when I found my spiritual side.”
Her moment of clarity…
“My aunt and uncle had a family of five kids, plus our grandmother and I. That was 9 people living in that house. Everyone was in hardship and yet they were still so accommodating and kind.”
She began telling me the page-turner; the moment that snapped her out of her mind set and made her want to make a change.
“Papa would send me money every fortnight, I would put that money towards my aunt, my cigarettes, and coffee. On this particular day, it would be a week before I’d get that money. My aunt had no money; we couldn’t even afford to buy any food. They ended up borrowing a can of sardines from the corner store; we weren’t even able to pay for it. That small can of sardines was to feed the 9 of us that night.” She took a pause and lent forward. “They told me to eat first. I looked at my aunt and I just couldn’t… Yes, I was hungry, but I just couldn’t. I couldn’t take away what little they had between themselves.”
She altered her future.
It was at that significant moment that Maricel found herself. She began comparing what happened to her in Manila; being kicked out of her families home, the money she had wasted on drugs and alcohol, things she didn’t need, to what had unfolded right before her eyes. “I had my family, my own flesh and blood, who were barely surviving. They were doing everything they could to survive. The kids would wake up at 3 o’clock every morning just to take the long travel to school.”
It was then and there that Maricel made a promise to herself. “I can do better. I can do something to help people. I can do something to make life easier for them. I am so blessed with the opportunity in Australia to work hard… so that they would never have to share a small can of sardines again… I can turn my life around.”
She then returned to Australia to attend her brother’s wedding. She had no job, no money, nothing to offer her brother and his wife as a wedding gift. All she had was a $10 note in her pocket and her handmade card. “It wasn’t much, but it was all I could give at the time. I wanted them to know it’s not much now, but in the future, I want to provide for them with all that I can. It was a symbolic moment in my life where I knew I was heading to better things.”
“Depression happens to everyone for different reasons, it doesn’t mean that you are weak. The more that people acknowledge depression, the more that you as an individual acknowledge it, means the sooner we can accept it and work through it. That is when you start to heal in ways that you could never imagine. Never tell someone that they’ll get over it. Never ignore and dismiss it. People need to hear encouragement. People need to hear ‘are you okay?’ They need to know they are not alone, that they have someone to turn to – someone to talk to.”
Maricel changed her life. She took control and changed the direction her life was taking. “When you can manifest an idea and you can take the first step, you are already on the way to success.”
Faith & Love
She then met Kenneth, the apple of her eye, her number one supporter and husband. They fell madly in love and cherished the idea of one day having a family. But as I stated before, Maricel lived her life moving stones.
They tried. They tried everything for a long time to have children of their own. Disappointment would hit them, month after month, negative pregnancy test after negative pregnancy test.
I, as a mother myself couldn’t even imagine wanting to have children so badly, being ready physically and mentally to have children, and yet to find it so hard to fall pregnant.
But they never gave up.
One beautiful day, Kenneth and Maria got the news they had been waiting for, they were going to be parents to a beautiful little girl.
Her war with cancer
On her 30th birthday, just before the news of her pregnancy, Maricel noticed her voice had disappeared. A month went by, she fell pregnant with their first born, but she still knew that something wasn’t right; this couldn’t be just a regular cold. Countless visits to the doctor told her that there was a possibility she had cancer. The doctor advised her that being pregnant, you’re not in a position to take the tests, the radiation and chemotherapy that you would normally undergo due to the risks to the baby. So she waited.
It was on the 10th of July 2009 that their beautiful daughter Lotus was welcomed to the world. Maricel and Kenneth were now a family of three.
It would be six months until Maricel would go under examination. That’s when she was diagnosed with Thyroid cancer. She underwent radiation therapy. She fought hard so that she could spend her life with the family that Kenneth and her had fought so hard to create. “I remember when I was under radiation no one was allowed near me. I couldn’t see Lotus. Kenneth had to wear a protective suit when he saw me.” It was heartbreaking. But she conquered and fought. Now she is cancer free, has a happy home and has not one, but two beautiful children.
My own moment of clarity…
Maricel did not let the things that happened in her life define her; she did not let these events control her. Instead, she chose to rise above it all and learn from it. She overcame obstacles that make me question whether I would have been strong enough, if I were in the same situation.
“I didn’t surrender, at any given time I could have, but I didn’t. And that in itself made me realise how strong of a woman I really am.”
“Embrace everything that comes to you. Life will give you things you never asked for. It will give you things you never wanted, but that’s no reason to run away. People always assume they know their life’s outcome before they’ve even tried to live it, so they get scared and they run away. Face your fears, learn from your fears and keep trying. Losing could be the greatest lesson you’d ever get before you try again and actually win.”
That night I went to bed with a perspective I didn’t wake up with that morning – with a lesson I didn’t learn until that interview. I remember watching her talking to her children, snuggling with her husband in front of the television and I just thought to myself – If she had given up so many years ago, if she had been successful with her suicide attempts so many years ago, then she wouldn’t be where she is today. She wouldn’t have met Kenneth, she wouldn’t have had her children, she wouldn’t have shown me a different outlook on life. And I thank god, I thank every being and greater existence out there that she didn’t give up. That she fought and showed the world how powerful she is.
Thank you Maria. Thank you for teaching me so much and for having such a kind heart. Thank you for trusting me with your story. I only hope I could bring your great worth justice. You are a strong woman, a role model to many and I hope you see that you give women everywhere the power and the strength to fight through the struggles they meet in life – no matter how big or small they may be.
To end this post I will leave you with a Chinese proverb that inspires Maricel and humbles my heart:
“There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same.”
Take your own path, work through your own struggles and know that you will get to the peak of that mountain – your happiness.