VOICES OF HUNTSVILLE | Love , Loss, and S.O.U.L. by Carlie Sanchez

Voices of Huntsville is awarded to a local resident of Huntsville, Madison County, Madison City, Decatur, and surrounding areas to share their personal perspective of our community. Our Voices of Huntsville feature shares their creative passion and unique perspective about what they absolutely love about Huntsville in a format that best speaks to their own creativity, vlog, blog, photo essay. Interested in becoming a TSG Huntsville Voice of Huntsville? Apply here!

In this month’s Voices of Huntsville Carlie shares her very personal story of grief, loss, and hope for the future.

Portrait Photography by White Rabbit Studios

March 2023

Love, Loss and S.O.U.L. by Carlie Sanchez

I recently moved to Huntsville to start my life anew. I have lost both of my parents in recent years to cancer and decided it was time for a fresh start. To help others cope with great loss I have started writing a children’s book called “Mama, Where Are You?” It’s about being a child and losing your mom, and I’ve also started a grief support group called S.O.U.L which stands for support, optimism, understanding, and love for folks like myself who had a tragic loss at a young age. The group meets once a month and is filled with some of the strongest and most compassionate people I know. 

My parents were always my biggest supporters even as I have struggled through my own disease. I was born in a small town in central Illinois with Biliary Atresia, which is a rare infant liver disease that affects the Bile Ducts. Soon after being born I underwent a Liver Transplant receiving 20% of my mom’s liver. Because of the transplant, I was able to have a normal childhood and even go to Disney World on my Make-a-Wish trip in 2009. I have had 26 years and counting of success with her liver.

My disease has inspired me to spread awareness for Biliary Atresia, which is why I compete every 2 years in the Transplant Games of America, an Olympic-style event for transplant recipients, living donors, and donor families. I was also able to spread awareness at the 2017 Rose Bowl Parade where I was a Donate Life Float Rider. 

In 2018, while competing at the transplant games, my mom was unexpectedly diagnosed with Stage 1 Breast Cancer, and after 16 weeks of radiation, she was declared cancer-free, so we had a glorious celebration. However, the tides turned in 2020. Around Mother’s Day, I got a call that my mom was not feeling well and was going to the ER. We first thought my mom had Pancreatitis, but after two excruciating weeks of waiting for all the results, we found out she had Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer.

I had just graduated from the University of Iowa with a Communications and Sociology degree, and I was working my first full-time job in Cedar Rapids, IA while my parents were still back in Illinois. My mom was given a diagnosis of 6 months. In response, I quit my job and moved back to Illinois to help where I could. 

My mom did one round of chemo and courageously decided she wanted to live her last few months without feeling ill from the chemo on top of the cancer. Two weeks after the diagnosis she was brought into Hospice. On July 3rd my brave, strong-willed, and loving mother passed away at 53 years old. From the date of diagnosis to her death, she fought for 5 and a half weeks. It was too quick and so much to process.

After her services, I moved back to Iowa and started trying to find somewhere to work while trying to pick up the pieces, only to face another devastating blow in 2022. My dad was rushed to the ER and sent to imaging, where they found a massive tumor in his brain. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 Glioblastoma. This was essentially another death sentence.

It had only been just over a year and a half since my mom had died. My biggest question was how long was this battle going to last. My dad’s decline was much slower but relentless. By August he was in a wheelchair and by October we knew the end was approaching. We celebrated his 57th birthday on October 2nd. I decided to move into his house after his birthday and planned to stay until the end. He was brought into Hospice around the first week of October and he slipped into a comatose state on October 9th. Just as before, I waited for the inevitable. On October 11th around 1 am my dad took his last breath.

A week later, at 25 years old I was standing in front of a headstone to lay my last parent to rest. I had never felt more lost in my life. I moved back to Cedar Rapids, IA for the second time after losing a parent. I despised living there because it was a constant reminder of everything I had lost. I asked my husband if we could move. I wanted somewhere warm and a fresh start. His only stipulation was somewhere that had growth and was an engineering hub. It wasn’t but a week later that I saw Huntsville was rated the 2023 Best Place to Live. So, here we are.

I moved here to Huntsville and have since begun to find my way with writing “Mama, Where Are You?” and developing a community with S.O.U.L. My future is bright with plans to help others and continue to be a voice of normalizing grief. My only goal going forward is to continue to make my parents proud and live out their legacy as the strong and resilient woman they raised me to be.

About Carlie Sanchez

Born and raised in a small town in central Illinois, only child to great parents. Because of her liver transplant from her mother, she was able to have a normal childhood. Carlie went to the University of Iowa and graduated with a Communications and Sociology degree. Now living and working in Huntsville, Alabama with a goal of helping others who have gone through a similar situation. She competes every 2 years in the Transplant Games of America—an Olympic-style event for transplant recipients, living donors, and donor families.  I was a 2017 Donate Life Float Rider in the Rose Bowl Parade. And in 2009 my family and I went to Disney World as my Make-a-Wish trip through the Make-A-Wish Foundation

Thank you so much Carlie for sharing your story. It’s so inspiring to see your motivation to normalize grief and your drive to do something for others dealing with loss in their lives. You can take a peek at her book here and follow her author journey on Instagram.

Also thank you to Ila Bayless, Randolph Intern, aspiring entrepreneur, and businesswoman for your help

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