Yanai Calderon was 365 feet in the air when she felt her mom’s presence. The Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center Emergency Department (ED) nurse was beginning her descent down the side of the Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel when her thoughts turned to her mom, who passed away from breast cancer nine years ago when Yanai was 20 years old.
“I wasn’t afraid because I wasn’t alone,” says Yanai, who attempted the feat as part of the “Over the Edge for Brain Cancer” fundraiser. “My mom was with me and I carried her all the way down.”
The middle child of Colombian parents who moved to Miami to raise their three children, Calderon fondly remembers family dinners, Sunday barbecues, road trips and beach vacations. Calderon’s mom, Mariela, was the family’s rock, teaching the children the importance of making memories and never missing an opportunity to tell a joke. Mariela also taught the value of a strong work ethic. Although she was the only one of seven siblings without an education, she returned to the workforce as a certified nursing assistant after raising her children.
From the time Mariela first felt a lump in her breast to the stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis that followed, tragedy happened faster than the family could comprehend. Mariela’s health declined quickly. After one week in the hospital, she passed away at just 45 years old.
With her little sister just 15 years old, her older brother away in the Air Force and her dad grieving, Calderon took on the role of wife, mom and family bookkeeper.
“The weight of life was so heavy,” Calderon remembers. “We were all numb.”
Calderon was in nursing school when her mom passed away. She almost quit, but then remembered the nurses she met when her mom was hospitalized and found new meaning in the profession. Upon graduating, she made the difficult decision to leave home and start over in California, where she transformed her life with new friends, travels and interests inspired by her personal mantra, “Live, love, life.”
“‘Live, love, life’ means seizing every moment life offers and loving every second of it,” Calderon says. “The opportunity to live is a gift.”
When she learned about the opportunity to rappel down the Manchester Grand Hyatt to fundraise for cancer research, Calderon seized it in honor of her mom and the patients battling cancer she often meets in the ED.
“I wore the Spiderwoman suit because in my heart, I know I am a superhero. My mom was always the one to lift me up, but now it comes from within.”