Part 3: “EVERYONE- the world- is helping me through this. You guys are my strength.”- Yesenia Peralta
I found out about your health condition when your brother sent me an invite to the fundraiser that was put on for you earlier this year. I was shocked. I had no idea you were even suffering through anything, let alone multiple sclerosis. How did the diagnosis come about for you?
In 2007, I had tingling in my arms and my legs. And the tingling got worse. I went to Singapore with my brother, but I wasn’t being very social there, and I wasn’t dancing as much as I used to. I didn’t know why, but I just wasn’t feeling good. When I came back from Singapore, it got worse. It went from my hands to my arms and to my legs. The tingling got so bad that I couldn’t unbuckle my belt, I couldn’t brush my hair, and I couldn’t write the receipts for my students. Eventually, I couldn’t teach!
I had to go to three different hospitals before I got admitted because nobody could figure out what was going on. So I finally get admitted and they released me five days later, without telling me what was wrong, because they said they didn’t know. And because I didn’t have insurance, they couldn’t continue to just keep me there. So they let me go. And then little by little, I got better, so I just thought, “Oh, it’s gone. All right. Back to work!” I opened up another school and didn’t think twice about what had happened.
Then, in 2010, I get this feeling again- tingling, numbness, and all that stuff. And then finally, I got diagnosed in August of that year. But when we finally saw the paperwork from 2007, it said ‘possible Multiple Sclerosis’ on it! 2007! Why couldn’t the doctors have just mentioned that word to me then? But no, they didn’t. And that’s how I found out three years later.
Wow! I went through very similar symptoms and experiences myself, including doctors misdiagnosing me or dismissing it as ‘unknown’ as well. And then, when they did diagnose me, I was told I should take the harsh medications that many MS patients are pushed to take- medications that suppress the immune system. Did you go through that as well?
Yeah. It sounds like the side effects of the medication can often cause even more problems for some people than what the MS itself is putting them through.
Exactly. And that’s why I decided to do my own thing.
So how did you go about deciding on which treatment to choose?
I did research online for a few days. And the only thing that looked possible to give me
back a better quality of life was the stem cell treatment. Now, the actual procedure itself is $20 000. So, I had to think- would I be able to raise $20 000? -Absolutely. Because I have people that love me, that I love, that I took care of. God gave me a gift, which was dance and teaching. And because of that, I know a lot of people would do anything to help me. And that day, it showed, the day of my fundraiser. Because if I had not been the person I am, if I would have been stuck up, or had bad intentions towards my students or friends, the support would not have been there. So, it just proved to me that how you are with others, what kind of a person you are, really matters. There were so many people that were there for me that day, I was so overwhelmed. I couldn’t even talk on the mic.
And who organized the fundraiser?
I had a few people organize it. My ex dance partner, Danny Ramirez, who is also a very good friend of mine, organized everything with the dancers that performed- Santo Rico, Yamulee, Karisma, Tropical Image, Frankie Martinez, Adiel (The Salsa Prince), Letty and Leo, and all the others. Danny Ramirez did everything to get those dancers together. And my other good friend- Daniel Antonetti, who is also an up and coming artist (Deecoy), was the stage manager for the event. He organized everything on stage, from the musicians to the artists. He also worked the front door, and played with the band – ‘Our Latin Thing Band’- that night. And all the artists donated their time and performances for that event. Marco Bermudez, from Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Frankie Negron, Luis Ramon, Our Latin Thing, Pequeno Johnny, Adriel Flete (aka “Mambo King” from Latin Fever Dance Studio), and Pedrito Martinez- all the musicians and artists that played were the best of the best.
And where was the event?
It was at BBKings, in Time Square, NYC. Al B Entertainment (‘El Que Sabe, Sabe’) helped SO much with promotions, and organizing the venue. He contributed so much to the entire event. We had a street team, headed by Daniel Antonetti. The team gave out flyers at LQ’s (Latin Quarter) and at The Copa. Daniel Ramirez also went to each dance school handing out hundreds of flyers. The word got put out there really well. It was a community effort. And I have a lot of people to thank. The dance companies were AWESOME. The musicians and artists were AWESOME. Everybody was awesome. When I saw the videos, I looked around the room and thought, wow! We had at least a thousand people there! And that’s on a THURSDAY night! All you saw there was bright peace. EVERYONE was smiling. I mean, I was the initial reason everybody was there, but it became an epic night because it was filled with love. That event was done with love- from corner to corner. Some people hadn’t seen each other for ten or fifteen years. Oh MY GOD! Everybody was SO happy! That night was amazing. It’s on Youtube. You gotta check it out.
It sounds amazing. I wish I could have been there to support it. Is it true that although most of the money was raised from that event, but there was still some money left to raise after the event?
Well, yes. That big fundraiser was at BBKing’s. But then Marcus Nievez had a fundraiser for me at one of the hottest salsa spots on Tuesdays in Jersey called Mambo Land. And again, I had the best of the best there, man! Franklin Diaz was there. We did a performance way back that was one of the ones that made me the most known internationally, a number that we did in LA. Henry Knowles is another person I have to mention. He DJ’d at BBKing’s for most of the night and THEN he also DJ’d at my Jersey fundraiser. And my sister’s husband- DJ JR Salsero- he was the one organizing the DJs. And DJ Ray Colon also helped me a lot at the New Jersey event. And I’m so grateful for all these people. They volunteered THEIR TIME. And because of that, we were able to raise the money, at that second event, that was missing.
All the Djs, club promoters, and the community helped with this event. The host for the night at BBking’s – celebrity J.I Starr from La Mega 97.9FM- made many radio announcements for the fundraiser. During one of the broadcasts he made on a Sunday night, there were 110 000 listeners at the time of the announcement! He was a huge help in promoting the event.
Wow! That’s amazing how so many people pooled their talent and resources together to support you. And now that you have this opportunity to send out any more messages to the public, what would you like to make sure you say that perhaps you haven’t gotten a chance to say yet?
Well, the only thing that I want to really get out there is that people look at me now, and I know that those who know that I’m sick feel that I’m so strong. They think that it’s hard to kind of keep me down, no matter what is thrown at me. But the truth is that the strength that I get every day is from my past. It’s from my dance career, the places I’ve been to- Vancouver (smiles), Israel, Hong Kong, Belgium, Switzerland, Holland, … I mean, I can continue on and on. And those pictures and those memories – that’s what I look to for my strength.
And EVERYONE- the world- has helped me through this. If I was by myself, with nothing to look back on and feel so proud of, with none of those great feelings to remember, I don’t know what I would do. But when I think of the people screaming or clapping at the end of a performance, or calling out my name, and those lights, and just the stage,…. ahhh… it makes me so happy! And I just want to thank EVERYONE. Because they don’t understand that THEY’RE the ones helping me. They think I’m superwoman. No. I look at you guys, and you guys are my strength.
How do you think that has affected your health or how you deal with the MS?
Well, I could sit here for hours and think about everywhere I’ve been, and all the people I’ve
met and all the crazy things we’ve done. And it makes me feel so good. And you know that that’s a big part of controlling MS. People don’t understand MS. But I understand it (smiles), and I know how to make myself feel better. I’ve LEARNED how to do that. And for me, it’s about using those people and memories as my crutches. And I appreciate them as much as they appreciate me. Because I get all their emails and I try to respond as much as I can, even though it’s a little difficult for me, in my state right now. That’s why I was interested in this interview because it gives me the chance to answer all of the messages that came to me. Maybe it’s not enough, because it’s not personal. It’s not a personal, one-on-one, message. But it’s sincerely from my heart. And unfortunately, because of what’s going on, I can’t do it personally, with every single individual who has written to me. And that makes me feel bad. It makes me feel bad, and that’s why I wanted to do this.
You’ve mentioned some of the things that you’ve learned so far while having this
time away. Is there anything else that has changed in your perspective because of this health situation, something that might make you deal with certain situations differently in the ‘next’ part of your life?
You know, one thing that I’ve changed that I think I was wrong about my whole life? I was very open to bringing people into my life, and into my circle of friends, and my family and my way of living. I mean, as I said before, that’s a good thing, because I’m a very ‘happy go lucky- let’s laugh, let’s have fun, let’s have a drink, let’s hear music, let’s dance’- type of person. But one thing I didn’t realize is that I needed to be more selective. I lived with the attitude that ‘You do what you do. I don’t care even if it’s bad, as long as you don’t do it to me.’
And I was wrong. If a person does something to other people, or treats them badly, that’s the type of person they ARE, even if they are not doing that to me. And I had to ask myself, “Do you really want to be around those types of people?”
Even though you’re not directly treating me badly, I’ve grown and learned that that’s still not okay. Because now I look at what you’re doing to other people. And that tells me who you are. And now I know who to keep close to me and who not to. So I came out winning on top, having learnt this, and knowing that I’m not going to put up with that anymore.
Well, I’m happy that I could help you, girlfriend (smiles).
But as far as how I would deal with what comes next in my life?- Honestly speaking, I don’t know what’s next. If I get better, God willing, am I going to go back to dancing? I don’t know. Am I going to just go teach? I don’t know. Am I going back to Jersey? I DON’T KNOW! All I know is that I’m lying next to the laptop, talking to my friend from Vancouver (smiles). And I don’t know what’s next.
And it sounds to me that that’s part of the solution. Maybe what is going to help you heal the most is NOT to worry about what comes next. As you said, maybe this all happened to help you slow down and learn more about what you really want and how much you really have already.
EXACTLY. I’m leaving it in God’s hands, girl. I’m leaving it in God’s hands. He got me here. He knows what he’s doing. And I’m rollin’ with him (smiles).
Since the date of the interview, Yesenia returned to her home in New Jersey. And her and I have continued to correspond on and off. And I am just blown away by, how in each conversation, Yesenia continues share something new she’s’ learned each and every day. And she grows so much stronger with each and every lesson.
November, 2012- conversation with Yesenia over skype.
You’re smiling, not just from the outside Yesenia, but as if it’s coming from deep within you. And I can feel it, even through the computer screen (smiles).
I feel happy inside (giggles). Things are going really well, girl. I’m just taking care of myself (smiles). And when I get even better, God willing, I will return to dancing. I don’t know if I’m just going to teach, or if I’m just going to perform, or if I’m just going to keep dancing as a social hobby. There are many unanswered questions. But isn’t that what life is –a bunch of unanswered questions? No one in this world can answer what tomorrow is going to be like. I didn’t know that this is where I’d be today. But I also didn’t know all the lessons I would learn about myself, and about life, through all of this.
By the look of that smile, I’m imagining it all to be good lessons (smiles)?
Well, I’ve learned that one of the most underrated words – a word that doesn’t get nearly as much recognition as it should- is HOPE. Unless you’ve been through some type of sorrow, or some type of pain, or something that kind of derails you, you don’t truly know what hope is. We say “I HOPE to get a new car”, or “I HOPE he gives me a raise”, or “I HOPE to visit that place”. But when you learn ‘hope’, I mean when you REALLY learn what Hope is- when you’ve been in a black hole, and you learn to get yourself out- that’s when you get a whole other perspective on life.
You learn to appreciate everything around you and inside you- what you’re really made of. And ‘Hope’ is not a boomerang- it doesn’t get back to you just like that. But when you pray, when you believe, and when you are true to yourself and others, ‘Hope’ shows up, and it’s a powerful thing. Don’t underestimate it or take it for granted. ‘Hope’ is what keeps me smiling from the inside.
And the stem cell treatment was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. I am healing, slowly, but surely. The other day, I started walking, without a cane, for the first time in a long time (smiles).
December 2nd, 2012- Conversation with Yesenia over text:
Yesenia: Omg, omg, guess what? (Yesenia texts me in the morning)
I danced on stage at the Copacabana last night.
What?!! Are you serious? How did it feel? Did you dance bachata or merengue?
No girl! I danced Salsaaaaa! To a live band!
What??? Ahhh! That’s amazing! But you’ve been saying you haven’t been able to
dance salsa this whole time.
“I don’t know what’s gonna happen next, but I’m okay with that. Dancing… and LIFE have taken on a much deeper meaning for me now. And that will never leave me.”
– Yesenia Peralta.- December 2012.