A few weeks after the shortness of breath episode in Long Beach, while sitting in a plane that was descending into San Antonio International Airport, I again struggled to catch my breath. I felt fine the rest of the trip, but made an appointment with my doctor when I returned home. The doctor checked my vital signs, administered an electrocardiogram (EKG) test, and a cardiac stress test, which consists of the patient walking on a treadmill to determine if blood is flowing correctly through the heart during physical exertion.
I passed all of the exams without difficulty, relieved that I wasn’t suffering from the same fate as my parents and my sister. The doctor explained that I might have issues related to anxiety as the symptoms are similar, but far less intense, to those of a heart attack. I was ultimately diagnosed with a form of anxiety that causes a rapid heartbeat, sweating, chest pain, nausea, and numbness. The disorder can be hereditary or caused by environmental factors such as stressful life events and life transitions.
For nearly a year, I had been masking the grief of my mom’s loss by working incessantly and grappling with some of my siblings on settling the estate. Doctors were sure that my episodes were not the result of genetics. They were caused by the life-changing events related to my mom. The doctors assured me that I could manage my condition by participating in a few group and individual sessions with a therapist, and taking small doses of anxiety medication.
I took stock of my life, and like everything else I did, I put all my being into the treatment to quickly resolve the issues. Despite the scare, I returned to my hectic schedule. Armed with the tools to manage the void caused by my mom’s passing, I focused my energy to finally disposing of the failure demons and achieving professional success once and for all. Determined to move up in the company, I worked harder at the office, continued representing Comcast at national Latino events, and dedicated precious extra time to making an impression on corporate honchos at the Executive Leadership Forum.
In 2005, my leadership forum teammates selected me to present our group project to the chairman of the board and the company’s top executives. My presentation was a hit. Before long, opportunities to demonstrate my talents and commitment to the company came quickly and regularly. I soon had the chance to make a big contribution on a national conference call with corporate bigwigs. I offered to help Comcast secure a franchise in Houston, Texas, by introducing top company executives to the vice mayor of the fourth largest city in the country.
Houston’s vice mayor was an emerging national Latina leader who I met during my travels on behalf of the company. I scheduled a lunch meeting and traveled to Houston to make the introduction personally. After months of negotiations, Comcast won the contract with the vice mayor’s support. That summer, I was chosen to lead a meeting in Washington, D.C. with the chairman of the company and a high-ranking member of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy & Commerce Committee with whom I had a solid working relationship.
The veteran California congresswoman’s wood-paneled office had a high ceiling, luxurious drapes, and photos of her with our nation’s leaders. California and American flags framed her large oak desk. The office was bigger than the first apartment Sandra and I lived in when we got married. During the meeting, I couldn’t help but think about how far I had come from the simple days at 48 Viewmont Avenue, the college failure, the dark years of aimlessly wandering through life, and the triumphant return to and graduation from San Jose State University.
A few months later, I stood at the podium of the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas, Texas, to deliver brief comments on behalf of Comcast to a thousand Latino elected officials from throughout the country at the annual NALEO conference. It was the same gathering that, as a green and impressionable political staffer, inspired me to forge a career in politics nearly a decade earlier. By the fall of 2006, I had been named vice president of local government affairs for Comcast in California.
As vice president, I developed and managed the company’s local government relations initiatives and continued with my travels. Business trips included regular drives throughout California to visit and meet with the eight government affairs directors who reported to me. I also played a role as a company representative at political events across the state. On one such occasion, Marisa went with me to a fundraising event at the Los Altos Hills estate of a Silicon Valley executive where former President Bill Clinton was the featured speaker.
I beamed with pride when Marisa, just 12 years old, recognized and introduced herself to Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to be Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Marisa shook President Clinton’s hand and we arranged a photo with Speaker Pelosi. It’s impossible to accurately portray how it felt that day to provide my daughter with the opportunity to meet a U.S. President and House Speaker. The failure demons that haunted me for so long were gradually fading away.