To The Moon And Back

As my journey as Spider-man continued to develop, I found myself not having to reach out to anyone to offer my services; the work was coming to ME. Either parents were messaging me or it was friends of the family or even supporters of children fighting cancer who had large followings on social media. I don’t recall exactly how I stumbled across Zamora Moon’s page but what I clearly remember is the undeniable urgency her eyes, in a picture, planted into my heart.

Suddenly, there I was, reading over every one of the posts on her Facebook Support Page (www.facebook.com/ZamoraMoon). The more I read, the more I was intrigued by her story, fight, and resilience. I read that she was from Redwood City (about an hour and twenty minutes from where I live in California) but was receiving treatment in the UK. In London to be exact. I felt so strongly that I had to meet her that I messaged her support page in hopes of a response. I felt deep in my soul that I’d be able to help her somehow but alas, I never got a response from the Zamora Moon page. After 8 months passed (and still following her updates), I just figured they were in a fight for her life and didn’t find time to respond (which I totally understood). That’s when everything changed and my life would never be the same again.

Out of nowhere, a woman named Marisa Martinez messaged me and asked “Are you the Spider-Man that travels everywhere to see sick kids?”. After I replied yes, she began telling me the story of her daughter and how she was diagnosed with a terminal inoperable brain tumor known as DIPG (Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Gliomas). She went on to tell me that they were from the Bay Area California but had been overseas for some time to get treatment. That’s when the hairs on my body stood up and I asked, “What’s your daughters name?”.  Her reply was “Zamora Moon” and I knew at that moment, God was working here! She explained she didn’t run the Zamora page and my original message must have been lost. We immediately planned my first visit to London. Marisa felt I carried an ability to heal her daughter via all the work I already had done in the name of God.  I cant lie, a part of me wondered if she was right.

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After a long flight from San Francisco California To London, I found myself in the presence of the amazing and beautiful Zamora Moon. The disease already took her abilities to talk, walk, and move around freely but she moved my soul with her facial expressions. She loved spidey but already knew who I was beneath the mask and her mother asked me to prove it was really me. So, the mask came off. I spent the next 4 days spending time with Zamora, her mother, her father, and little sister Xavia. I prayed over Zamora as much as I could and learned so much about not just her but the vicious tumor that was responsible for all her despair. I even suited up for all the kids at the hospital she was being treated at (and they LOVED it!).

Before I knew it, I had to say goodbye to Zamora and fly back home. I honestly didn’t know if I would ever have the pleasure of seeing her again because that was just the nature of the DIPG tumor. I cried so hard as I sat in the London airport terminal knowing I would be thousands of miles away from Zamora soon (especially since my presence seemed to bring her so much peace).  Fourteen hours later my feet touched ground in SF and I had to refocus on my upcoming visits with other children. Definitely not an easy task with how exhausted both mentally and physically I was.

A few months passed and Marisa asked if I would visit London again but, this time would be different. She asked me to stay two weeks, to stay with them, and to help Zamora by care-giving for her. Although I was scared, I answered “YES!”. So, in early June of 2017, I was back in London! I helped feed Zamora, bathe her, clothe her, lift her, and more. I also pushed her around in the wheelchair, read to her, and watched plenty of movies together. I could see and feel the frustration in her mother as well. Imagine fighting for your daughters life on foreign soil, against all odds. As the days and weeks passed in Zamora’s presence, I could sense her depression growing inside. It truly showed in those big blue eyes. Two weeks came and went and before I knew it, I was on a flight returning home once again. This time I was drained beyond belief. I had grown to love Zamora and her family. I cared for her in every way possible and when we had moments alone I would pray for her and remind her of how beautiful she was. She would just roll her eyes. lol.

It wasn’t even a full day after landing back in SF that Marisa contacted me and stated they were emergency flying Zamora back home that night due to a new scan revealing the tumors growth. Doctors said it roughly translated into her having days left to live. She asked if I would meet them at their home in Redwood city and after they arrived, I did just that.  Marisa, Although very distraught, asked me to bring my camera in order to document the moment Zamora stopped breathing. She wanted to bring an awareness to the disease/tumor that gets little to no funding via her real life experience of losing her daughter. She wanted to save lives through her daughter and that’s beyond courageous in my mind. Little did I know that I’d spend the next seven days beside Zamora, her family, and friends. We sang to her, held her hand, comforted her, and gave her as much encouragement as possible but, it seemed we needed the encouragement just as much for witnessing what none of us wanted to see. On the 7th night of my being there, I fell asleep in a separate room until I was suddenly awakened by a family member saying “We think she’s about to go. C’mon!”. I rushed to her bedside and held her little hand. Surrounded by her loved ones, in the middle of the night, her breathing became labored. She looked to the ceiling as if it wasn’t there, gasping for air, fighting for just one more breathe until she finally gave this world her last one on the early morning of June 18, 2017.

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We all looked at each other after a long 30 seconds of her not breathing. That’s when I felt for her pulse. First, on her wrist. Then, in her neck. Nothing. I put my ear to her lips to feel or hear shallow breathing. Nothing. I placed my ear on her chest to hear her heartbeat. Nothing. The sound of silence broke my heart and I looked to her mother and said “Her heart stopped”. Those are words even her mother says she can still hear me saying. As we sat there trying to grasp that Zamora had actually just passed, we all felt a weird sense of calmness in the room. Like, an overwhelming feeling of peace. I then began fighting back the tears to grab the camera as she had instructed to do at a prior time. Right before I held it up, the reality of it all hit Zamora’s mother like a freight train and her tears were infinite. I raised the camera and took the photo above. Single handedly the hardest picture ill most likely ever take in my life.

I stayed with Zamora’s body as her father and I waited for the funeral home to come pick her up. In that time before they arrived, my mind couldn’t process her being gone. Every time I looked at her, I almost expected her to just open her eyes. It wasn’t until they finally arrived to take her and placed her under that horrible white sheet that it became real. Watching two men place the most beautiful little girl I’ve ever known under a sheet and strap her down will be a sight ill never forget.  I was speechless. I felt numb. I felt empty; and THAT was a scary feeling.

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Within the next few days, Zamora was buried and in hind sight, So was a piece of all of us who knew her but none more than her mother, Marisa. She couldn’t leave the grave. I mean, what mother could? This was different though. Marisa was told Zamora had a month to live when she was first diagnosed. Zamora ended up living and fighting for a total of two years. Sure, it was because of her heart and spirit but a huge part of that was Marisa’s restlessness to save her daughters life. From raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to traveling and relocating her family to a foreign world, she did everything anyone could. From reading to her, Changing her nine year old’s diapers to comforting her and giving her hope no matter what, she was there! Fighting!

The love Marisa had and still has for Zamora is a timeless one. Although she is gone physically, I can still feel her at times. She signals that she’s ok with the flight of beautiful butterflies drifting within our line of sight. I see her behind the eyes of every little girl I visit in hospitals. That warm, angelic look she used to give me almost as if saying “Thank You” is a look I still see in my dreams. Looking back to how her mother thought I could have saved her, I thought I failed at doing so once she passed. I thought to myself “But I prayed so much. Maybe I’m not the angel people believe I am after all”. But then I thought more deeply about it all (especially after I held my brother Darryl who passed away two weeks after Zamora). Maybe I am an angel God sent to Zamora and my mission wasn’t to save her but to hold her and her mothers hand through the toughest transition life had to offer. From living to death. From this world to the next. I realized then that I was sent at the perfect time to walk Zamora into heaven and console her mother on earth. We prayed for a miracle and Zamora being pain free in heaven WAS that miracle, even if we didn’t like the version God gave us. This world couldn’t offer the serenity Zamora deserved. She was prettier than this place.

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Dear Zamora,

I miss you dearly. I know the butterflies are you. Every time I suit up and its difficult, I feel your hand over my heart and it calms me down. Thank you for that. Ever since you left, things haven’t been the same and its even tougher walking down the hallways of hospitals visiting kids who face things like you did. It all just reminds me of you and sometimes, it makes me weak; but just when I think I can’t and I’m about to run, you look back at me through the eyes of another little girl. I’m reminded that your beauty outshines the ugliness of what you faced and THOSE are the parts I should carry with me. Your visits from heaven remind me that I must go on. That there’s more little one’s who need me out there. That I’m not done and far from it. so, I shall go on. For you and all the others; I shall go on. Ill always remember how Spider-Man wasn’t good enough for you but Ricky was. See you on the other side beautiful…

“Serenity is the balance between good and bad, life and death, horrors and pleasures. Life is, as it were, defined by death. If there wasn’t death of things, then there wouldn’t be any life to celebrate.” – Norman Davies

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And here we are…

After much thought and an incredible amount of feedback from supporters (regarding the tremendous want for more of my writings), Here we are! I’ve been told a thousand times to write a book about all I’ve seen behind the mask of Spider-Man. To further dive into the details of what it feels like to be there when children fight for life with all their might alongside parents and family who watch and submit to the lack of control; grasping only to their faith and hope.  I used social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook as an outlet to write but, like my followers, I also felt that wasn’t enough. One day I will begin the book everyone seems to desire but for now, lets begin with this blog!

As you may or may not know, I’ve been visiting children in need, of all kinds, for the past three and a half years behind the mask of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. There’s been so many highs and countless lows but at end of June 2017, things came crashing down. It all began with the passing of a nine year old little girl named Zamora Moon. After traveling to the other side of the world to meet her, (Twice!), I found myself holding her hand as she took her final breath within the presence of her family and confines of her childhood home. Two weeks later (To the day), on July 2nd, I held a good friend and brother of mine, named Darryl Aikens, as he passed away. Leading up to the 25th of July, three more children I was extremely close to passed away; making the total in just a month, FIVE children. The weight was more than I could bare, but I forged forward. After multiple other factors came in to play (my best friends moving to Florida, me suddenly living alone, me taking on more financial responsibility, and more), the hero everyone looked up to….finally fell.

July 26th 2017 is a day I’ll never forget.  Its the day that God reminded me, I’m human. As I sat in my barbers chair, I began feeling odd. The walls started closing in, I couldn’t breathe, and I felt faint. I was sweating profusely and had to ask my barber to pause. After drinking water and taking a moment to gather myself, I gritted my teeth through the remainder of that haircut only to finish and find myself shaking in my car. Little did I know what I was in for. After seeing over 10,000 kids worldwide and taking care of everyone but myself, July 26th marked the day my PTSD, Anxiety, and Depression began. A month later (after trying to deny it), I was officially diagnosed with all of the above and ordered to schedule time off, therapy, and a follow up with my doctor.

 

Here we are almost nine months after my initial experience with PTSD and truth be told, Its better, yet still difficult. In all, I’ve only taken 2 months off ( September 2017 and January 2018). When it all began, the only word to describe it was “HELL”! I didn’t think I’d ever suit up again. I thought it was all over and I believed all the lies my anxiety spoke into my thoughts. There were days I couldn’t even leave my house and would feel so frustrated that I’d bury my face in the pillow only to muffle my screaming in anger, confusion, and pain. That same pillow caught all my tears and laid soaked in everything I kept locked inside the previous three years.

Yup, the hero, the invincible, the indestructible man everyone (including myself), thought I was, felt defeated. Somehow, I managed to regain enough strength to rise again. To put that suit back on and get back in those hospitals and bring hope to little ones who need it most. With that being said, its not without my struggles. It’s harder now. It takes more prep, more effort, and more God. That’s what this whole blog is all about. “My Life, The Message”. I’ve come to realize that its my purpose to share with you all, not only what the children go through and face, but also to give you access to the very depths of my mind and its thoughts in hopes it helps someone reading. I was born to push the envelope and struggle so maybe you don’t have to. Life is such a beautiful portrait of love and what value would it have if it were to just be buried with me one day; unseen?

This blog is the culmination of what my life and my unique experiences have led me to be. This will be real and it will be raw.

“Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.” ―Denis Waitley

 

Ricky Mena