In an interview that took place on her birthday, radio personality and voiceover artist Jewelz López sat down with NYC Tastemakers to speak on her career, her life, and confronting a health barrier.
Life and Career
López said that as she grew up, she always “felt inspired” when she heard the radio and felt that a career in the field was something that she was “destined to do my whole life.”
“When I was a little girl,” said López, “instead of playing with dolls, I would play with the little tape recorder that I had.”
She also said that in college, she joined the New Jersey radio station WSOU and that as soon as she entered the station, she “fell in love with it and knew that it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
As a Latina herself, she also wanted to be able to hear more female and Latina voices on the radio as she did not hear many on the radio at the time that she began her career.
Based on this, López said that she is “very in touch” with her Latinx roots, constantly visiting her father’s homeland in Spain in order to remain in tune with her culture. Her mother being Cuban, López said that she also feels “very Cuban,” as she considers herself as connected to her Cuban roots as her Spanish roots.
“For me, [being Latina] means so much,” said López. “It’s an inspiration. We bring so much to the world… it means strength, it means courage, it means culture. I feel like all the best comes from being Latina: the food, the music, and our history… I’ve always been so proud to be Latina.”
Being a Latina radio personality, she said that she wants people to “feel connected and inspired” when they listen to her on the air.
“When I first started at WKTU,” she said, “I would throw in Spanish words here and there because I wanted to cater to not only the American speakers but even people who may not have been able to speak English or just came [to America] from another country.”
In June 2005, López was named one of the “Power Players in the music industry” by Latina Magazine. She said that having been featured in the magazine “was a dream come true to be chosen” because of all the hard work she put into her career and because it was her “holy grail.”
Notably in 2002, López was the first person to ever play a reggaetón song on New York radio. She said that during the time that she played it, she had over four million listeners at the time and the genre was booming in Puerto Rico and other countries. She said that because no one was playing it on local radios, she “just wanted it to have a platform.”
On playing reggaetón on her station for the first time in the state, she said, “I just felt like I had to take that risk because sometimes, you can’t ask for permission, you just have to ask for an apology. I just went with it because I knew that it was music that made everybody move; I had an audience from all over – from Greece and other Latin countries, of course.”
Despite the risk she believed she was taking by playing reggaetón, she felt it was the right decision because at club appearances, she would notice the overall positive reaction she would get from the audience. It is collectively agreed upon that she made the right decision as it is widely listened to across New York.
Her diagnosis and recovery
In April 2019, López was diagnosed with a schwannoma – a type of tumor that forms in the nervous system – on her cervical spine. According to Cancer.gov, schwannomas are made up of cells known as Schwann cells, which are in charge of protecting and supporting the nervous system’s cells. Schwannoma tumors are frequently benign, meaning they aren’t cancerous. They can, however, become cancerous in rare circumstances.
Schwannomas are rare tumors. It’s an uncommon illness, meaning less than 200,000 individuals are affected. In adults, schwannomas are the most frequent form of peripheral nerve tumors but can equally affect people of any age group.
After two years following her diagnosis, López said that she is “feeling awesome and most of all very grateful.”
López said that her diagnosis was “a big surprise” because she wasn’t aware of the existence of nerve sheath tumors or what a schwannoma was at the time, and did not want to resort to what she called “Doctor Google.”
The tumor, having been located on her cervical spine, required a long surgery for its removal. The cervical spine, she said, is a delicate area in the neck, and during the surgery, bones had to be cut and replaced for hardware, and nerves had to be reconnected. This specifically, according to López, made her marvel at the advancements there have been in the medical field.
When she first noticed there was something wrong, she got minor headaches, some dizziness, a tingling sensation in her fingertips and eventually in her toes, and her hands felt numb.
“I felt like radiating electricity was going through all of my nerve endings, like my fingertips and my extremities” she said. “I also had occasional discomfort in my neck because that’s exactly where it was located.”
Originally, she didn’t think that these symptoms were as grave as a tumor because they uncomfortable as opposed to painful. However, because of the symptoms, she visited her primary care physician, who gave her steroids for a week-long trial period, which, unfortunately, did little to aid López’s discomfort. Conversely, López made an appointment with an orthopedic doctor as she wanted to follow an instinct. This doctor ordered x-rays that did not demonstrate much, leading him to order the MRI that would expose the tumor.
On the same day the MRI was ordered, López received a call from the doctor with the news that she had a tumor. She said that she is very grateful to Dr. Natalicchio and Dr. Souweidane at the Weill Cornell Medical Brain and Spine Center in Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, saying that “they were just heaven-sent.”
Following her operation, the doctors told López that the tumor was not cancerous, which to her, was “a huge, huge relief.”
“After they operated on me,” said López, “they confirmed that most of these are [benign], but there always is a chance they could be cancerous, and then, also there’s a chance that they can’t remove [the tumor] completely and there’s a little bit left behind, and then you’d have to do radiation. But these doctors – I had three surgeons working on me – were able to remove every single piece of it and confirm that it was not cancerous.”
“If it was the Olympic dream team,” said López about her medical and surgical team, “this was it. Because all of these guys at the center are the best in the world.”
López said, “I knew that staying positive was my superpower I always just felt positive just about the entire experience. I never doubted anything or any of the doctors, put all my faith in God, the doctors, nurses, and all the years of research because I know that that’s what was going to be on my side.”
Advocacy and Fundraising
Though she has not yet advocated for a cause specific to tumors, she is heavily involved in helping and aiding different causes. López said that she has been sitting on the board of a New Jersey hospital for “a very long time.” She also said that her parents have been donating to local hospitals and other causes, and that she wants to draw inspiration from them in terms of advocacy.
López said that it is important for her to give back to people because of her experience, but she had trouble being vocal about it in the past.
“Since this happened to me,” said López, “I didn’t really share my [experience] with anyone or my diagnosis because I didn’t want to come across as, like, a complainer. But now that I look back, I know that I can help so many people, so that is really important to me. I would like to advocate for a lot of things now, and tell people that if something feels different, to just go, get it checked, then follow up, even if it’s three or four times until you really know the cause and then you’re back to feeling well.”
In a tearful and emotional point of her conversation with NYC Tastemakers, López said that she also wants to help advocate for children because some are so young that they don’t know how to or do not feel the need to vocalize any symptoms or changes.
“I would really like to be a voice for those children,” said López. “I would love to help raise money for them for early detection, research, help fund for new equipment and findings because I know how important that is – so much advancement in medicine is due to research, so it’s really essential.”
Dr. Souweidane, she said, is a pediatric neurosurgeon who worked on her because of her “petit” form and the intricacy it takes to work on the nervous system.
“He’s the best of the best,” she said, “and if there is any way that I can support his research through funding, I want to do it.”
Having been in the pediatric portion of the hospital, López spent her time around children – seeing how their prospective illnesses affected them.
“I saw children in the waiting room while I was [at the hospital] and it just broke my heart. I felt so insignificant when I was there – like, this has nothing to do with me, I’m going to be okay, but how about all these kids? They have their whole future and life ahead of them, they have to take out time from school and just being a kid; these are just years that you never get back. It gets me very emotional because not only the children but their families they suffer so much because they would rather have it themselves then have to see their child go through it.”
“You just think about the children,” she said, “that’s what it’s about. If there’s any way you can help them to raise funding, have a better future… That’s what it’s about, just hoping that it never happens to anybody – no child or their families to go through this.”
She also said that a lot of the people on her recovery floor post-op were a lot younger than she is, with other types of tumors. After having been told that her tumor was benign, she felt that her opportunity to live was given to her for a reason. And though it took her a while to recover emotionally from the height of the diagnosis, she now feels ready to share her story and help others.
“From your hardest days,” she said, “some of the best experiences flourish from them.”
López said that she would also like to eventually advocate for physical therapy because she knows the difference that it can make for people as it made a drastic difference in hers following her surgery and leading into her recovery from it.
“I’ll never forget the first time I walked again and made it up that flight of steps at the hospital,” she said, attributing her subsequent physical success to her physical therapy and therapists.
On July 17, López said that she will be participating in the Fourth Annual Cristian Rivera Foundation Full Steam Ahead 5K to raise funds for diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), a rare children’s brain cancer in honor of the CEO of NYC Tastemakers and founder of the Cristian Rivera Foundation John “Gungie” Rivera’s son Cristian Rivera.
López is desirous of inspiring and motivating people to participate in this walk because “everything costs money and we need the funding for research. I’ll be getting my running shoes on, even though I’m going to walk if it continues to be this hot,” she said jokingly.
Overall, López finds that she was given this second chance at life for a reason, and she is taking advantage of the opportunity by giving back to those who need it the most.
“I feel so, so grateful,” she said. “My faith, family, friends really helped me through a difficult time, and it just gave me unbelievable strength.”
To find out more about the Full Steam Ahead 5k, or to sign up for the event, visit the Cristian Rivera Foundation website.