Coming of Age on
the Streets of Hollywood
with Sheryl Recinos, M.D.
By Carin Chea
You know you have a life worthy of a memoir when getting the statement "Wow, your life story could be a movie-of-the-week!" is as commonplace as weather-talk.
Such is the spectacular and life-affirming story of Dr. Sheryl Recinos. A runaway teen living on the Hollywood streets, she would one day become a physician who would grant scholarships to struggling youth.
Dr. Recinos' journey is unparalleled in its trials and tribulations, together with its poignant victories. Her story is one of unrelenting hope, tenacity, and redemption.
We are privileged to have this story shared with the world. With a release date set for October, Dr. Recinos' memoir, "Hindsight: Coming of Age on the Streets of Hollywood," is a testament of incredible human resilience in the face of unbelievable adversity.
You have one of the most unique and fulfilling life journeys I have ever come across. Could you please share about your origins and what transformed you into the tour-de-force you have become today?
My childhood was a whirlwind of family dysfunction. I was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina, and ended up here in California first at the age of 13, then permanently at 16.
I somehow survived a number of challenging events in my life which are detailed in the book. I still can't believe this is my story. There was a time when I distanced myself from the reality of my past because I just couldn't believe all that had happened to me.
I'm not really sure what pushed me through it all. I wanted to give a reason why I was so
resilient, but there wasn't a reason. When I talked to people in Hollywood who knew me, they described me as a teen who didn't care what happened and turned her life around when she got pregnant.
I think there's a lot of truth in that, because I didn't have a purpose until I had my first child. She gave me a reason to fight and try to be the best person that I could be.
On your website, you mention that you started medical school in your 30s. What advice would you give those who want to embark on a whole new avenue of life, but are afraid to take that bold step?
Time passes no matter what. If you don't go for your goals you'll grow older anyway. So,
you have to go for your dreams.
There was a good friend I had when I was teaching high school who encouraged me to pursue medical school. I was in my third year of teaching and I was going to start a program to become an administrator. That friend pulled me aside and said, "What are you doing? You don't like teaching. Your dream is to go to medical school!"
She convinced me to start the process. I started taking classes the next semester, but it was 5 or 6 years until I started medical school. I am grateful that she took the time to mentor me and push me towards my goals.
It's important to chase your dreams. I put barriers in front of myself because I thought, "Maybe I'm not good enough because of what I've been through." I thought maybe I didn't deserve medical school.
But, when I went for it, I finally understood it. The interactions I have with patients are so much more profound because I understand where they come from. There's a deeper level of connection with patients when you can see the world the way they see it, and why they make certain choices.
It was rewarding to finally have all of this. I was very lucky to have many people push me because I was able to pursue my dreams and become a physician in spite of the many obstacles that I've faced throughout my life.
You are tireless and very committed to your volunteer work. How did this come about?
I went to medical school in the Caribbean, so I did a lot of volunteering on the island. I went there last year after Hurricane Maria. I volunteered at a hospital. It was traumatic because the island that I loved was devastated. I was heartbroken. It wasn't what I expected.
Everyone had videos on their phones showing exactly where they were when the hurricane happened. I had a hard time dealing with it, but I'm glad I went.
I also volunteer with a student group at a clinic in Mexico, and I see patients at a free clinic several times each year with pre-health students from UC Irvine. I have been going down to Mexico with this group over the past nine years, and I have enjoyed seeing the impact that our group has made in that village.
Throughout your life, who or what have been your inspirations?
My Friend's Place was definitely a turning point for me. They invested in my future one hundred percent. My other inspiration is my kids. I love watching them growing up and seeing that their childhood is so normal even though we moved them around a lot. They never had to go through any things I had to go through.
You have a book that is schedule to be released this October called Hindsight: Coming of Age on the Streets of Hollywood. Tell us about this book and its journey.
My 14-year-old daughter is the model on the front cover. I really want to explain the entire experience in the title.
Throughout the years, I thought I was only going to cover the year when I was 17 and living on the streets of Hollywood. But, as I started to write the memoir, I started to tell the whole story, starting from when I was a young child.
I was the youngest of 5 children. I felt like the story needed an explanation of where I came from, and the effects of my dysfunctional family on my decision making. I ended up staying on the streets for quite a while because I couldn't stabilize.
I was afraid to agree to a [foster care] placement. I had been in foster care when I was younger and I didn't like it. In hindsight, it wasn't the best decision, but it felt like what I had to do at the time.
What message do you hope to share with your upcoming book?
The message I hope to share is two-fold: I want kids to know that there's always a chance to get through the hardest situations. I also want adults and people in caregiving roles to see opportunities to help kids.
As you go through the book you'll see the wrong choices that were made for me, and all the doors that were closed in my face. Nobody was asking me why I was reacting the way I was.
That's why I loved My Friend's Place so much because they have low-barrier conversations with the kids. They don't push struggling youth too far and they let the kids be themselves. They didn't judge me; instead they asked me questions about what my plan was, but they never told me I couldn't achieve those my goals.
A lot of times, in other places, they'd say to me: "You have to go to foster care" or" you need to go home," but they weren't hearing my concerns or asking me to be a part of my own plan.
When I had my daughter, I got into a teen mother's program after my daughter was born and I eventually married her father. I stabilized after that time period. Initially, I struggled. I was still homeless during a good part of my pregnancy.
I ended up back at a shelter and went to a maternity home. I left because I didn't agree with their structure, because their program wouldn't allow for me to go to college and work after she was born.
So, I returned to Hollywood and stayed at a 24-hour McDonald's most nights. I went to My Friend's Place throughout that time. They're in a drop-in program. They do everything they can to help stabilize you, but they don't have housing.
I started a scholarship fund at My Friend's Place this year for youth who are in the same
situation I was in when I was their age. I got a scholarship there when I was a youth. I announced the scholarship at their 30th anniversary celebration in April, and since then they've chosen 4 kids. We will have a luncheon to meet the kids who receive the scholarships.
We are talking about different ways to provide mentors for them. We're thinking of maybe doing a quarterly mentor dinner, but more privately so that the kids can continue their lives without too much interference.
Additionally, I went to their Mother's Day tea and there was another young lady there who was also an alumnus, and it was great to see the kids' faces light up when they realized we came from similar places, but we made it off the streets and lead normal lives now.
What are the most significant defining moments or turning points in your life journey?
One of these moments was when I was very young. My brother and I went to the mountains
with my mom, and she had a breakdown and abandoned us. That moment explained to me
what was happening in my family. I didn't understand that the dynamic in my family was
strange. I didn't know my mom had mental illness until that point. I didn't understand why my brother was already in foster care.
There are other defining moments. I was a very timid girl, and by high school, when my dad
told me to leave, I had no one to talk to. My dad was very controlling. He did a lot of things to maintain control.
My mother and my first step-mother both had mental illness and he had control because he was the one making the decisions for them when they were unwell.
When he married my first step-mother, she was hospitalized right away. So, we went for family counseling. I was 11 and I wasn't interested in talking. The doctor offered to keep me on the adolescent side of the institution, and my dad agreed. I was left in the hospital for two and a half months in the middle of the summer and I wasn't even told why.
That's when I learned about running away. I learned about alcohol. Every step of the way, I met kids who'd tell me how to navigate the situation so that I could be in a safer environment. Because, by that point, being in a controlled environment was not safe for me.
Your life story could really be a Lifetime Movie of the Week.
I get that comment all the time.
I should've known that I wouldn't have been the first. BUT, if you were to cast your biopic, who would play little-girl you, teenaged-you, and adult you?
[Laughing.] I have a manager at work who wants to play me, and she's been very vocal about it. I can see her playing my case manager in the story.
For teenaged me, I'd pick my daughter, if she'd do it. My kids have so much compassion, and
my 14-year-old actually read my entire book before I sent it out to my editor. They're such
good kids. They're always willing to help out. I revealed my story to them slowly. They know why I'm doing what I'm doing and they support me.
For more information on Dr. Sheryl Recinos or Hindsight: Coming of Age on the Streets of Hollywood, visit: SherylRecinosMD.com
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