Posts Tagged ‘chemo’

On Aug. 12, 2015, I underwent a stem cell transplant, the goal of which was to push my multiple myeloma into remission. The procedure had some unexpected benefits.

Spam, of the non-blue metal can variety.

Spam, of the non-blue metal can variety.

There are 3,277 less emails in my in-boxes.

I have several email accounts, some that I review on a daily basis, others less often. Recovering from my transplant has given me ample time to cull thousands of unread emails. Among the keepers were guidelines on a new writing contest and a chocolate caramel brownie recipe I’d begged from a friend. Long gone are pleas from the Russian brides to help them find rich American husbands, 120 different secrets on how I can be as thin as Jennifer Aniston, and 294 delivery notifications from UPS for packages I never ordered.

I have a new light fixture in my kitchen. 

The fixture itself had been gathering dust in my basement for five years because the house needs new wiring, the ceiling needs re-painting, we’ll wait until the kitchen is remodeled, etc. Prior to my coming home from the hospital, our house underwent a deep cleaning to protect my weakened immune system. I’m not going to question how the light fixture became a part of that project. I’m just going to smile and bask in the inviting glow now emanating from my kitchen ceiling.

Katie, Andy and Bethannie, members of my amazing transplant team.

Katie, Andy and Bethannie, members of my amazing transplant team.

My faith in people finding their true calling is renewed.

It takes a special kind of person to work in a transplant unit. And they don’t all grow up knowing that’s what they want to do.

Barb was an accountant for 20 years before her stepmother had a stem cell transplant. Barb was one of her caregivers, which was enough to convince her to devote her professional life to caring for transplant patients. Glenda’s bank customers often remarked on her compassion and sense of humor. She thought she could use those skills to do more to help others and now she does as a nurse technician in the transplant unit.

Many of the incredible people who cared for me during my transplant had similar stories. It convinced me that we all have a place in life where we’re truly supposed to be and no matter how long it takes to find it or what circumstances will ultimately lead us to it, if you want to get there, you will.

I no longer think every day about having cancer.

Because I don’t know if I do. And I won’t know for sure until Day +100 when I have another bone marrow biopsy. That means for the first time in over a year, I’m not on chemo. Sure, there are plenty of other new meds to get used to, but mentally and physically, that break from chemo, no matter how short, is huge to me.

Little victories. We all have them. Thanks to my transplant, I’m finding something to be grateful for every day until the anticipated BIG victory arrives on Day +100.

What little victory are you celebrating today?

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It's all in the attitude, baby.

It’s all in the attitude, baby.

Shortly after being diagnosed with cancer this spring, I was informed I wasn’t suffering enough.

What he said:

You’re not having surgery? Marjean had a double mastectomy.

You’re keeping your hair? Chuck went bald…twice.

You have insurance. Joan didn’t have any; we’re still doing benefits.

You don’t know what REAL cancer is.

What I could have said:

I get a kidney transplant if the chemo doesn’t work.

Hair grows back.

I’ve had cancer insurance since I was 19 because my mother, who died from cancer, was planning ahead.

You don’t know shit about my experience with REAL cancer. 

What I DID say:

Nothing. I walked away and quit telling people I had cancer.

I’m a third generation cancer patient; there has never been a time in my life when a family member wasn’t battling, beating or dying from cancer. I knew what chemo was before I knew where babies came from. I was so used to bald relatives I couldn’t recognize them with hair. Cancer was something people in my family GOT; this spring, it was just my turn.

Publicly I’ve helped with countless cancer benefits; logged miles in numerous cancer walks, including the 60-mile Breast Cancer 3-Day which I’ll do again next summer in memory of my mom if my doctor says I can; attended cancer awareness and memorial ceremonies; written articles and PSAs about cancer; and amassed an impressive collection of “Cancer Sucks” gear.

Privately I’ve shaved heads when the hair started to go; changed diapers on loved ones who changed mine when I was a baby; squeezed hands during chemo treatments; told doctors to go to hell when they announced there were only months left; whispered goodbye over the phone in the middle of the night because I couldn’t drive the hundreds of miles fast enough to do it in person; and been a pallbearer and a eulogist.

Don’t know what REAL cancer is? Screw you.

Many people live with cancer without ever having it. When you do get that diagnosis, no matter how well it’s delivered (and my doctor did a great job with the news), it scares the hell out of you. Because cancer kills people; everybody knows that.

Myeloma’s not killing me and it’s doubtful it will. It’s one of those cancers where the conditions it can cause – in my case, total kidney failure – is worse than the cancer itself. So I take chemo, do IV treatments, have bone marrow biopsies and wait to see what happens. Do I feel lucky that’s the kind of cancer I have? Every day. Do I feel guilty that I’m getting off easier than so many other people with cancer? Every day.

Unless you’re knocking on death’s door, there will always be someone whose burden is heavier, whose suffering is greater than yours. That can’t diminish the impact of a cancer diagnosis on you and the people who love you. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you don’t have enough cancer to matter. It matters to you and that’s enough.

You may not have heard of myeloma, but you WILL know these people who have or had it: Tom Brokaw, Geraldine Ferraro, Peter Boyle, Roy Scheider, Ann Landers, and Sam Walton.