On my birthday a year ago, I wrote in my journal about the role of "luck" in my experience with cancer. And I mean that word for two different things: one, why did the treatment work for me? It works for many, but not all; what's the difference? Why am I OK two years after finishing chemo, but others relapse? Others never reach remission at all. Why did I? And two, while I don't mean to suggest that cancer is a gift (as I wouldn't give it to you), seemingly everything I do in my life is a direct result of my having had cancer. And I like the things I do. I'm still going strong with triathlon (I'll do the Capital of Texas Triathlon a week from Monday, and Buffalo Springs Lake Triathlon on June 28th); I work for Planet Cancer, a non-profit that provides support and advocacy for young adults with cancer; and, on Friday -- my 29th birthday (and, consequently, my two-year no-mo-chemo anniversary), I was offered a job with the Lance Armstrong Foundation, one that I am happily taking and will begin working for on or about June 8th.
Which inevitably leads me to wonder, where would I be without cancer?
Pretty certainly, I would not work for Planet Cancer, nor would I be accepting a position with the Lance Armstrong Foundation. I'm even more certain that I wouldn't be doing triathlons. So do I owe a debt of gratitude to cancer for these things? That hardly makes any sense. And why me? Why am I OK, whereas so many others did not make it?
I think, in the end, the why is irrelevant. Things are, and that's that. I don't get to know why. And I can live with that. But it's weird to think that so much good has come of something so terrible.
I ended my entry last year with:
And so on this, the anniversary of my birth and the end of chemo, I give thanks for all that has been given me, and vow to view it with gratitude and work toward helping others in all the ways I can.
It's good to be reminded of that, because that's good advice.
Two years ago on this Monday, I was put under, cut open, and diagnosed with cancer. Bleh.
However, on this Monday, I met with my radiation oncologist, who went over the CT scan I had done Friday and told me, in no uncertain terms, that cancer is, in fact, my bitch. It has been, and it continues to be.
He said the scans were perfectly clear, that in fact, scar tissue and lymph clusters continue to shrink, and that, in general, I'm a badass. Think it's a technical term.
So. I'm happy. I gotta tell you, I was pretty worried about this checkup, and I was envisioning all kinds of unpleasant outcomes. But in the end, two years has passed, and the cancer is still toast. I'm happy, healthy, and cancer-free. Go Broccoli!!!
I am officially a 70.3 Ironman.
Yesterday I raced in the Longhorn Ironman 70.3, east of town at Decker Lake. And it was really hard.
For the last four months -- really, the last eight months, counting training for CapTex back in May -- I've been training for triathlons. This year, I've done three sprint distance, two Olympic, and now, the Half Ironman. 70.3 miles covered in one day. That's a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, and a 13.1-mile run.
My day started very well, getting enough sleep and a huge breakfast. I even got to snooze a little more before heading to the race. It was a gorgeous, cool morning, and a little after sunrise, the race began.
I was in the seventh wave, starting at 8:13 AM. The swim had me pretty nervous, not because of my own swimming ability, but because when you start swimming with 156 other dudes, it gets a little hectic out there. Throw in the fact that the waves are only three minutes apart (meaning that the last wave before I started was only three minutes ahead, and the wave after us started three minutes after we left), and it gets crowded. And for a lot of people (including me, at times), crowded = panicky. However, just minutes into the start, it's like the waters just opened up before me; for almost the entire swim portion, I never struggled with other swimmers around me. The race was also declared wetsuit-legal just the day before, so the unobstructed swim combined with my wetsuit (and a potentially short course -- there was a lot of speculation that the course was a tad short) meant a personal best in the swim. How best? Well, the two Olympic distances that I'd done, I did almost the exact same time on the 1500m (.93 miles) distance -- 31 1/2 minutes. Yesterday at Decker I finished the 1.2-mile swim in 28:09. Short or no, it's officially listed, so I'm taking it.
Coming out of the water I felt like a million bucks; I knew I had nailed the swim, the morning was still nice and cool, and the announcer called me -- with great fervor -- The Bearded One. Which got me totally pumped. I headed over to the bike, put on my bike shoes and helmet, and headed out of transition. It was then I realized that my helmet wasn't on tight; I took it off, only to realize that a strap on the inside appeared to be broken. Technically, I should not have raced without a proper helmet, but I was damned if I was going to stop then. And wouldn't you know it? Not five miles into the 56-mile bike, I crashed. Ate it. I was looking down to put a water bottle back in its cage and when I looked up, I realized I was drifting right a little. Right about then, my bike fell off the edge of the road onto the grassy shoulder; when I tried to wrest it back onto the road, the drop-off of the road was too great to overcome (some 10 inches), and the bike fell out from under me, myself flying over it and landing on my left side. My hip hit first, then my shoulder/back, and a bit on my left leg. Dazed and shocked, I got off the road and assessed the situation; things hurt, but nothing appeared broken. My bike shorts were ripped, and there was gnarly road rash on my shoulder and leg, but I appeared to be capable of continuing, so I collected myself and waited for a chance to remount and get back in the race. Again, I was damned if I was going to stop unless I had to stop.
Pretty instantly I could feel in my left hip the impact I had just had. It hurt, but not so bad I couldn't go on. And the longer I got into the ride, the less I could feel that pain (as the muscles warmed and loosened with the work). I kept trying not to think how the shit am I going to run like this?, instead just focusing on the task at hand. There were some crazy strong headwinds out there that day, and my ass was increasingly uncomfortable. But I forged on.
I rode strong through the end of the bike, passing quite a few in the last few miles. I returned to transition, dismounted, and got to feel what I was afraid I'd feel -- that pain in my hip, except with the very real impact of stepping instead of cycling. I figured it could be the same; once I got going on the run, the right muscles would loosen and warm, and I'd be able to do it. I hobbled out of there, very noticeably limping, but moving. The first roughly four miles were quite slow, not only because of the discomfort, but also just trying to warm up to the run, getting my land legs back, and not blowing myself up (there being many miles to go). Coming out of the first four or so miles, a friend Jonathan popped out from the spectator area and began jogging with me. Mind you, he wasn't competing; just spectating. But he hopped in right beside me and began jogging along. This was my saving grace. He paced me the rest of the way. Folks, I'm talking nine miles from the time he got onto the course. A little light banter to keep my mind off the task at hand, and running just ahead of me, keeping me going, encouraging me, and generally just making the run bearable. And sure enough, the further we went, the pain subsided little by little, and we began to get just a tiny bit faster, mile by mile. By about mile 11, we were back the trail part of the course (the hardest and hilliest), and we were probably running sub-nine minute miles by then. He just kept pacing me, and I was just not going to quit at that point. My biggest goal of the run -- time aside -- was to run the whole time, even if it was a slow pace; by mile 11, I hadn't stopped (except to walk through water stops to drink, picking up the pace immediately after throwing away my cup) and I knew that I couldn't. Not at that point. I had gone too long without stopping, and I knew I'd be disappointed later if I did then. Faster and faster we went, reaching mile 12, which happens right at the bottom of Quadzilla, a long uphill trail climb. By this point I knew I couldn't even stop for water, because stopping running meant that I would not start again; I'd be doomed to walk. Foregoing the last water stop, steadily we headed up Quadzilla, Jonathan very calming leading the way, checking back every few moments to make sure I was along. We reach the top, and I'm hating life. I have never, in all my life, wanted anything more than to stop running at that point. I mean that. Never, ever in my life. But I knew I couldn't; I had come too far. I kept thinking, 10 minutes and you're done; 8 eight minutes and you're done; 6 minutes...we meandered through a particularly dense trail area, where there is nothing around except trees and brush. It's hot in there, cut off from the breeze, and I knew there was still another hill before the end. I wanted to stop. I wanted to walk. I wanted to do anything in this world but continue to run. But I just couldn't do it. I knew I'd be so disappointed, and this is where I really, really had to dig deep; dig deep like I have never done in all my life, and may never again. I thought of the people for whom I was racing -- Michele, who passed away after a long battle with Hodgkin's a few months ago; Jason, who succumbed to the brain cancer he had fought for four years just the Tuesday previous; and Rebecca, who has active cancer but fights it holistically and alternatively. I tried to think how hard they have/had it; how they'd do anything to be in my situation, running outside, testing your limits, raising money for a cause. And I couldn't stop when I thought about that.
Step by step, I got up the hill, and began to round the corner to the finish line. There it was. 100 feet. 50 feet. 10 feet. And then I AM AN IRONMAN!!!
I wish that here I could tell you how I reveled in my own glory, basking in the delight of my accomplishment. No, because instead, I nearly passed out and had to go to the medical tent for IV fluids. I pushed very hard those few miles, and my body was done. Dehydrated and out of calories, I was at the end. But honestly, you don't want anything left in the tank at the end of one of these. I'm not saying you have to require medical attention, but you hate to get done and think you know? I really could've pushed harder.
The worst part of the immediate medical attention was that I didn't stretch one single bit, and after the 45 minutes I spent laying on a cot, receiving fluids, all my muscles cooled down and tightened, and I could barely move once I was cleared to leave. But it didn't matter. I had completed the race, pain and all.
My times were actually pretty good still, which impressed the hell out of me (but of course made me instantly speculate how good they could have been, had I not busted on the bike). I had wanted to finish under six hours, and I had:
So what does all this have to do with a cancer blog? Well, basically I gave cancer a big fuck you middle finger, and I raised $3,000 along the way for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Reading this and never had a chance to donate? Funny you should ask; you still can at:
Anybody can sign up to do a triathlon on his own; anyone can train with any number of groups in town who prepare folks for these things; however, with Team In Training, you make a commitment to raise money to help battle and ultimately cure blood cancers, and that's what makes our feat all the more amazing. My team of 19 raised $75,000 toward a cure, which is really just a staggering sum for such a small group. Everyone was committed to the cause, and yesterday was merely the cherry on top; the real magic is the four months in the making, the forging of friendships, the busting your ass early in the mornings, the fundraising -- that's what all this is about, not what the clock says as you cross the finish line.
I'm so proud to have been a part of such an amazing thing, and as I've said before, I simply cannot recommend Team In Training any more highly. TNT has had a profound effect on my life, and I've honestly had one of the best years of my life, in large part due to this group and all the good that comes out of it. I'm very blessed to even be here, and it's so empowering to test yourself, to find your own mettle, and to make a tremendous difference while doing it.
A year ago yesterday was this.
Yesterday was this:
As anyone who comes upon this post preeeeeety certainly knows, I had cancer. Hodgkin's lymphoma. Stage IV. It wasn't pretty.
However, I've come out on the other side of this thing, and I'm feeling greedy; it wasn't enough to make cancer my bitch; I want to make it everyone's bitch. Here's where you come in...
As I noted before, I'm training for an Olympic-length triathlon. Now I'm asking for your support.
Through Team in Training, I'm getting ready to take on a 1-mile swim, 25-mile bike, and 6-mile run -- all in one day!
Where do you come in?! This here's the easy part. I'll make you guys a deal -- you throw a coupla (100% tax deductible!) dollars my way, and I'll do all that shit on gameday. Does it get any easier?! Not likely.
Please visit my webpage here (and often for updates!) and help me make cancer a thing of the past. Any donation is appreciated -- I'm not kidding when I say that either. And if you're too broke, just let me know that you hate cancer too. And maybe show up on gameday and give me a high five.
Until I get the Speedo shot up, you'll have to use this for inspiration:
Thank you all so much for your support over the last year and a half, and let's keep puttin' the hurt on cancer.
Every time I start to "move on" from cancer (as though such a notion exists), it keeps drawing me back. I'll never get to leave it behind. And this isn't necessarily a bad thing; it's just the way it is now. It's like a kid; the kid will grow up and move away, but it's not as though you any less have a kid. It's always a part of you, and will grow on its own.
And that's my cancer -- it's growing into something different (not growing growing -- I just had a checkup a week ago and everything is great!); it's hard to describe. But like I was saying, it's like I try to forget it all happened and live like a normal human. And I will; I do. But then it keeps popping up in strange ways, and I can't be dissevered of it. Friends I've made through it; experiences I've learned from it. These are part and parcel with the cancer. And while I'm doing well -- and maybe here is the crux of what I'm trying to get it -- many aren't. I want everyone to be doing well, like me; I want everyone to be done with treatment, and be given a good prognosis, and go out there and do your thing, and move on. But it doesn't happen like that. In fact, I'm the minority.
People will continue to be diagnosed with all kinds of cancer. For every one of me, there are unfortunately quite a few others without the same happy ending. And I don't get to forget about them. Just this evening (just this one evening), I've read a blog post from a friend with breast cancer, herself angry and bitter (and who wouldn't be?) at the upcoming surgery on her left breast; after a mastectomy; after chemo; after radiation. Another friend just got the results of her PET scan, and while things are stable, the scan showed that they are, in fact, still active. Another friend just wrote me, telling me about his life right now, which involves recovering from surgery and cyberknife radiation; recovering from another round of chemo, while waiting for the next; working; and applying to grad school. And then he told me about a friend of his who -- just today, he found out -- died of cancer. This is today, people. One evening.
And meanwhile, I'm emailing a myriad of patients/survivors/caregivers to obtain their permission to reprint varied forum posts, pictures, drawings, etc., for an upcoming book about young adults navigating a cancer experience. And the sad surprises that I encounter hunting down these people include running into MySpace pages and blogs, now defunct due to the passing of the author.
I'm harping on the negative here, which is not all of what I encounter, but the point to be made is that you don't leave cancer behind. It's yours for the long haul. And that's not a bad thing; it's just a thing. It's my thing. This is my baggage, and it's mine to carry. So find a way to make it work for you, I suppose is what I'm getting at.
I signed up, and have begun training, for this.
Journal entry, Sunday, November 5, 2006, 5:49 p.m.: "I am concerned about why I've been sweating so much when I sleep. It's weird and very gross. I was actually fairly embarrassed today after Zach's back was wet after sitting on the couch for like 5 minutes. Gross."
It was a year ago on this day, this holiday, that the ball began rolling on cancer.
"11/23 - Visit to Urgent Care. Dr. Babcock does a chest x-ray and makes a pneumonia diagnosis."
You know where it goes from there. What a strange day last Thanksgiving was; actually, it wasn't strange. I thought I had pneumonia -- that's serious stuff! I remember feeling quite relieved at the diagnosis; I had been having the aforementioned night sweats, fevers, fatigue, achiness -- and here was the answer. Pneumonia! He copied the x-ray he took (that showed a massive spot on my right lung), and I remember showing my mom and telling Elizabeth on the phone about this huge spot on my lung and how I had pneumonia.
Thanksgiving went off as usual after that. I had gone with my dad to the Urgent Care facility at maybe 11, and we returned after several hours -- antibiotics in hand -- to do what you do on Thanksgiving: gorge. Around 3:30 or so, we sat down to eat, and we were all thankful. We were thankful to be together in Austin; thankful for the beautiful weather and great food; thankful I had diagnosed my pneumonia, and would be well on the way to recovery in no time. For in 4 days, I was to return to New York; I had just signed a 2-year lease on a great apartment in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, across the street from my pal Hanna, and I was to move in later that next week. I had had 2 phone interviews with a publishing firm in Manhattan -- I was to follow up on those. Everything was falling into place in NY, after the turmoil and discombobulation of the breakup. Everything was falling into place...
But it wasn't. Or, at least not how I thought it was going to fall into place.
Maybe it's perfectly apposite that all this started on Thanksgiving, the one day a year where you give thanks for all you have. Well, I can certainly say -- a year on -- that I'm thankful to be here. But I think it goes deeper than that...
I haven't been writing lately. As I mentioned before, I think a big part of that is just walking away from everything as best I can, and taking a deep breath. Cancer was (ha! Like it's over!) such an all-encompassing experience that it's good to just step away and look. Observe. Notice. And I have precious little thus far. I know that it's going to necessarily take a while to realize the impact this experience has had -- like, a lifetime. But what I have come to realize is that it wasn't all bad, and not even close. That sounds weird, but I actually have some really fantastic memories and experiences that came of the experience. Don't get me wrong -- I don't know that I'd willingly choose to do it all over again, but it was such a...strange and exciting time.
I grew so much as a person during this experience. I fostered relationships, some that had been out of touch, some already strong; made new relationships and friends; learned a great deal about life. I'm not even sure how to express it, but there were feelings and emotions during this experience that I may never truly know again. You know how songs can bring back a feeling? Well, there are a few that instantly take me back to this time. Alala and Let's Make Love and Listen to Death from Above by Cansei de Ser Sexy, and Mushaboom and 1234 by Feist. I listen to these songs a lot still, so they're losing their recall abilities, but they still take me back to these moments, these nearly tangible moments...finishing chemo, coming home and taking an hour-long bath/shower; I'd emerge, refreshed, and put on CSS. Waking up at 5 in the morning, unable to sleep any longer, and go to my computer and read my friends' blogs or update my own, and listen to Feist. We'll Meet Again and In My Life by Johnny Cash, takes me to a very sad, sad place -- even now. Not a bad place, just sad.
All these songs and recollections help sum up my experience, in a weird way. I'm a very music-oriented person, and this recall is particularly strong in terms of music. Smell is a strong one as well, so if you can think of a smell that takes you back so specifically to a moment, think of that sense. But these songs bring me back to this time in a strong way; back to this experience, this Experience, which is so isolated and disparate in my life.
And this disparateness all begins a year ago, today. On November 5th of last year, writing about my night sweats, how could I have known? On Thanksgiving day, how could I have known? They say life is what happens when you're planning for the future. Well, I got a heapin' serving of Life, served up on Thanksgiving Day.
And what does all this mean? What am I getting at? That I'm OK. I can say that, a year later. I'm here. I'm happy. I'm healthy. And it's Thanksgiving. So thanks. Thank you all. Thank you so much. I'm typing through tears right now; tears of gratitude and relief to be here, a year later. It's cathartic and beautiful. I'm so happy and thankful to be here for another Thanksgiving.
It's out! I've been de-port-ed!!!
Sorry for the huge hiatus, but -- well, but nothing. I've just been trying to get back at it, and in doing so, I think I've been trying to not think about cancer. Stinking thinking.
I just got back from New York a few days ago, which was just amazing. It was my Victory Lap, letting her know that cancer had not won, and that I was back, baby! It really was great, because I left New York without knowing I was leaving -- I never said goodbye, nor was I ready to leave. The weather was gorgeous, I did a ton of fun things, and I got to see all my pals up there. And I wasn't nightsweating all over Matt D's couch, either.
After being stalled for 3 hours on the plane, on the tarmac, we finally left New York and didn't arrive back in Austin until 2 am, technically Wednesday morning. Later, I drove here to Lubbock, where I had all my checkups yesterday. Even though I've been feeling quite well lately, I still was worried, just a bit, as these were the first post-treatment scans and checkups. And like the endless azure skies here in Lubbock, the scans were clear! I still haven't seen the radiologist's report, but my rad onc rolled through my CT and said everything looked great. I asked about the tumor in my right lung -- the one that I was told would never go away, as it was just scar tissue at this point -- and he said that, actually, he was quite surprised that things were moving on this quickly, as it was almost all gone! Keep in mind, people, that this tumor (nay, threemor!) was 4 inches across before treatment began! Not wee or not so wee, but frikkin' huuuge!!! He said, scrolling through my body, that if he didn't know who he was looking at, he almost wouldn't know that said body had had something wrong with it! And after that, he says, you wanna get your port out? DO I?!
We call up Dr. Harrell, and he says sure! come by at 4. This was at 1:30. I'm so connected.
It was a very simple, informal "operation," my body serving as the instrument tray, his wife assisting in a children's examination room, and my dad filming from above.
That smile tells you that I couldn't feel a thing. There's even video, although I need to find a way to edit it to be shorter so I can post it online.
All in all, a good day, even better than I could've hoped for. In my mind, that was kind of the last piece of the puzzle before really starting to move on; I've got a new job (!) to start on the 22nd, and I'd had my Victory Lap, so what I needed was a clean scan, and I got it. I got it.
In what is certain to be the first of many "one year ago today..." posts, I celebrate the one year anniversary of my blog.
As you can read here, one year ago today was a different time in some very important ways, the most obvious of which are that a) I was engaged to be married, and b) I had not been diagnosed with cancer.
But, it being an anniversary, I want to celebrate; I want to celebrate the fact that -- come hell or high water, I kept the blog; I continued with that that I set out to do, which was to document those events in my life I felt worthy of sharing. I wanted friends and family to know what I was going through, what I was learning from and in life; I wanted an outlet for things I felt and thought. And while the things I probably thought were going to happen never did, I still carried through in my task, and it ended up being a great release for me throughout this ordeal.
And here I sit, one year later. In front of a different computer. In a different house. In a different city. In a different state. In a different body. But my posts still appear at the Broccoli662, and I don't intend to stop anytime soon. Happy birthday, Broccoli662. Here's to another year, and many more posts.
You'll have to forgive me for my extended hiatus -- been trying to get back to some kind of "normalcy" (one of many loaded words were going to be exploring today, kids!). I now live in Austin. And I got back from cancer camp yesterday.
OK, it was a "cancer retreat" hosted by Planet Cancer, a non-profit organization setup to assist young adults (i.e., ages 18-40) in dealing with cancer. And it was amazing.
I had high expectations going into it, but all were exceeded. I think what I was looking for was just a relaxing weekend with a bunch of folks who understood exactly what I've been through. And it was that -- and lots more.
It was held at a place called The Crossings, which was a gorgeous facility, built by Dellionaires, as I understand -- so it was pretty sweet. So right off the bat, we're good, because the place is just ridiculously nice; the food, the accommodation, the facilities -- everything.
Without getting too caught up in what we did each day, I want to talk about what I'll be taking from this weekend. Like I said, I was looking for shared experiences; and there were many of them. For starters, of the 25 participants, 6 (counting me) had had Hodgkin's, so immediately, I had a connection with these people. Which is not to say that I didn't connect with the other folks, but let's just call it a sub-bond with these people.
Over the course of the weekend, through many great conversations, I learned a lot about "survivorship" -- this is the 2nd loaded word for today! Most of the 25 people (22, I believe) were "survivors," in that they're not in treatment, and, well, they're not dead. I'm included in that figure. So when people say "survivor," it's not that it's not true -- I mean, I'm here, right? -- it's just that it's such a subjective thing. I "survived" my cancer, but it's never finished. I think this is one of the 3 big things I learned from the weekend...
It's never finished. Yes, I've finished treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma. The doctors hope I never have cancer again. And certainly, it's not impossible that I'll never have another cancer experience. There's absolutely no way to know. I could recur in the next 2 years, in which case I'll need a stem cell transplant; I could develop a secondary malignancy, like leukemia, any time from now on (as one girl in the group had). In which case I'd probably get a stem cell transplant. I could develop cardiac problems from the adriamycin; I could develop pulmonary problems from the bleomycin; I could get God-knows-what from the radiation; the point is that, yes, I "survived" Hodgkin's, but it's just never done.
I want to point out here that I'm not angry about this; I'd obviously rather be alive now with all these risks, than dead at this exact second. Which is -- say, 40 years ago -- what I would be. Dead.
The point here is that there was lots of good talk about "survivorship," and our journey through it. I'm finding -- both through my own experience, but mostly from the others I met -- that people really want you to be "done," in large part because they want you to be fine and live, of course, but also because it's a reflection of their own fear; you want me to be OK because you want to continue to see me, but you want to know that your own mortality is OK for now. If I can survive this, then you'll be OK, in a twisted sort of way. But that's just it -- people don't seem to understand that this is never finished. Even with an excellent prognosis like Hodgkin's or testicular cancer, you're never finished. Even if the doctors say the cancer is gone, you're not done with the process. That's why "survivor" is so loaded -- sure, I'm a survivor now. But I'm as much a survivor as any of you out there are -- it just means you're not dead of cancer right now. Yes, I'm in "remission," but I'm only in remission until they know if the cancer is back; cancer could be festering inside my body right now, but until I'm told otherwise, I'm "in remission." And even after 5 years -- when I'm "cured" -- I'm not finished. It just still means I'm not dead from Hodgkin's. But what if I get leukemia? How cured am I? Am I still a "survivor"?
I'm probably coming off as ungrateful or pessimistic, but all I'm trying to elucidate is that "survivor" is a very loaded and subjective word, and people who have not had a cancer experience just need to understand that it's never finished; it's going to be a challenge the rest of my life, and will almost certainly affect my lifespan at some point. Again, not trying to be pessimistic, but my life is irrevocably changed, and probably for the shorter. So before you say that I "beat cancer," just remember that I'm always going to be trying to be cancer from now until the day I die. I am a "survivor" right now, but it's subject to change without my approval.
I think the greater lesson here is about learning to let go and to "live in the moment." These are things I learned about this weekend. And not because everyone there had learned it, either. One of the participants there really impressed upon me a great deal about this philosophy.
Learning to let go. We've all heard something similar to this, and we all probably try to do it. But he really impressed me with his ability to do this. He had no spite, no anger, no resentment, no anything negative about his cancer. In a nutshell, he was told that if he did not undergo a stem cell transplant, he would die. He was 23 when told this. He got second opinions, he did his research, and he refused. His doctor got very angry with him, even threatened to not treat him, if he would not undergo the transplant. But he had made up his mind that he would not -- he believed he did not need it. He understood that he could die, and he was OK with that. And here's where it gets interesting -- we could all say, with 20/20 hindsight, that we made the right decision about something a life choice -- because we're here; he's alive, so you could say that he's just saying that because he didn't die. But I could see in his face, in his eyes, that he really, truly had accepted the possibility of death, and was OK with it. And yet he knew he wasn't going to die.
I'll pick up further along with his story, but here's where we start on "living in the moment." I think this means accepting your fate without question, and living otherwise. Something I can't do -- haven't even come close to doing -- is accepting the possibility of death. This is a possibility for me. I'm seemingly OK right now, but if I relapse, I could die. Even if I don't relapse, I could get leukemia and die. These are not at all impossibilities. And something I've done all throughout this blogging experience is shield myself -- and, ultimately, you, the reader -- from this word. This concept. This finality. But it's time I talked about it.
What I want to learn from his experience is to accept death. This is not saying I'm hoping to die, obviously. But I think I'll live my life much more comfortably and happily if I can accept death. I mean, we're all going to die. It could be tomorrow, it could be in 85 years. Somewhere in there, each and every single one of us will perish. Death is inherent to life. None of this is news to any of us. But my death might come sooner than yours. And I want to learn to be OK with this.
I know this is probably very morbid to some of you; it might be making you uncomfortable. But I need to deal with this, because I've been putting it off. I'm greedy. I made it this far, and I don't want to stop now.
Again, don't get me wrong -- I'm going to fight for my life. I don't want to die. But if I'm going to live in fear of death, than I don't think I'll be living my life. It's as simple as that. And I really think he's living his life as fully as one can, in part because of his acceptance of his fate; his mortality.
And this feeds into "letting go." His personal philosophy seems to be about "living in the moment." We've all heard that, and it triggers different ideas in everybody. But what I think he means is that you just try to enjoy what you've got, right now, right here. Whatever it is. It doesn't mean cramming in a bunch of stuff in your day, or making sure you see everybody you ever knew again. It could be a car ride to work. But enjoy the moment for what it is. You're alive now, and that's all that matters. What will happen in the future is entirely out of your control (more on that in a bit...). So just be happy right this second. Sounds easy, but is perhaps one of the hardest things to do.
I think cancer "survivors" need to really embrace this idea. And part of that -- as he showed me -- is letting go of the past. If our time here is limited -- which it most certainly is -- what's the point of carrying around negativity about the past? Anger at past relationships; spite for former bosses; jealousy about former girlfriends; resentment about past choices. If anyone can tell me something good that has come of carrying around a negative emotion, I'd be happy to know about it. But what's the point? If it doesn't do good in your life, let it go.
And this has to do with cancer, for me. It has to do with everything else to, but I've got to start with cancer. I don't want to be angry that I got cancer. I don't want to feel cheated, or like my life is unfair. I got cancer, and that's it. I had it; I might still have it; I may have it again. It doesn't matter. There's nothing I can do about it, so move on. I don't want to harbor anger or resentment because it will do nothing to improve my life. Moving from there is being selfish; I had cancer, so I'm entitled to so-and-so; I was sick, so people should treat me better; I could've died, so my life is more valuable than another persons. None of these are true, and I don't want to think that way. I want to be happy for today. And that's it. I want to leave the past behind, and not worry about the future. I want to be happy right now, because it's right now and I have it. I may not have "it" tomorrow. And that's OK. I have right now, and that can be enough.
And the thing about all of this is that it shouldn't be specific to cancer "survivors"; anybody can live this way, and -- I think -- be happier as a result.
I can't say I've made a concrete change in my life this way yet, but I'm really going to work at it. I really want to learn to just embrace right now, and not let the past or future get in the way of that.
And now, the future. When I say there's nothing I can do about what's going to happen in the future, that's also a very loaded, subjective statement. It's true that I might get cancer again in the future, and -- in many ways -- there is nothing I can do about that. But what I can do, I should do. And that has to do with health.
3 people out there this weekend -- including the guy I've been talking about -- made extreme health changes in their lives, and while it's impossible to say whether or not that will make an ultimate difference in the near or far future, it seems to have helped greatly up to this point, and may very well continue to help them in the future.
One girl had an essentially not very treatable cancer, and after the doctors told her that there really wasn't much else they could do for her, she (and her husband) took it upon themselves to look past the doctors and western medicine, and see what alternatives there were. In a nutshell, when she goes to the doctors now, they say everything looks great; they're not going to say she's cured, nor does she know that it will never come back. But the health choices she's made seem to have greatly impacted her current situation, and she feels much better as a result.
Same with the guy I've been discussing; when he was told that he'd need a stem cell transplant or he'd die, he did not believe that. He believed that -- after the chemo drugs had shrunk his tumor to a much smaller size -- that engaging his own immune system to its fullest would provide the remainder of the work to be done.
So I think the idea is the same for all 3 of them -- it's not that they tried to fight cancer without doctors or medicine; instead, it was a combination of traditional and non-traditional methods. They all believe that, but making their bodies as healthy as possible, that their own immune systems could provide the further resistence they needed. And it's hard to say they made bad choices, because they all seem to be doing very well, and their doctors agree.
So I'm not talking here about just eating more veggies and that being enough; these guys have made some pretty drastic changes in their mental and physical approach to health, and I'm very impressed. Where exactly that's going to take me, I'm not sure; but what I learned is that I think there's a lot more that can be done -- in many, many cases -- for future success than just what the doctors say. And I'm going to leave it relatively open-ended there...
So I imagine you can hear in my writing the impact this weekend had; I made some really, really strong connections with some people that I honestly believe are going to continue to affect me long from now; I learned the start of some valuable lessons that I think are going to continue to shape me and my life philosophies from now on. I feel emotionally recharged, and I like that. I went to the retreat hoping for something, and got it tenfold. And I think I'd be ungrateful if I didn't use that experience to enhance my life from this point on.
While at the retreat, we watched a documentary that will be debuting on TLC later this month about a girl who video journaled her cancer experience from diagnosis through present day. She was diagnosed with an incredibly rare cancer, one with no known cure, and with -- ultimately -- a death sentence. It's an incredibly slow-moving cancer, and her doctors compared it to a game of chess; they would wait for the cancer to make the first move.
The documentary is about her life from that point on, and everything she did to find treatments, and how to live life knowing that you have cancer in you. She says something in the beginning which I think can be applied to any cancer experience -- In looking for a cure, I found my life. And that's what I'm doing -- I'm finding my life.