A little over 10 years ago, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I was 25 years old, newly living on my own and still a rookie to the work force, having only graduated from college four years prior. What I thought was simply a case of nasty bronchitis turned out to be a tumor, which had taken up residence in my chest. I named the tumor Ichabod, making it easier to talk about and helping me feel just a little less afraid of what I was going through. I was already working in research at this time and so, thanks to my study Project Manager at that time, I began my six months of treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering in NYC under the care of the head of the Lymphoma Department.
When I received my diagnosis, I knew I would be ok, because the treatability rate for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma was so high. I knew I would not die. I clung to that knowledge every single time I when into the city for my chemo. Sure, I felt pretty miserable and my hair was thinning causing me to become vain and uncomfortable with my appearance, but while I sat in the waiting area, I saw people much sicker than myself. I felt sorry for them…..and worried for them; not for myself. I knew I was going to be ok. And I was right…I was ok. Six months of chemo, a shaved head and crappy veins later, and I began the process of putting this experience behind me and moving on.
For a long time, I didn’t want to call myself a cancer survivor. I felt guilty “surviving” something so treatable while I watched others suffer. It is only very recently, however, that I’ve finally come to the realization that surviving doesn’t JUST mean not dying from something. It means going through the experience of something traumatic and not only being OK, but being BETTER from having gone through it. Surviving the EXPERIENCE. And I did that. I was lonely and scared and very sad for those months…and while I did not die, I did go through something extremely humbling and traumatic.
Roughly a year after my remission, I lost my home to a devastating fire which burned not only my home but the adjoining eight additional condos in my building….bringing me to yet another experience I would need to “survive.” Picking up pieces of my life out of the ashes and essentially starting over was without question one of the most trying experiences of my life. But there is a reason I wasn’t home during the fire. And a reason I “survived” this as well…..
I knew that there was more in store for me than these harrowing moments in time. I knew there HAD to be light at the end of the tunnel….and again, I was right. About three months after my house fire, I attended a wedding. The wedding of my late brother’s best friend to a girl I’d been in Girl Scouts with as a child. It was there that I met my future husband, best friend and father of my two beautiful daughters (ages 3 and 6).
I learned the hard way that in life, we are dealt unfair hands sometimes…but the way we get through them ultimately is what defines us –not the experience itself. My cancer, the fire, and other losses alone are not what made me the strong woman I am today - it's that I kept my smile and determination throughout, as best I could. We must always TRY to stay positive –even when life gets unbearably hard; because if you continue to believe in the light at the end of the dark tunnel, the light will find you…every time.
World Cancer Day