Author’s note from her book “Still Breathing… From Cancer to Living… A Comprehensive and Personal Guide,” dedicated to all at City of Hope with heartfelt gratitude.
In the fall of 2003, I was diagnosed with blood cancer. Now, I am a Graduate of The City of Hope Bone Marrow Transplant Class of 2004. According to my years of survivorship post-transplant, as we go to press, I am a six year old. I am in the stage of wonderment, excited by all the new things I am learning. I wake up each day invigorated, excited with life, ready for new experiences, new people and new friends. I am no longer afraid of losing everything, for I know I am able to adapt to my new situation and start all over again. My rebirth was made possible by the dedicated researchers and doctors at the City of Hope facility, in conjunction with Hoag Cancer Center, where options are offered, and dreams do come true.
Each year City of Hope hosts an annual event, entitled “Celebration of Life Reunion.” Bone marrow transplant survivors gather together at a grand barbecue. We are greeted by the caring medical team that saved our lives; they look at us in awe, telling us how amazing we now look. Survivors wear pins proclaiming the number of years of their survivorship. Speeches are delivered, we cheer for each other and for the simple fact that we have lived another year. At the end of the event, an aerial photograph is taken of all the bone marrow transplant survivors, gathered together. During the last photo shoot, I stood next to a survivor of 32 years. His picture, along with the aerial shot of heroes, remains on my desk today.
During this reflective event, I always visit my room in the hospital where I was in isolation, to remind myself of how far I have come. Then, I sit outside in the hospital’s beautiful multicolored rose garden, and remember the weeks I spent incarcerated, longing for fresh air. I am always dashed. Roses now signify for me the beauty of life, which I am able to be part of because of those who dreamed the impossible can come true. I feel enormous gratitude. Without the amazing medical help of doctors, researchers, nurses, nurse’s aides, and technicians at City of Hope and Hoag Cancer Center, I wouldn’t be alive today.
Chronologically, I am 59. I realize that although I fear the return of cancer again, I am resilient and love living. If I am again challenged by unwelcome cells in my body, I will again rise to the occasion and do battle.
I was once asked how someone like me, who appreciates living and life so much, could have cancer come knocking on her door. My response to that question was and “why not me?” I am no different than anyone else. But now I have a “bucket list” of things I want to accomplish each year of my survivorship.
My fifth year of survivorship, I decided to participate in The Team in Training Leukemia and Lymphoma Rock and Roll Marathon. I committed to walking a half marathon, 13.2 miles. I joined a team, trained, and promised to raise at least $3,000 for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Foundation. My family was concerned about this commitment, but I was passionate. I will never forget walking with so many people having a genuine awareness of this dreaded disease. I marveled that five years before I could barely move, and now I was walking in a marathon.
And walk I did. I finished 13.2 miles in 3 hours and 24 minutes. I raised $15,000, all donated by my generous supporters. I decided then that I would write a book, to make a difference in the lives of others who “walk in my shoes,” experiencing the challenges of cancer. I wanted to help prepare them for the journey that lies ahead of them.
Upon starting this book I realized how very hard it is to capture this experience, trying to prepare someone for chemotherapy, radiation, doctor appointments, and emotional upheavals. I wanted to “prepare” others for having cancer.
Truthfully, there is no preparation for this journey. But I found that discussing my varied experiences and sharing what I’ve learned allows others to become more familiar with what they might face. By writing this book, I am hoping to pave the way as a navigator, guide and coach for others challenged with cancer, and their loved ones. I will help you manage this doable journey.
Helping those that are facing this trying battle is not only my mission, but my responsibility. I am here for you. You are not alone.