Thursday, June 27, 2013

Giving Back

Recently, my thoughts have been going about a mile a minute due to some more than somber circumstances. A close friend of the family has recently been diagnosed with two different forms of cancer.  One form is so rare that the outcome of the treatment plan is uncertain.  I have spoken to him a few times and have made two visits.  He has even stated to others that out of all his visitors, my visits have meant the most to him.  Is it because we share the experience of cancer and all the emotions, thoughts and fears that come with it?  During our first visit, I just sat and listened to him.  At times, I held his hand.  I understood what he was saying.  I understood his fears and the concern for his family that he may leave behind.

It became clear to me after my second visit, that I became his 'hope'.  His hope of surviving the two different forms of cancer that has violated his body.  I am proof that even though cancer violated me twice, I still survived.  Even knowing I had survived from the help of my donor, I'm still here.

I want to be that beacon of 'hope' for others as well or at least assist those suffering from cancer in finding their beacon of 'hope..  I want to empower them to fight, no matter how tired or lousy they may feel.

When reflecting on my own experience with cancer, I do not look at it as a negative.  It has been enlightening and has opened my eyes to the strengths I didn't know I had.

This is what I want to do.  This is my passion.  This is what I'm meant to do and my purpose.  I want to be there for those who are suffering from the effects of cancer, whether it's the patient, or the patient's family.  This is how I want to give back.

I'm trying to find my niche.  I'm not one that some would consider 'out-going' or the 'life of the party'.  I'm more the type of person to be behind the scenes thinking and planning.  I having been thinking and planning for some time, and hopefully, will be taking the next steps to put my plan into action.

So in the words of Maya Angelou "my mission in life isn't merely to survive; but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style".

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Hello, My Name is...

Do you ever fully recover from a cancer diagnosis? Is it similar to a person who is addicted to alcohol, drugs, or some other form of addiction?It's not about the craving or the need for it, but the fear of its return. This is one thing I learned at the support meeting I attended.  The speaker made a correlation between someone being addicted to alcohol or drugs and trying to live day by day sober.  Well, the same could be said about cancer.  For those of us who have suffered from the disease and are now currently in remission, some of us live each day struggling with the thought of relapse.

Yesterday was the the four year anniversary date of my initial diagnosis.  It's very fresh on my mind.  I had a difficult time sleeping last night because of it.  I tried many times to use 'positive thinking' about where I'm at now regarding my health.  Anytime I began thinking negatively, or became fearful , I found something positive to erase the negative feelings.

Today, I was faced with one of those fears.  I discovered it after I got out of the shower and was getting ready for work.  While I was putting lotion on my legs, I discovered a few bruises on my shin.  One of those was bigger than the others.  I instantly thought about my initial bruising I had when I was initially diagnosed, and then I thought about the bruising when I relapsed.  Each of those times, the bruises, were slightly different.  The bruises today, resembled my relapse bruises.  I reacted instantly by stripping down to the bare and looking in the mirror trying to discover if there were any more I wasn't aware of.  Once I saw there were no more bruises, I began to calm down.  But not enough for my peace of mind.  Once I got dressed and finished getting ready, I went looking for my husband.  I needed his reassurance that the bruises looked normal.  I needed him to tell me it was okay.  But even with his reassurance, I'm still fearful.

I'm wracking my brain thinking of any incident that could have initiated these bruises.  I haven't thought of anything yet, but I'm sure there is a reasonable, healthy explanation. I will be more hyper-aware of my activities until I meet with my doctor in mid-July.  I need to do this because, if it is relapse, time is not on my side.  I will just keep hoping and praying this is just typical bruising and try moving forward with my life.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Once Upon A Time...

Once Upon A Time, four years to be exact, there was a young women whose body was changing.  The changes were not for the better, they were far worse.  She was developing mouth sores, her tastes in foods were changing, her hair was becoming lifeless and dull.  She would go to bed with near flawless skin and wake up to bruises the size of softballs or even larger without any particular incident causing them. She knew deep down that something was wrong and that something was Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

On June 25, 2009, my world completely changed.  My goals were no longer my goals.  My outlook on life was no longer the same.  I had less than 24 hours to make peace with myself and the many people in my life because I wasn't sure if I was going to make it.  I had to prepare my children, who were 6 and 4 at the time, that their mommy was going to be gone for sometime.  I had to explain to them that I would be having long stays in the hospital, sometimes weeks/months at a time, while in isolation.  There were times, I couldn't comfort them with hugs or kisses for fear of becoming sick due to my suppressed and even, at times, non-existent immune system.  All of our lives were uprooted, living between home, hospital and hospital housing that were over two hours apart from each other.  We even celebrated holidays and birthdays in the hospital.

This was just the beginning to our "new beginning".  I wasn't the only one affected.  My family, friends, co-workers, etc. were all affected in some way.  Even though it was a fight and struggle, it taught me so much.

It has taught me to take each day, one day at a time.  It has opened my eyes to the beauty of life.  It has shown me what things are truly important and has made me aware not to worry about the trivial things.  I have learned to stop worrying about the things that can't be controlled because its a waste of energy and time.

I'm still learning what this 'new normal' means. I'm trying to discover what is next in my life's journey.  I certainly know what is my passion.  Now, I just need to figure out how to see it through.

I hope that I have shown others, and especially my children, that we all struggle at some point in time.  Some may struggle more than others.  But those struggles are only temporary and with the right attitude, you can achieve anything you set your mind too.

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A 'Bucketful' of Wishes

Before cancer there were times when I thought of things I would like to do or accomplish.  At the time they were just idle thoughts and wishes.  However, now, after being faced with my mortality not once, but twice, it has given me the incentive to accomplish the goals I have set for myself.

My 'bucket list' doesn't need to involve any great leaps in faith, by sky diving or putting my life at risk by swimming with sharks.  My list includes things that touch me on an emotional level, that move me spiritually.  I love discovering new places and experiencing that "awe" of seeing something that nature created or something man-made that mystifies the mind.  I love being educated about other cultures and people's lifestyles.  And I love history, history of our own nation, and the history of other countries.

So here is my 'Bucket List', these are my wishes, and even if I can't complete it all, I am, at least, hoping to complete some of the things that will allow me to feel that life just isn't about work, sports, and sitting at home.  Life is about experiencing as much as you can and taking advantage of all that is out 'there' in the wide world we live in. :)

Deanna's 'Bucket' List:

Most Likely to Be Accomplished Bucket List:
  1. Face my fear of flying (so I can accomplish my list)
  2. Meet my donor, Andrea, (in Germany or U.S.)
  3. Experience an up close encounter with a Gorilla (female or Silverback) 
  4. Visit Grand Canyon
  5. Visit Mt. Rushmore
  6. Visit all 50 states 
  7. Go zip lining
  8. *Whale watching
  9. *Disney World 
  10. *Hawaii
  11. A solo trip - time with myself to a place I've never been, some place warm, sunny and bright with color
Note: Items marked with * are things I did before as a child but want to experience with my husband & children

Ultimate Bucket List (with no monetary limitations)
  1. Visit European countries, visit castle ruins, and experience the cuisine, and learn the history that I have read about
  2. See and visit the Egyptian Pyramids
  3. Experience the Outback (not the restaurant) and all that Australia offers
  4. Visit the Aztec/Mayan ruins and experience tropical rain forests
  5. Visit the great European museums and cathedrals

These lists are not complete, more will be added as more things come to mind...these are just a few that I wish to accomplish and experience.

Think about what things move you, emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually.  You don't need to be near death to do what you want to accomplish.  Start jotting things down and hopefully, your wishes will come true.

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

My Top 10 Blessings

Tonight I attended my first Cancer Support meeting.  It was very enlightening listening to other peoples experiences with cancer and their different forms of treatment. While many of us shared similar experiences, we also had many differences.  With those differences, tonight, at times, I felt rather alone.   It appeared to me that the others have come to terms with what they have been through or are going through.  Others are currently going through treatments and trying to survive.  Even one woman living in fear of wondering will she ever relapse. It's truly amazing how our experiences and even our thoughts are so similar but yet so different.  Even with those similarities, I still felt so alone.  Do we all feel this way?

I am definitely going to continue to attend the meetings.  I created new bonds and hopefully, established new friendships.  I felt empowered by the words of others.  And even knowing each of us has had our own unique experience with the disease, we all share a commonality.  We will forever be tied to one another even after this one meeting.  There is acceptance, no one is right and no one is wrong, there is no judgment.  We are who we are.

At the conclusion of the meeting, I was really impacted by what one woman brought to my attention.   We were familiar with each other due to common acquaintances and, after the meeting, she motioned for me to speak with her after.  When I approached her, she showed me a list she made that she titled "10 of Deanna's Many Blessings" which were as follows:

1. Mom - gave me life and brought me into this world
2. Dad - also contributed in me being here
3. Husband - stay committed & never abandoned
4. Son
5. Daughter
6. Financially Ok
7. Great Dr.'s
8. Cancer (Then/Now/Later)...what it meant then and the strides in treatment now and what it could mean in the future
9. Brain - Intellect, Absorb, Learn, etc
10. Love of Many

I was very impacted by what she had given me.  It was one of the greatest gifts ever.  I will forever keep that piece of paper that she jotted this list on.  In fact, I may even frame it.  Because it is a reminder of what is truly important and the many blessings I have in my life, that even fear can not erase.  So I thank her with all of my heart.  I was truly touched.  

Hopefully, this will give you something to think about.  When in a moment of reflection, what things or who would be in your top 10 of your many blessings???  Write them down and when you are having a moment of weakness or feeling down emotionally, pull out that list.  It's amazing how uplifting it can be.  :)

Monday, June 3, 2013

Packing It Away...But Not Forgotton

Well, last night I decided it was time to face the fear and the emotions that come with purging my closets and drawers of what my life consisted of for almost 3 years.

This act of purging wasn't intentional.  I became overwhelmed with what I consider "clutter" in my life.  My closets and drawers held useless items that haven't been used for quite some time.  So I began cleaning out drawers and some closets.  While I was doing this, I came across many items that I tucked away hoping to never be seen again for many, many years.

One of the items I found were the 'consent' papers to allow the process of conditioning my body for the stem-cell transplant.  As I picked up the papers and began reading, I was immediately taken back to the day of signing the papers.  I remembered hearing the words "toxic" and "lethal".  I remember hearing the importance of "fighting" and having the "will to live".  Statements of "lethal doses of chemo" and "destruction to vital organs" of my body.  Bolder and more serious statements of the seriousness of what's next.  I remember thinking to myself, "This is it.  This is the time that I need to decide.  This is the time to live...or die."

And as I'm going through all the papers, medical supplies, cards of support and well-wishes, drawings and pictures, and even gifts, I'm thinking about each moment or memory that comes with them.  It's not a simple thing to just throw away because each thing has left a heavy, emotional imprint in my mind.  Some of those imprints are happy and many are so emotionally draining, I had to stop and move on to something else.

I wish it were as easy as throwing your 'typical' garbage away, such as food wrapping or packaging, or a paper plate, paper towel, or the annoying junk mail.  But it can't just be thrown away.  There are too many emotional ties to each item.

While each of those memories of being in the hospital, or at home with Home Health, were not as draining and stressful as the memory and thinking "I did this before".  "Oh my God, I did this before"!  "I did this 2 1/2 years ago and what happened after"?  "I relapsed".  I kept thinking "I was doing well, just like I'm doing now and I didn't have a clue that my body had lost the battle with Cancer".  "Could this be the same thing"?  "Can this happen a second time"?  I keep telling myself, "This time is different".  "This time its not my cells fighting the fight".  "My donor cells are stronger and healthier and are winning the battle". So, I keep reminding myself of this but it still doesn't take away the small bit of fear.

Will it ever go away?  When will I be totally comfortable without that fear of relapse?  I just keep telling myself to continue moving forward.  There will be times that will trigger an unpleasant memory of the past few years and I need to tell myself that things are different this time.  Before transplant, my cells were not healthy, and now, the cells I have are stronger and are fighting the fight.

That's all I can do.  I need to take things one day at a time and embrace all the loveliness around me which are my family and friends and the many others who have had a positive impact on my life.  I need to keep the positive and extinguish the negative things.  And keep holding my head up high, smile and enjoy this 'third' chance at living!!! :)