And What Followed...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Remembering Harrison

Harrison Leonardo, after spending more than half of his precious life
fighting cancer, has passed away. Harrison's story was and always has
been... and will continue to be... one of major inspiration to me and
so many others.

Life... is... Precious...

with love,

Saturday, July 21, 2007

PET/CT Scan Resuts

PET/CT Scan Results

My Bone Marrow Transplant specialist, Dr. Nade called to read the official report:

"There has been COMPLETE RESOLUTION of previously identified anterior mediastinal hypermetabolic tissue. There is no evidence of metabolically active neoplasm."

In other words, the tumors have completely vanished. Poof. Gone. The scans are 100% crystal clear.

My radiologist, Dr. Krazny said:

"There is no indication of cancer whatsoever."

Not one blip. Not even a speck. I'm as fresh as a newborn.

My oncologist, Dr. Piro showed me the scans. The images were a cool blue, a peaceful blue. A vast empty void of pure, unadulterated pristine health.

I am absolutely, completely, without-a-doubt, you-betcha-britches cancer-free.

After 20 months of uncertainty and heartache, this is beyond Miracle.

All my love,

P.S. More later. I need to sit down and catch my breath!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Upcoming Scans

The nervousness is beginning to mount as the dates for the PET/CT scans and Bone Marrow Aspiration procedure approach. I cannot stress enough how important these tests are. The results of these tests are EVERYTHING to me. It's like waiting for the letter telling you whether you got into your dream college or not. Or waiting to hear if you got that awesome job. Or waiting for that pregnancy test to turn blue or not. Your whole life hinges on the results. Except this time, it is not the course of your life but literally your own life that is at stake.

I've been doing okay and been dealing with only minor to moderate health issues (knock on wood!). These tests will determine if the bone marrow transplant was truly a success and possibly determine if it will be a long-term success.

Thursday, July 19 I have my PET/CT scans in Santa Monica and Tuesday, July 24 is the Bone marrow aspiration. I should get the results soon after. I hope to come back with good news.


P.S. I will be at City of Hope for a day of appointments tomorrow. I was hoping we could say a little prayer for my hormone levels which remain a bit tweaked.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Francis Rex

Originally I was going to post a message I wrote the other day about how I celebrated my one-year BMT anniversary on July 5th. However another anniversary, a somber one that I feel is far more important to remember, is also upon us.

Friday July 13th 2007, will mark the anniversary of the day my brother, Francis Rex, lost his battle with Cancer. Seventeen years ago, on Friday July 13th 1990, I held his hand as it slowly went cold. I remember my mother didn't scream. She cowered over the hospital bed, exhausted and broken after five draining years, pleading with everyone in the room to please "Embrace him while he is still warm." I remember my father frozen and unreachable, his eyes scorched and sunken, staring at the white sheets that held his eldest son. I remember the nurses sobbing. And it was the doctor who had gone mad and was screaming, clenching hair in ripping fists, repeatedly shouting over and over and again, "He is in a better place now!" Shouting at no one, but instead, it seemed, to placate himself.

And my thoughts raced, raced as far as it could go, out of the room, away from this boy who could not possibly be my brother because my brother could not possibly be dead. My thoughts ran far away, back to when before he got sick. Back to BMX bikes and Rocket pops and Little League games. Back to summer and hopping across river stones, watermelon juice dripping on bent elbows, and silly giggles in the back of our big red station wagon. In our backyard pool we used to pretend "National Geographic". Rex would flop, swim and splash while I'd play Jacques Cousteau and follow his every move, describing in great detail this "strange new animal" to our enraptured TV audience.

In the years before he died, Rex and I would often stay up late talking. While other kids were gabbing about GI Joe, Donkey Kong and soccer camp, Rex and I would ask each other questions about God and life and what happens after we die. Back then, I was 14 and he was 12. He dreamed someday to become a pediatric oncologist and save the lives of other children with cancer. His wish was to be able to comfort a young patient like himself and give hope with his own story of survival… "So when one of them says `I'm scared' I can tell them I was scared too but look at me now, I'm cured."

In the days that my brother fought cancer, he never complained or revealed how scared he was. Rex held immense strength, profound wisdom and peace in his heart… all in the years before he turned 16. Because of our late night talks I thought I understood what he was feeling inside. But it was not until I got cancer that I truly understood and felt what fear and uncertainty really meant. To know the meaning of life is to know the meaning of death. My brother was so brave. There was no such thing as anti-nausea medications or any of the other medicines that help the patients of today. Back then, it was just raw, barbaric, vein-ripping chemotherapy. Compared to my brother, I had a cake walk.

Today I realized that for the first time, my brother will have been dead longer than he was alive. It's a mindF—k. Rex never had the life experiences we take for granted: his first kiss, driving a car, graduating from high school, being in love, a summer job… never mind the college experience or the joys that come after. My brother Marc shares the same Birthday as Rex, though Marc was born four years younger. May 17 has never been able to recapture the joy it once held. It is strange to think that you could ever be older than your older brother. Marc is now 29.

On one of our last late night talks, Rex and I realized that, because I was his marrow donor, a part of me would literally die with him if he lost his battle with cancer. We laughed but suddenly became very quiet. Then in deep earnest he said "If I die you have to promise me that you will live for the both of us."

People often ask me where I get my zest and passion for life: why I can be in any situation and have the time of my life: why I have all this energy, excitement, spontaneity, acceptance, affection, faith and love. It is because over 17 years ago I made a promise to a dying boy that his young life would not be lost in vain but would be remembered in every moment of mine. That is how I honor and remember my brother: By living this life as magnificently as possible and infecting everyone I come across with the magic, exhilaration and wisdom that Rex taught me.

My dear brother Rex, you remain forever alive in our hearts.


P.S. I wrote this several days ago but think it may be appropriate to
share now:

This life will end someday
But the planets will still continue their elliptical paths
And stars will implode and galaxies reborn
The ants will still find their way into honey
As ever, Love will be fought for
And broken hearts will slowly mend
And a stranger will save another man's soul.

This life will end someday
And on that day this soul will look back.
The consequences of its actions
will lift him up
or burden on him heavily.

This life will end someday
But not today.
So strike your path and find your way into honey
The galaxies will spin despite your misery or joy
Eternal life lies within us
Let Love save your soul.

Christine Pechera
July 3, 2007

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


Anniversaries and holidays conjure up all sorts of memories and emotions. The last few days have been very introspective and raw.

When thoughts and feelings are twisting inside, a walk is a good way to sort them out. It was on one of these walks last week that I was especially tormented by the memories and tears of last year. My plodding along the sidewalk was suddenly stopped short by a glint of color. Coming into focus, flitting right in front of my eyes, I swear, was a saffronbutterfly. Alright, it was actually pungent-orange in color but that's close enough for me. The tops of its wings appeared to have rhinestones on it. Shiny, glinting spots that caught flashes of the sun. Mesmerized, I slowly raised my hand palm up. On cue, the butterfly gently landed on my fingertips! I swallowed my gasp, for fear of scaring the beautiful creature away. Then I imagined what this scene must have looked like to passers-by. Some urbane Snow White in T-shirt and jeans, gazing at a butterfly on her fingertips. It gently raised and lowered it's shimmering wings. Looking at it, I was hoping for some profound message, some great epiphany, the great existential answer to all the ancient questions about meaning and existence. But it just rested there for a bit before flitting away. I stood and watched it waft towards some blossoming bushes. Perhaps it was just a little wink from the universe.

This weekend I was visiting a friend's place and had the pleasure of picking plums, apricots and apples from the fruit trees. Summer was bursting everywhere. Heaven is the simple joy of precariously cradling an armful of fresh-picked fruit, while reaching up to pluck yet another ripe plum.

Last year, on the eve of the transplant July 4, in the midst of great uncertainty and fear, a glass partition stood between me and my friend M. I lamented that I was in the hospital, on my favorite day of the year. And I cried out against the statistics that said I would never see another summer. From my bed and through the glass pane, M and I promised each other that we would be together "next year" and I would be healthy and cancer-free and we'd watch the Fireworks outside, under the stars, and drink wine and hug and toast to life. Last night, we did just that. Along with a few other friends, we went to the Hollywood Bowl for the Fireworks show. I felt something in me burst as the sky lit up with sparks and fiery whistles. Everything about that moment was what I so earnestly prayed and hoped for, all alone in that dark hospital bed a year ago. Of course the tears would not stop running down my face. It felt like I finally made it home.

- - - - -
An edited version of what I wrote last July 4:

the night before the transplant i am sending love out in all directions from my bed. From my window tonight, I could see the entire horizon ablaze with fireworks. It was the most spectacular July 4th I've ever seen….. Yes, I'm a little scared and a little anxious, but I'm just filling myself with love and gratitude and faith to make it through the next 24 hours. So, sending sparks and fireworks to everyone from my heart to yours. I will be praying all night tonight. Praying that a year from now we will be watching fireworks together. And that 50 years from now we'll still be craning our necks to the sky to shout out "oooh and"aaah".

- - - - -

July 4th is my thanksgiving. It's about uniting with friends and community and taking the time to enjoy life together. I've seen too many who succumbed to cancer this past year. Beautiful husbands, brilliant girls, promising sons. I live my life fully in honor of them. I am so blessed to have reached this point. I have scans and tests at the end of the month to see if the transplant will be a long term success.

This year, I hope the Fireworks remind all of us of all our blessings.

As ever,

P.S. July 5, the actual transplant day, I made another fun "next year" wish that will come true. That'll be in my next post!