And What Followed...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Two Years. This is for Kristina

Today marks the two-year Anniversary of the day I was admitted to the hospital for my second marrow transplant. I remember entering those doors thinking, "Everyone walks in, but many do not walk out." I know it sounds morbid but as the doors closed behind me, shutting off the sounds, scents and vibrancy of the outside world, my second thought was "In the next few weeks/months, I'm either going to walk through these same doors or be quietly wheeled out the back."

For over a year, I was on a bland diet, unable to eat salads, fruits or outside food because of my condition. I was isolated in a bubble to protect my fragile immune system. I did not have the strength to raise my arms above my head. There were times when we thought I wouldn't make it through the night. My muscles atrophied, the life foundation I had just laid disintegrated, and my life plans evaporated. All that was left was the fight, my family and friends, and God’s will.

In this anniversary two-years later, I am now allowed to do a lot more. I am allowed to work out. I am allowed to travel overseas. I can start making long-term plans. I am allowed to live again.

Today, I shared ice cream and fresh berries with a dear friend. I felt the sun on my face and shared a laugh with a stranger. I punched and kicked in my first Krav Maga class. I told my Mom and Dad that I loved them. Tonight a few friends are taking me out to celebrate with fine food and wine. We will raise our glasses to the blessed lives that we still have to live.

Cancer has taken away too many friends over the last 24 months. All much too soon. All much too young. All beautiful souls who had so much to live for. I am one of the lucky ones. And everyday I live my life in remembrance of them. Everyday Elizabeth, Robin, Joel, Harrison, Cindy, Robert, Joe, Rachel (and many more) remind me that one does not seek one’s purpose in life, one chooses it. You do not need to search for love because it is already inside of you but in order to find it, you need to let it out. And though we may not have control over the end date of our lives, we do have control on how we choose to live beforehand and what legacies we leave behind.

When my cancer relapsed 30 months ago, my sister’s friend Kristina chose to step forward and make a difference. She had never met me but she knew she was blessed to be healthy and strong enough to help another. She rallied everyone to help my sister Jocelyn and made phone calls, organized marrow drives and gave everything she had. I know for certain that because of her efforts, many lives will be saved.

We finally met face to face this last December amongst tears and joy. She beamed “I am so happy it all worked out!” And all I could muster through the flood of emotions was “Thank you so much for all you did”. Kristina’s two children played around her legs as her husband smiled lovingly at his beautiful family.

But less than six weeks ago Kristina was admitted to the hospital for severe headaches. Two weeks later, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer – Cholangio carcinoma . She went blind and lost the ability to hear. 17 terrible days later, she was gone. Kristina was only 37 years old.

Life is precious, yes, but it can also be ruthless.

Today, as I marked the two-year anniversary of my second life-saving marrow transplant, my sister Jocelyn attended Kristina’s funeral. My sister called from Atlanta to tell me that my poem “A Much Lived Life” was printed on the back of the program.

We do not have total control over what happens to us or to the people we love, but we do have control over how we respond to it. We can either feel sorry for ourselves or strive to fight alongside others who are enduring the same trials. We can get angry at the world or love while we still can. We can wallow in grief or we can honor our loved ones by living a fully realized life in their honor.

My sister and her friends created a quilt of love representing the giant hug that all Kristina's friends and family were constantly holding her in. They arrived just minutes too late to wrap her in it before she left us, but the quilt was there to see her on her way.

Kristina was a rare beauty in her smile, her heart, her spirit and her soul. Let her life be an inspiration for us to live a life of generosity and unconditional love.


p.s. If you are interested in donating to a fund to cover the financial hardship incurred by Kristina’s family, please contact me at

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Big C - A Much Lived Life

I had the pleasure of performing my poems in three separate presentations at this year's installment of "The Big C" at Hollywood Presbyterian's National Cancer Survivor Day celebration on Saturday, June 14th. Thank you to Christian Meoli for putting together an incredible show and to Christina Lindhart, my talented and beautiful director. Also congratulations to all the survivors and performers for sharing their stories of strength, humor and healing.

Backstage after the show with fellow writer friends James, Julie and Alex.

Since the performance I have had many requests for the poem that was performed by the entire cast during the grand finale. Here is the performance version of "A Much Lived Life"

- - - - -

A Much Lived Life

If you were told you had less than 10 years to live, what would you do?
Would you mourn the loss of the Life you thought you could have had,
Or would you finally live the Life you’ve always dreamed of?

If you were told you had less than five years to live,
Would you spend your days in grief and anger,
Or would you live 50 years worth of Life in five?

If you were told you had less than a year to live,
Would you isolate and be consumed with the sorrow of your impending death,
Or would you reach out, make a difference while you still can,
take advantage of every sunrise,
making every moment, every word, every touch and every relationship
meaningful, pure, Loving and fully alive?

If you were told you only had one month left to live,
Would you curse, weep and lament your fate,
Or would you spend those last precious days
sharing Love with your family & friends,
remembering and laughing at the memories of your crazy beautiful luscious Life,
thus creating new memories for your loved ones to cherish
and carry on in their hearts?

If you were told you only had one day left to live,
Would you look back at your Life with regret,
Or would you look back with Peace?

The truth is, each one of us will die someday.
And whether that day comes tomorrow or in 50 years,
The question is:
What will you do with the time you have left?
It is not too late.

For what truly matters is not how long you live,
but how much.
And the greatest moments in Life
are the little ones.

Christine Pechera


Monday, June 9, 2008

BMT Reunion/Press Conference Photos

I've been so busy lately, but I was FINALLY able to get some photos from the BMT Reunion from April 25th up on Flickr. It was the biggest turn-out for the press conference in the history of City of Hope! I'm still working on the captions and such but for those who missed the day, enjoy...

By the way, a reporter at the event talked to my parents and wrote a nice post on his blog.