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 firstname.lastname@example.org.