Thursday, June 13, 2024

Having a Terminal Illness Really Is Like Fighting in a War…


 Who knew cancer could unite so many people? I’ve been open about my fears and even peace with it all, and what’s happened in return is astounding.


I’ve met cancer survivors and those still battling. We’ve forged unbreakable bonds. I’ve seen people miraculously healed, and I’ve also met people who have since died—but luckily I remain close to their surviving relatives. I wrote about my doubts with religion and discovered I wasn’t alone. And after two decades of feeling like a “bad” person because of doubts, peace came by meeting likeminded people. That’s what cancer has taught me: I’ve never really been alone . Even when I thought I was... family and friends stayed. G-d was ALWAYS there, too.


I’ve received good AND hard news since this journey started. Just when I’m starting to win, there might be a sobering setback that momentarily buckles my knees.


…I didn’t want to say how tough life is but rather how beautiful love and support can be. Laying everything bare, although terrifying, is liberating. I thought people might shun me for some of the things I’ve shared, but instead, people have selflessly shown kindness—and acceptance.


I guess the point is that no one knows what the future holds or if we’ll even wake up tomorrow. And that uncertainty can be scary. But when we have the love and support of each other, life is so much easier. If you’ve read my posts, you know I’m more flawed than most, but the fact that people have accepted me regardless is one of the greatest gifts of my life. (I’m so grateful to see it while I’m still alive, and I wish EVERYONE could experience this.)


It’s cliche, but fighting cancer really is a battle; and I guess war isn’t meant to be easy. I asked for God to refine me in 2020, ten months before my cancer diagnosis. And here I am, still struggling. But when cancer takes hold, it can be hard to shake, so I’m handling what I can personally control: trying to be the best version of myself. But apparently—for me—refinement is gonna take a LOT more time! 😅


Note: *This text is from shortly after my diagnosis. I’m so glad I read it today. I needed that reminder to be strong.

*This picture is from April of 2024.

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

We Better Make the Most of It

We really can grow complacent when given enough time… In fact, I've been sick for so long—since 2020—that my family and I have almost grown accustomed to it. This is both good and bad. Sure, doctors say I have terminal cancer, but I'm still here... alive, living much longer than expected. This has given us such a false sense of security. I've even thought, "Maybe I'll get better. Maybe I will actually beat this." But then, with a poor twist of fate, we can be shocked back into reality, plunged into the truth that this is how I will die. Unfortunately, that's what happened this past weekend.

It's normal for me to get fevers, feel nauseous, and struggle to keep food down, but for a fever to persist for hours upon hours, well, that's abnormal. Mike rushed me to the hospital, where they appeared stunned that I hadn't passed out.

"60 over 40," the nurse said, removing the blood pressure cuff. 

"Also, your white blood cell count is well below what it should be," the doctor added, looking from me to the nurse. "This could be for many different reasons, but we need to run some tests."

So, I got hospitalized for days after that. I met a plethora of new people and felt amazed by the kind medical staff and fellow patients. I even got to have art time with a volunteer who travels from room to room, just brightening people's days with paper, glue, and some rocks.

But after a couple of days without answers, home sounded like Heaven. I consequently fixed my makeup and hair before donning a fresh pair of clothes. "Hey," I said to the nurses as I sauntered past their communal desk. Surely they'd realize that I could be discharged. Look how capable I was!

"Isn't she a fall risk?" a nurse whispered just loud enough that I could hear her. Then I was escorted back to my room!

"We've discovered why you're fevering," a doctor said to me moments after I'd been forced back into the hospital bed. "We also know why you're experiencing such extreme pain and why your white blood cell count is so low."

"Why?" I could hardly breathe. This felt too reminiscent of years before when a spinal surgeon actually stood in that same spot—ironically in that exact room—announcing that I only had two years to live.

"The cancer in your lower spine is growing, and I'd say it's significant." She paused, letting the words sink in. "Your oncologist will most likely recommend radiation again, and we'll need to change your cancer infusions because your current regime isn't working. You know this is terminal?"

I nodded. "Yes. That's what I've been told." And then all hope momentarily left me.

The point is that there's no reason to get upset after so much time. Doctors have said this is terminal. They've claimed that the cancer will continue growing until I die. But it's also true that I've lived a year and a half longer than expected. It's amazing that I'm still here to enjoy my husband and my children. THAT feels like a major win. 

It might sound silly, but after the doctor left my room, I imagined myself standing in a grave. As someone dumped dirt on me, I could either stay in the hole, motionless, getting covered and accepting death, or I could step on the dirt as it got poured in, until the ground level grew higher and higher. I could rise above: Even now, I MUST find the good.

"You want to go home?" the doctor returned to my room, looking worried.

"Yes," I said. "I would love that more than anything. I just want to hug my kids and my husband."

After leaving the room, I held my Mary Poppins bag tightly to my chest and prepared to leave the hospital with the help of an aide. A couple stood beside us. They complained about having to visit the cancer center once a year. The man is in remission, but they still need to do yearly checks, and they hate coming back because of bad memories. I didn't mean to listen, but I couldn't help it. They were right next to me.

The elevator took forever, so I finally turned to the two of them. "How are you guys doing?" I asked, trying to brighten their day... somehow.

"Quite frankly, terrible," the woman said. "I don't know if you'd even understand."

She looked me up and down, and I knew the lady assumed I hadn't a care in the world. My makeup probably shone, and my clothes looked fresh despite my recent discharge from an inpatient room. Unfortunately, my insides don't match my outsides. I might look normal and happy, but cancer threatens my brain and is eating away at my spine. It doesn't care that I'm 41. It doesn't worry about how young my kids are or that all I want is to see my children grow up. Cancer is the worst of enemies: a sociopath. 

"How is... your day?" the man asked, somewhat hiding behind his wife.

"Well," I forced myself to find the good—to rise above, "today has to be the best day ever. I just found out that the cancer in my spine is growing, BUT I also got discharged from the hospital. I get to see my husband and children again. I get to live another day, even though doctors are saying I'll die from this. I better make the most of RIGHT now. I'm just the luckiest, and I better enjoy today."

I don't know why, but their resolve totally cracked. Tears brimmed the woman's eyes, and the man nodded. "You're totally right." The woman studied me differently then, with understanding and kindness. She must've finally realized I was fighting too.

So, the aide helped me out. And although I left the hospital with devastating news, I felt a burgeoning resolve to enjoy every single second that I can. Tonight I keep wondering about the couple though. I hope they'll get good news despite how scary returning to the cancer center must be. But I also hope they'll enjoy whatever time they can.

This is simply a reminder that I really am lucky to be alive. I better make the most of my time. We all should.