I’ve been very reluctant to write anything lately. I have been in this fight for nearly a year and eight months now. I’m tired. I’m done. I also lost my username/password for a little bit. But, I remembered it!
These past couple months have been an emotional rollercoaster for me. But, like I always do, I just put a smile on my face and laugh it off. Honestly, I don’t know how much longer I can do that for. I feel like everyone is over it. I’m tired and everyone else is tired of me talking about it. Do you remember? Remember the beginning? 20 months ago. It’s a long time to pass. A long time for people to forget. Day 598 is just as tough as day 1.
I had a great turnout for my speech at the Atlanta Light the Night Walk back in October. I spoke to 20,000(ish) people about my journey. I had a great team and we raised over $3,000. I had a CT scan and the results were actually good this time around. All my tumors had shrunk as opposed to my previous scans that had mixed responses. I’d never gotten good scan results before. It finally felt like something was going right.
I spent a nice Thanksgiving in Indiana with Justin and his family. I got to shoot a bow and arrow for the first time. I had a delicious Friendsgiving and lots of fun Christmas festivities so far. Justin and I picked out my first real, live Christmas tree. We made our first Christmas card. If I asked for your address and you were reluctant to give it to me, you missed out.
Despite my hesitation, the few people who are still involved in my fight urged me to get a second opinion at Emory. So, I did. The doctor’s recommendations shattered my hopes a bit. But, I’m glad I went so I could hear another perspective. He had a suspicion that my cancer was still progressing even though my tumors had gotten smaller. Based on my history and how my disease progresses, it was possible that the brentuximab could be making the cells smaller, but they could still be growing at an aggressive rate. He called me a high risk patient because of my refractory lymphoma. He gave me some options that day. The first was to do some more chemo and then an allogeneic stem cell transplant with a donor. My sister has a 25% chance of being an HLA match for the donation. My parents would be a half match. The second option was to do a new drug that had little research and would ultimately eliminate any chance I would have of ever being able to do a transplant because of the increased risk of graft vs. host disease. I think there was a third option but I guess that one really didn’t seem appealing to me if I can’t remember it now. He said even with the transplant, I only have a 30% chance of remission.
Do you remember? The beginning. My first oncologist said, “If you were to get any type of cancer, this is the one you want.” He assured me that Hodgkins was highly curable and I had a 90% chance of survival. 598 days later… I am down to my last 30%. Well, I guess if you look at it, I really am beating the odds… since the odds were in favor of me surviving.
I got a PET scan because he wanted to confirm his suspicions of the aggressive activity in my cancer cells. CT scans show geography, size, the surface. PET scans show you what’s really going on inside. I went back to see him yesterday expecting a bad scan. But, to everyone’s surprise, it was relatively good. What?! How am I supposed to feel!? I’m so confused.
My PET scan showed that the activity and growth of the remaining tumors was actually a lot less than they had been previously. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the brentuximab is working. Again, since I am a high risk patient with a disease that does not respond typically to treatments, my current regimen could just be keeping the cancer at bay, not giving a good shot at remission or at least one that will last. So he gave me the same two options with a little bit of good news. Since my cancer cells aren’t as active as he had thought, this gives us more time to find a donor.
But, do you remember? About two or three years ago, Nina Louie was looking for a donor. But, the bone marrow donor registry lacks minority donors. Since transplant matches are dependent on your HLA match, race and ethnicity play a large role in finding a donor. Her sorority was able to get thousands and thousands of people registered, but she still couldn’t find a match through the registry. Thankfully, her life was saved by a miraculous cord blood donation and from what I gather, her and her family are doing well today. Can you imagine that though? Her doctor told her they would have to get 20,000 people registered to even have a chance at finding one match.
So here I sit, 598 days after diagnosis with a 30% chance of remission. I’m going to keep fighting until I’m at 0% (or 100%… that’d be better, right?!). I’m going to do it with a smile on my face… most days, probably not today, but most other days. I will tell you waking up on day 598 is a lot harder than day 1. But, you can’t expect people to stick around that long, can you? You can say I’m being dramatic, but I don’t care. There is a difference. There is a bittersweet pain. I will be forever grateful for the people who have been there for me through donations, gifts, text messages, cards, food, fundraisers, hospital visits, etc. But, I will never be able to repay the ones who have been there since day 1 until day 598. Those people, and they know who they are, are my heroes.
I’ve changed a lot since I heard those three words, “You have cancer.” Part of me mourns the person I used to be. Bubbly and energetic. Always optimistic. But another part of me is happy with the way cancer has shaped my point of view. Even though I’m exhausted, I don’t let life pass me by because it could be gone in a moment. I let people know how I feel. I spread the love wherever I can because one day, I might not be able to anymore. Imagine how awful that would be.
People say the holidays are a rough time. So I hope you remember – everything you have to be thankful for. The people you love. The people who love you. If you were to die tomorrow, would you be happy with the life you’ve led? The things you’ve done? The things you’ve said? I think about that every single day.
This was a random, emotional blog post. It may not make any sense, but I think it was long overdue. I can’t leave you all without one last call to action. Give this holiday season. Even if it doesn’t help me, it will help someone. Atlanta Blood Services is in a constant platelet shortage. As some of you may recall, platelets are essential in stem cell transplants for recovery. You can also join the national bone marrow donor registry with a quick swab. Do it for me because I can’t donate myself. Do it for someone else because you could save their life. Do it for yourself because we are all capable of being heroes.