So far in this journey, I have been given a truly amazing gift – the gift of other people’s stories. I have found that since I am sharing my story, so many people have been sharing their stories with me. Good friends, acquaintances, coworkers, and even strangers have all been sharing amazing stories of perseverance, success, and miraculous recovery. I am learning that when you dig deep enough, there is something new and exciting to be found out about almost everyone. People I interact with on a daily basis and thought I knew well have been sharing stories about friends, family members, and themselves; stories that show great strength and triumph; stories that I never would have known if it weren’t for this experience. It has made me realize how much deeper my friendships can be. It has made be realize how blind I can be to other people’s true selves and how I only see what I choose to see or what I think I need to see. It has made be realize how so many people have so many layers inside of them. I am learning that when you open yourself to others, others do the same for you. And really getting a glimpse into another human’s soul is the most heart-warming, spirit-lifting, eye-opening gift I have ever received. I realize that I don’t really try to find out more about people than what they offer – I generally take what they offer and consider that to be all there is. But I am learning that is not at all true. I think we are all afraid to share too much, to let others in too far. But I have to say that when you do, you will be happily surprised with the response you receive. The amount of love and support that is pouring out of my friends and family continues to overwhelm me. I am so thankful for all of the stories I have been told and for all of the amazing story tellers. From now on, I will be more open in my life and I will actively seek the truth in others.
Today I spoke with a woman who was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma 10 years ago. She was pregnant when she was diagnosed and started treatment soon after giving birth. When she started treatment, she had 26 tumors in her lungs, spinal tumors, and a large tumor in her liver. By the time she was finished she had had spinal surgery, a tumor in her ovaries and breast, half of her right lung removed, and 40 percent of her liver removed. She had been through radiation, chemotherapy, a vaccine study, IL-2, and two different versions of the TIL treatment. Two years after she started, she was told she was completely cancer free. That was 2003. She remains cancer free today, 8 years later. Her story has given me the most hope yet. We are so similar – both from this area, both new moms, both more worried about the effect this journey is having on our babies than it is on ourselves. She told me that when she was diagnosed, she was angry. She was angry that she had just been given this beautiful baby boy only to be given cancer at the same time. I am angry too. It just doesn’t seem fair. But at the same time, I think maybe it is balance. I have been given so much: a wonderful husband, a beautiful baby, and true happiness. Now there needs to be a balance and this journey is the universe’s way of evening the scales. Except maybe the universe didn’t plan so well, because this journey is turning out to be an enriching, love-filled, meaningful experience that will only serve to increase my already overflowing happiness. I got this, universe, consider us even.
Tonight I went on a date with my husband. We went out to dinner at a restaurant near our house. We had martinis and appetizers – our favorite dinner before getting pregnant. We tried to talk about other things, but conversation kept returning to cancer. It was nostalgic and hopeful all at once. Nostalgic because it reminded me of so many fun dinners when it was just the two of us and hopeful that we could go out to dinner and have fun again. But it was also a little bit sad. We were making sure that we got in a fun dinner before starting treatment. And I don’t know when we’ll be able to do it again. Not knowing what is going to happen is really scary. I have no idea what the rest of my life is going to be like. I don’t know what this week will be like. I don’t know what this month will be like. And I certainly don’t know what this year will be like. And after that, well…after that…I am fighting with everything I have for after that. Thursday feels like the beginning of the unknown. I have no personal plans past Wednesday, at all. If I’m being honest, I am a control freak. Perhaps now I am learning how to let that go. The near future is entirely out of my control. I will deal with it and I will get through it. And then each and every day will be a gift; a gift that I unwrap each morning and hug tight each night. And I hope that I will openly embrace the unknown, because I am learning that there are so many hidden surprises to be found when you can just take a deep breath and let it all go.
Today I am thankful for the gift of getting to know my friends; the willingness of others to share with me; the existence of hope; and, as always, my wonderful husband and perfect baby Kai. I promise to know you and all of your many layers. I promise to share myself with you. I promise to teach you to be open to all of the amazing experiences life has to offer you. I promise to be here for you this week, this month, this year, and after that.