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October 24, 2004

Sunshine After All

Eight years ago today, I was laying in a hospital bed, waiting to find out if my life was going to be mine again. I was having a lymph node in my chest removed and tested for residual Hodgkin's disease. A CT scan had shown that my lymph nodes were still swollen, which meant that they were either still filled with active cancer cells - despite six months of chemotherapy - or they were permanently enlarged due to scar tissue.

My oncologist told me he was 90% sure I still had active cancer, as he had never seen lymph nodes the size of mine that were just scar tissue. He told me that if the biopsy was positive for HD, that the surgeon would go ahead and implant an intraveneous line - which I would need for my last chance at health, a stem cell transplant - in my chest at the same time. It would take the place of the port that I already had implanted on the left side of my chest, that had been used for chemo.

I remember being in the pre-op room, tanked up on Versed, wondering if I was going to be able to handle a stem cell transplant. For one of the very few times during my treatment, I was scared. They wheeled me into the operating room, and my surgeon, Dr. Blumencrantz, went to work quickly. Before I realized it, I was out ...

... and then waking up again in the post-op area. Everything was a blur because I didn't have my contact lenses in, but I could make out people moving all around me. As soon as I shook off the anesthesia enough to have a rational thought, my right hand went up to the left side of my chest. I knew that if I felt a bandaged lump there, that the node was positive for cancer, Dr. Blumencrantz had implanted the IV line, and I was going to have a stem cell transplant.

My hand slowly moved to my chest and I felt ...

... nothing.

I pressed my hand against my chest, harder, and still didn't feel anything. I looked down, pulled out my hospital gown, and looked at my chest. The only thing I saw was the slight bulge of the port, and the familiar scar. No new incisions.

A female voice spoke gently in my ear - "You're going to be okay. It was just scar tissue."

Then, for the first time since I found out I had cancer, I cried. Because it was only then that I believed that I was, in fact, going to be okay. I was always aware of just how badly things could get, so I was intimately familiar with all of the unhappy statistics and bleak pictures that were often painted.

But I wanted to be okay. I did everything within my power to increase my chances of one day, maybe, being okay; beyond that, I just had to accept that despite my own hopes and wishes, things might not turn out that well for me.

I am extraordinarily lucky - I have been okay for eight years now. More than okay, really. Better than ever. If you gave me the chance to go back in time and not have cancer - in exchange for having a different life than the one I have now - I wouldn't take it.

I would not take it.

Every year, on October 24, I think about my life and how far I've come since this day in 1996. This is my day of reflection - not my birthday, not the holidays. Today. Because this is the day when I truly understood what it meant to Live. This is the day when I became very, very clear about what was and was not important to me.

Every year I have but one hope on this day - that, all things considered, I would choose the life I have today over the life I had one year ago. I've been thinking about it on and off all weekend, and I'm happy to say that yes, I would.

I've lost good friends this year, but I've gained new ones. I've acquired some bad habits (like excessive hummus consumption), but I've shed others that were far worse (like eating crappy food on a daily basis). I'm healthier, physically, in some ways, but less healthy in others. I've been through some very painful emotional experiences, but those have been offset by some truly wonderful ones (especially of late).

I still want to be who I am today.

My family and friends are all doing well. My cats are alive and in good health. I have a good job that pays well that lets me fund a happy personal life. My relationships with my family continue to be strong. My nephew is growing up to be a wonderful, thoughtful boy. I grow closer to my core group of friends every day. I've seen new places, and revisited old ones. I've walked, I've talked, I've seen shooting stars and wild animals and baby ducks grow into adults. I've laughed a lot, cried a lot, and most importantly, loved a lot.

But here's the best part - I have this feeling, unshakeable and inescapable, that the next 365 days are going to be even better.

Posted by Highwaygirl on October 24, 2004 08:27 PM to the category Stuff About Me

OK, now I feel inspired.
So... How did he like his gift??

Posted by: mike at October 25, 2004 06:25 AM


It is because of people like you that I am inspired to get involved. Stories of hope and triumph are the reasons behind my involvement in the Peloton Project and the LAF.

Thanks god for scar tissue, chemo and destiny. It is because of them that we have our Heewig to entertain and mod!

*hugs* and Happy Anniversary. To yet another 365 and a lot more to come!


Posted by: Mandy at October 25, 2004 02:48 PM

Aww, thank you Mandy! And I think it is beyond cool that you're involved with the LAF. I'm patiently waiting for my order of LiveStrong bracelets to arrive.

Posted by: Highwaygirl at October 25, 2004 04:25 PM
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