Thursday, January 14, 2010

Doing My Best to Deal With a Bittersweet Anniversary

I was in a funky mood all yesterday and I finally figured out why. Yesterday was the 22nd anniversary of my diagnosis with acute promyelocytic leukemia in 1988 when I was 22 years old. I also realized that this is a tipping point year: I have lived exactly 22 years without cancer and 22 year affected by cancer and late and long-term effects from my cancer and its treatment.

I also recognize that this anniversary means that I have been given the gift of an additional 22 years of life. I had a 33% chance of survival back in 1988, which means I had a 67% chance of not making it. It still boggles my mind to think of my survival in these terms; I still can't believe that I got that lucky.

Since my cancer diagnosis, I have lived a life of both gratitude and grief. Not surprisingly, this anniversary always feels bittersweet to me, especially so now that I really understand my late and long term effects from cancer treatment: infertility, early menopause, dysautonomia and chronic Hepatitis C infection. As much as I strive each day to live a life focused on the good stuff life has to offer me, today I can't help but shed a few tears over the losses I've suffered because I had cancer.

I've noticed lately on Facebook that people are asking their friends to post the following message as their status:

Put ♥ this ♥ on ♥ your ♥ status ♥ if ♥ you ♥ know ♥ someone ♥ who ♥ has ♥ or ♥ had ♥ cancer! ♥ All I wish for in 2010 is a CURE! ♥ I pray for the cure of cancer. ♥ 93% WON'T Copy and Paste this, will YOU 4 just one hour? ♥ please do it !!!!! thx.

When this message came to me, of course I posted it as my status. I do pray for a cure for cancer, but a very specific one. One that doesn't leave the survivor at risk for developing long term and late effects from the treatment. One that does result in the survivor living the rest of their life with chronic illness. One that doesn't take away hopes and dreams to have a child, be 100% healthy and live life to the absolute fullest, without limitations and restrictions.

On second thought, I think my efforts are better served if I pray for a way to prevent cancer altogether. That way no one will ever have to live with all the uncertainty of whether or not they will go into remission, whether or not they will be cured and whether or not treatment long term and late effects will rob them of their good health and longevity. It is only through cancer prevention that late and long term effects like secondary cancers, serious and life-threatening heart problems and transfusion-acquired infections will stop disabling and killing cancer survivors.

On this anniversary, I admit that every time I hear about another person being diagnosed with cancer, my feelings get stirred up and for a nanosecond I am transported back to January 13, 1988. I deal with these feelings by reaching out to the newly diagnosed and offering support and a listening ear. I also feel a moment of incredible guilt every time I hear of someone losing their battle with cancer: survivor guilt. I am trying very hard to let go of this guilt and trust that there is some divine reasoning behind why bad things happen to good people.

I share all these thoughts with you today because I want to show you that this is the way I deal with my bittersweet anniversary. I don't fight to repress my feelings, I feel them. Sure yesterday didn't feel very good, but tomorrow I might feel differently. I acknowledge that anniversaries are powerful experiences, whether it's remembering the loss of a loved one or the birth of a child. It is human nature to reflect on these past experiences on anniversaries, to relive the moments and ponder their meaning.

Learning to go with the flow by feeling my feelings and then letting them go--this is a big part of learning how to live my best life despite chronic illness.

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