I attended a unique gathering last night. The local hospital where I was successfully treated for leukemia held its 12th annual reunion for survivors, their family/caregivers and donors. It had been about five years since I attended this yearly event. (When my friend and fellow patient, Debbie, passed away, I just no longer felt like attending without her as my “date.”) Last week, I had my yearly checkup at the hospital. Both Amanda, my very favorite phlebotomist, and Dr. B., my oncologist, encouraged me to attend the reunion this year. (Dr. B. even presented me with his own, personal invitation, since mine remains “lost in the mail.”) I am happy to report that I am grateful that I chose to attend this year’s event, along with my sister, who acted as my caregiver nearly eight years ago. The event, which focuses specifically on blood cancers (leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma) has doubled in size since my last appearance, which is a great thing! Apparently, more and more folks are successful in their battle with these dreaded diseases.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that much of the staff responsible for my care so many years ago are still actively employed and dedicating their lives to this cause. There were lots of hugs and photo opportunities. (The staff is always happy to see their former patients healthy and happy and with hair:) The evening always includes a sit-down dinner and a speech by the medical director. There was also a tribute to the family of a long-time patient who ultimately lost his battle with multiple myeloma. The final presentation was delivered by a current, also kind of long-term patient. Rick, now age 31, was diagnosed with Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia about four years ago. (This is the same, rare type of leukemia that I was diagnosed with in 2003.) In an often funny and poignant speech, he spoke about his five relapses, two anonymous bone marrow transplants, and the serious side effects he has had to endure as a result of his treatment. He shared how difficult it has been to continue the fight after so many setbacks. He is ever hopeful that he can continue to work as a computer programmer, and has also started his own band, where he can share his gift of music. In conclusion, he said the following, “I just want my life back.” This one sentence resonated with me. So many times during the past decade I commented to friends and family that “I just want my dull and boring life back.” I could feel the angst and frustration that Rick was expressing.
After dinner and the conclusion of the program, my sister and I made the rounds, catching up with more of the staff. I was also sure to be present and accounted for when it came time for the group photo of leukemia survivors. As we were leaving, Rick was seated near the door speaking with fellow attendees as they left. My sister and I patiently waited for an opportunity to speak with him. I introduced myself as a fellow APL survivor, and leaned in and said, “I want you to get your life back.” Rick, my sister and I then had a brief conversation about our common illness and how we were diagnosed. He invited my sister and I to come hear his band (which we intend to do), and then I agreed to email Rick and friend him on Facebook.
And so it would seem that I was supposed to attend the reunion last night, not just for the camaraderie with the staff and fellow patients, but to meet Rick and hear his story. I decided to write this post so I could ask the universe (and my faithful readers) for help in keeping Rick in our thoughts and prayers so that he can get his life back!