Joan's Jottings


Reunion
May 15, 2011, 1:06 am
Filed under: cancer

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!



Anniversary
June 20, 2009, 11:57 pm
Filed under: cancer

I woke up this morning, June 2o, 2009, and almost immediately reminded myself of the double significance of this date.  It was six years ago today that I was diagnosed with a rare, but curable form of Leukemia.  In August of that year, while undergoing outpatient chemotherapy, I met Debbie, a fellow cancer patient. We hit it off almost instantly, and became friends.  Over the next four years, we shared new experiences outside the confines of a cancer clinic. I was honored and privileged to do a reading at Debbie’s wedding in September of 2005.  Unfortunately, our friendship was rather brief.  Debbie’s work here on earth came to a conclusion on the most ironic of dates-June 20, 2007.

I probably never gave much thought to the twentieth day of June in the years prior to 2003, though it is the last full day of Spring. For myself, June 20th will always be a reminder that in the year 2003, I experienced a pivotal date in my lifetime-a day with significant and lasting effects.  It will also be a day of remembrance and reflection on a brief, yet profound friendship with a kindred spirit.  Debbie,you are missed!



Graduation
May 13, 2009, 1:23 am
Filed under: cancer

It’s that time of the year when invitations are mailed and caps and gowns are donned by teens and adults, eager to embark on the next leg of their human journey. I experienced my own graduation of sorts last week. On Thursday, I had my bi-annual check-up with my Oncologist. (My visits with Dr. B. have steadily been reduced from weekly to monthly to quarterly to bi-annually.) For awhile now, I have been pleading with the good doctor to allow me check in just once a year, but he has consistently and politely denied my request. It’s not that I absolutely hate going for these check-ups. I do have blood drawn and they run two separate tests. Once the results are determined to be “normal,” there is a sense of peace that comes from knowing that I remain cancer-free. However, these appointments have a way of hurling me back to a time, not so long ago, when I was a full-fledged cancer patient. So, twice a year, I beg to “graduate” to just an annual visit. After checking my chart (along with my perfect grades and attendance), Dr. B. granted me my wish. My next appointment is May 6, 2010.

Congratulations to all the graduates this season, from preschool to medical school. Woo Hoo! (That is me tossing my cap into the air!) Life is sweet!



The Grass is Always Greener…
April 3, 2009, 1:16 am
Filed under: cancer

I mowed my lawn today. I am sure you are thinking, big deal. The last time I actually mowed my lawn was on June 19, 2003. I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I held onto the mower with one hand, while my other hand held a tissue to my nose. (I had a nosebleed that would not stop.) I did not give much thought to my perpetually dripping nose, and tried my best to go about the day. On the morning of June 20th, I would find out the cause of my nose issues-a rare, bleeding form of Leukemia. There would be no more yard work for me that summer.

Today, I conquered a demon, of sorts.  As I walked behind the mower,  I could not help but think back on that day in June of 2003. I had no idea that my life would be turned upside down and quite possibly, changed forever. I would be lying if I said that I am looking forward to cutting my own lawn again, but I am grateful that I am alive and well, and more than capable of handling this seasonal chore.  The grass may be greener on the other side, but I hope to stay on this side for awhile.