I am a survivor. I am a force to be reckoned with. I have been broken in so many different places and every one of them has healed stronger than before. I understand what it means to be truly happy, and I will do whatever it takes to share that understanding with others. I also understand that those moments of happiness are the exception rather than the rule and must be held onto as gifts distributed sparingly. I am a runner. I have spent the past five years not running away but running towards a future full of promise. I have run so many miles towards this life I now live.
Five years ago today, I was ushered into a cab by two incredulous doctors at the Boston University health center with the directive to go straight to the ER. They had never before come across a student with such low blood counts. "What do you mean, you 'walked here'?" Apparently, I should have passed out weeks earlier. Thus began my relationship with medical professionals wherein they do a poor job covering their shock at the crazy, awesome anomaly that is my body and my dogged persistence at living. The second such exchange came a few hours later when an hematologist examined me and exclaimed, "Even your tongue is pale!" Who knew. Two days later, on December 8, a wizened and certainly well-meaning older oncologist asked me if I would rather wait for my mother before he told me what was wrong with me. Thus began my continued frustration with medical professionals and their (mostly) unwittingly treating me like a child. Anyway, he told me I had leukemia. So much, then, for life.
Except that absolutely not: I was going to take this cancer thing and deal with it using whatever means necessary. I had to get back to school; I had so many things to do. As cliche as it really is, giving up was never an option. That was five years ago. Technically, I have been cancer-free for most of those five years. The chemo worked quickly and thoroughly on my leukemia, though there have been latent side-effects and residual issues as a result of the powerful drugs. So, still dealing with that nonsense. At this point though, it is just one more thing; my weekly and monthly doctor's visits are just something I have to do on Tuesdays. Maybe somewhere in the back of my mind if I am honest and looking straight at it, I am still sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting to hear that this time it actually is cancerous. But there is absolutely no point in thinking or living that way. That thought-box is locked and under a pile of essays I wrote in college about Thomas Hardy. Not something I frequently examine. (Though I do love Hardy.)
I went for a run today, my first since last Wednesday. (It's been snowing and super-cold in Denver and I haven't quite psyched myself up to run in those conditions. Yet.) But today I ran, and I ran six awesome miles. It was 15 degrees when I headed out my door, and Denver being the strange weather-freak it is, I was over-heated in about 20 minutes. Seriously, wearing a Nike cold-gear shirt and a fleece sweater, I was so warm. I had to take off my gloves. Anyway, the point of All of this, including my extended build-up, is that I cannot believe the path my life has taken since its abrupt detour five years ago. I am a barista in Denver, training for a marathon, living with a craigslist-found roommate who has turned out to be a really awesome person and a pretty positive influence in my life here. I smile Every Time I see the mountains. Yesterday, walking to work at sunrise, they were snow-capped and glowing salmon-colored. They remind me that there are things in this world larger and stronger than myself. I am literally surrounded by mountains in my life and while they are imposing, they are beautiful. You have to appreciate the beauty while respecting their power.
I ran six miles today like it was nothing. Myself five years ago couldn't have done that. Myself five years ago was a naive, young and totally uncertain version of this person I have grown into. It has taken me So Long to get to this point, and not just chronologically speaking. The doctors and nurses whose names I'll never remember; the liters of blood drawn and infused; the emotional blocks to healing I had to find a way around and over and through. The friends who believed in me when I really didn't have any confidence in my own ability to succeed. Finally, I have reached a point where I feel truly healthy. Finally, I have reached a place where I am giddy every time I look around, whether in my apartment, in the city or in the mountains. This life is not without its challenges; cancer is still a large part of my life, but it is so different, so much better.
I have come so far and yet this is all only just beginning. I cannot wait to see what the new year brings. In a sense, I am five years old and the whole wide world is open and full of wonder. Have you ever watched a five year-old? Their expressions are suffused with excitement and awe at Everything. Why can't we be like that now? Why can't we be 25 or 45 or 75 and wondering at the beauty of the world every single day? I'm pretty sure we can. So on this, the anniversary of my cancer diagnosis and the day I've run six miles and hung out with amazing people and baked a squash and listened to great jazz, I can only entreat you to look around and smile at what you see. Five years later, and I can do nothing but smile at where I am and everything I have survived.
Thanks for bearing with me yet again. Cheers and happy Tuesday...