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Resources and Support

Voices of Hope & Healing
for Bone Marrow/Stem Cell Transplant

What Cancer Has Given Me
by Martha Nielsen

I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2003 and had 10 cycles of 3 different chemotherapy regimens followed by an autologous stem cell transplant and 23 days of radiation in 2004. Many people who hear my cancer story seem surprised when I say that if I had the chance to go back and erase the whole experience, I wouldn't do it. Here are my top ten reasons, à la David Letterman:

I have had 3 major surgeries since my transplant. Anytime I got worried about the outcomes or the expected long recovery times, I can just say to myself, "Hey, it's not a terminal illness!"
Like most women, I wasted years of my life wishing my hair was thicker and courser and most certainly a more interesting color. Now, after going without any hair at all for 14 months, I am quite happy with exactly what I've got.
Like many people, I also spent a lot of time worrying about my weight and wishing I didn't enjoy food so much. Having to literally force myself to eat for a time after my transplant has made me realize that enjoying food is a wonderful gift that makes life far more pleasurable.
Cancer taught me that getting old, with all of its changes and infirmities, looks a whole lot better if you think you're not going to get to do it.
I have learned there are many, many ways to provide support and comfort to another person and not all of them require words. Now when I don't know what to say, I understand that just being there is enough.
Cancer pointed out to me that the vast majority of the activities I frantically try to fit into every day are really not very important after all.
One of the hardest lessons cancer taught me was how to be a gracious receiver. For me, the secret to that was realizing that refusing to be a receiver deprives another person of the joy that giving brings.
Through my cancer experience, I learned that the best way to cope with fear or distress or anger or loneliness is to look around and find someone else to help.
Because I had cancer, I am not nearly as afraid of dying as I used to be. When I went into congestive heart failure, and my temperature shot up to 104º posttransplant, it was terribly hard on the people who loved me, but I simply don't remember the next three days. Although I have no desire to go back to that place any time soon, it is far less scary to me now.
The most important thing cancer has given me is the certain knowledge that there is a God. Before cancer, I used to say, "I believe there is a God, and if I find out at the end of my life it was all a bunch of hooey, at least it makes life better for me now." Today I say, "I not only believe there is a God, I know it." I can say that not because I got well, but because every time I thought I couldn't go on and asked God for help, something or someone would show up with exactly what I needed to keep going. If there is anything I wish I could pass on to other people trying to find their way through the cancer maze, it would be that blessing of certainty.

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