20411 W. 12 Mile Rd.
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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