Every survivor has a story. Mine started out on my way home from work one sunny June afternoon in 1983. My mom came to pick me up and we were riding in the car. I still remember the feeling of freedom as the wind blew through my long brown hair. Spring was always a season of rebirth to me after the long New York winters. I closed my eyes and smiled, completely unprepared to hear the next words spoken to me. “What’s that on your neck, honey”? Those words came from my mother as she noticed the lump embedded in my collarbone. I was an only child of young parents, 18 years old, a college freshman, coming from my first job I had been at for just four weeks. In this moment, everything changed.
My beautiful mother, concerned yet fearlessly collected, drove me immediately to the doctor. There are so many words cancer patients hear. They are foreign, confusing and terrifying. Words for the diagnosis of what is going on uncontrollably in your body, words for tests, drugs, machines you will be hauled in and out of, surgeries in hospitals you cannot fathom membership in. However, the unspoken words are the most wounding. Words like painless, normalcy, certainly. The words of your future become lost in a void of transition as you move from the pre-cancer world to the post diagnosis world. Mine was Hodgkin lymphoma IIA. That beautiful June evening, even now, my own words have echo, “Daddy, I don’t want to die.”
My journey included surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, side effects, anxiety and a sense of heightened awareness that is hard to explain. However, it also included unexpected gifts beyond imagination. I clearly remember my hospital buddies who I saw on a regular basis, and the life lessons they taught me. They unknowingly carried me on their air.
I lived, graduated college, married, opened businesses, and birthed three children. In an emotional switch, I lived to see my dear oncologist die. He gave our family the subtle gift of hope through his unusually casual demeanor. I will forever honor our memories and live fully, he always wanted me to. I am here today because others have sacrificed in so many ways, and I will not waste precious time. My world now centers on words like serve, empathy, persevere, integrity, boundaries, purity, action, passion and hope. I have always believed that one person can make a difference. Save just one life and you save worlds.