Like countless others, I hoped that things would go well for me this year. I was doing quite well in life in January. I was performing in my first starring role in a school play, I was playing elite volleyball and in the best shape of my life, I was close to my family and friends. I thought, “Man, it is a good time to be alive right now!”. Then, the petechiae began to appear. It was after Christmas, I had gotten some new lotions, I thought it would go away, so did everyone else; but it didn’t. My mom and I went to the doctor and I got a diagnosis of ITP. I was disappointed because I would have to take time off of volleyball and be on some steroids for a few weeks, but it would go away and life would resume itself. But, when my period started on February 7th, my life would change forever.
Acute Myeloid Leukemia kills platelets and fast, which is especially bad if you are a young girl with a heavy flow; if left unchecked and undiagnosed, that could’ve been my final day. Luckily for me, the doctors who originally gave me my ITP diagnosis also tested my blood for cancerous cells and of course found them. The rest of my day was a blur, yet I can remember it in such detail. I remember my heart dropping when my mom was holding me after telling me, “”You have cancer.” I remember weeping with my friends, my classmates getting up to hug me in the middle of a history test. I remember the nurse missing my veins over and over and over again at 11:30 at night in an emergency room at Seattle Childrens. I remember my world falling to pieces in one day.
However, instead of retelling my entire story, I am going to talk about what I learned because of these events that happened this year. First, I learned that cucumber sandwiches are so underrated. Seriously, most people think that cucumber sandwiches are only for fancy tea parties with elegant dresses and gold rimmed everything. Those people need to get up and go to the store, get some cream cheese, slice up some cucumbers, slap it all on some generic bread, and eat it; cause that is the good stuff. The secret ingredient, ranch dressing mix. Swirl that in with some of the cream cheese, mwah, you have got yourself some good stuff.
Secondly I learned that there is always a chance to better yourself. You may be stuck in a room with dry stuffy air, a crabby CNA, with a line going into your chest 24 hours a day seven days a week, but you have the power to find the joy in it. Instead of whining or complaining or going, “Woe is me!”; I tried to make myself stronger and smarter than the day before. I spent my time learning about Psychology, strengthening my mind through strategy games, walking the halls and working out as much as I was allowed to, and bolstering my faith in prayer and study.
Thirdly I learned that life isn’t fair. Life isn’t fair when your doctor cheats at a card game and beats you without it being square. Life isn’t fair when a Child Life specialist comes and asks if you want to see a therapy dog but then suddenly they aren’t allowed in the hospital. Life isn’t fair when the world goes kaput and rules change so that you can’t see your family for months on end and they are forced to quarantine for weeks just so they can see you for one weekend. It especially isn’t fair when it puts you in the ICU and unconscious for two weeks and leaves your mother so alone and with a very real and likely fear that her child will die.
Finally I learned to focus on the good instead of the bad. I lost so much time with my friends and family. I missed out on important birthdays, joyous and wild summer parties, bonding sessions on the couch with nerdy movies, and game nights filled with raucous laughter and fierce competition. On the other hand, I also gained just about everything I lost. I made my own friends and family with the incredible caretakers and doctors who dedicated months to making sure I had the best chance at getting well again. Five incredible women who worked as RNs and CNAs at the hospital were able to welcome beautiful babies into the world with newly knitted baby blankets filled with love to swaddle them in. The song “Always” by Andy Grammer is the song that my mother and I refer to as our song. Whenever that would blast through the speaker that she brought with her, it was an instant call to a dance party with a guest list of two. We would spend late nights in the ward’s quiet room either scrolling through memes and laughing or intensely contesting over points in a board or card game. Movie nights were more like binge-sessions of “Big Bang Theory”, “Bones”, “Veronica Mars”, “The Closer” and everything in between. Bad rom-coms from the 80’s and 90’s would frustrate us, intense dramas with tragic endings would make us cry, and we would laugh during the quippy one-liners of great action films. Best of all were the nights that I successfully roped our closest Rn’s and Doctors into playing games with us. Seeing these people in a whole new light with their funniest jokes and wittiest puns would make all of us laugh so hard our abs would hurt but our hearts would be lifted in spite of all the sadness of our lives.
My whole life has been changed for sure, and I will never be able to get rid of the fear that I relapse and have to suffer this again, but I will always be grateful for the lessons I learned along the way.