As children many of us thought strength was only measured in physical terms; how many pounds you could lift, how big your muscles were, how successful you were in an arm wrestling match. As we grew older we came to realize that strength was also mental; how to resist peer pressure, how to stay home and study for that exam even though all your friends are out partying. For many of us, our physical strength gets tested more often than the mental so we can’t categorically answer, How strong are you?
How many of us would be able to go through chemotherapy with a smile? How many of us would handle losing their hair with panache? How many of us would be able to face your mortality head on and have absolute faith even through the darkest hour that there would be a tomorrow? The strongest person I know was able to do all that and more. She barely touches 5’5, she cannot bench press half her weight and she would probably lose in an arm wrestling match but strong she is.
She was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia at the age of 26, three and a half months ago. From the beginning she was the one telling you “Don’t worry, I’m going to be fine”, she was the one to make you smile, help you feel better. One of her doctors calls her “Sunshine” and that she is. We’ve know each other more than 10 years, she was always the more flamboyant one, she stepped into a room and charmed everyone in seconds. The Yin to my Yang, I prefer being an observer and she loves being the center of attention.
In late 2007 as my 26th birthday approached we decided we would have a Thanksgiving get together with all our friends and celebrate the official cross over to late-twenties-only-a-few-years-from-thirty event. By that time everyone was scattered across North America and we would have a weekly teleconference with up to four ladies on the phone giggling and talking for hours on end. Our tickets were booked, our topics for drunken discussion were written, our bags were half way packed and we were ready. Our plans were forever changed.
On November 1 my best friend was diagnosed with Leukemia. You think … LEUKEMIA?! BUT SHE’S ONLY 26?! THE DOCTORS MUST BE WRONG! In our naivety we think we are immortal, think our age somehow protects us … how wrong we are. November 1 – diagnosis, November 2 – immediate treatment. It’s all happening so fast, you turn to Google for answers, you search for “Acute Myeloid Leukemia” and read a medical journal that says ” … if left untreated the person can die in a matter of weeks”. Oh. My. God. Your worry doubles, yet you’re still grateful it was caught it in time. Thank you Lord!
You start hearing words like chemotherapy, biopsy, transfusion, transplant and you can’t imagine what your friend must be going through if you are so devastated. And yet her spirit still shines like a beacon … Absolutely amazing. You experience first hand the pain she’s going through, you hear her bed rattle because she is uncontrollably shivering as a side effect of her medication, you count at least 7 different cocktail of medications being fed to her intravenously, you see her lose 30 pounds in 6 weeks, you rub anti-itching lotion on her body because yet another medication causes her to itch all over and yet her absolute belief in her healing never wavers. Even through her tears, she trusted. Even in her pain, she believed. And that is STRENGTH.
For many the worrying and what ifs would compound their problems, the doubts would stifle their spirit; the depression would increase their pain. I don’t think I have that kind of strength, I would like to hope that I do but having lived a fairly ‘test free’ life so far, so I can’t say with absolute certainty that I would. My friend’s situation has opened my eyes, made me more compassionate to others’ situation. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel sympathy but it never hit you at that deep level I guess because you couldn’t relate. Unfortunately it takes us or someone close to us going through such a situation for us to know.
My friend is not out of the woods yet. Her cancer is currently in remission however she needs to have a bone marrow transplant done, as the results of photo-genetic tests show the probability of her cancer reoccurring is very high. She has a long road ahead of her but thankfully she is now out of the hospital. The search for a donor is on, she has three siblings and none matched. When we are healthy we never realize how something as small as a pint of our blood can change someone’s life. Become a donor.
My friend’s experience has taught everyone around her to value the seconds, minutes, hours. Value your relationships … one small deed can make the difference in another’s life. Her lesson to us is to prove that mental fortitude can conquer the physical. She continues to smile through the pain and hold firm in her belief.