The official definition of the word "survivor,” according to the Oxford English dictionary is “a person who copes well with difficulties in their life.” The sentence that they provide as example of the word being used is, “She was born a survivor.” Looking back on the past 13 years since my diagnosis, I’m not sure if I would say that I "coped well.” I went through a lot of sadness, despair, pain and hopelessness after my initial diagnosis. The fight was not a pretty one and the phrase "coping well” is not how I would describe my survivorship.
I was diagnosed with a life threatening form of bone marrow “c” word and needed to find a bone marrow match in order to save my life. There weren't any types of chemo, radiation, drug or treatment therapies that would cure me. I had to find a bone marrow match to save my life. Even after finding a match, I had to take two kinds of chemotherapy drugs that completely destroyed my entire immune system. That required a "move" into Karmanos Cancer Institute for about a month. I had the actual transplant, prayed that the new cells would engraft and then dealt with graft versus host disease (where my body rejected the donor’s cells and is the number one killer of transplant patients).
The beauty of living on the 10th floor at Karmanos, was that during my stay, I was surrounded by life, by survivors. Everyone on that floor had a transplant. We all had catheters, literally, coming out of our chest from our hearts and connected to IV machines that made my past blood transfusion IV poles, look like toys. I would walk my laps knowing that my life depended on pushing my body to move, but my inspiration came from the people in the rooms on 10WN that I would pass every day. Sometimes I would pass a room and it would be filled with people, family and friends, because that person’s life, here as we know it, was about to end. Does that mean that they weren’t survivors because their life was ending? No. They are survivors. Surviving isn’t something that I quantify in time or how long someone lives; it is something that is measured by the quality of that time, here on earth.
Back to that word ”survivor.” The beauty in that word is that it’s all about perspective. I've often said that I didn’t cope well during my fight, but others have disagreed with me. I know that I am the minority in this debate, because so many people have told me how strong I was and how well I DID cope. I gave up a long time ago trying to explain to people that I didn’t see myself as strong. All they saw was this woman, cancer patient, who was still alive, on TV doing interviews, trying to find a match and stay alive. What no one saw was the desperation and despair that I felt or all of the tears that I cried behind closed doors. That can’t be what survivors do, right? They are strong and fearless!
Ironically, that was what I felt. I was drowning in FEAR; fear of dying, fear of not living long enough to see my son graduate from high school, fear of having such a limited amount of days to love the life that I, so many times, took for granted prior to my diagnosis. I've since learned that the word "fear" stands for "Face Everything And Rise." That is now, my definition of fear. Whether it is you or someone that you know who is affected by the “c” word, we all survive, through and with each other. We all come together to rise and face challenges. It’s not about the outcome; it’s about the journey that defines us as survivors. My dad and mom, my sister and, of course, my son; they are survivors. They came together, they faced their own fears and we fought, while clinging to each other. We survived because we didn’t give up. That’s all we had to do to survive; not give up and love one another.
Everyday we wake up and thank God for another day. We share our stories to provide hope to those who need to know that they are not alone in the fight. Whether someone is still undergoing treatment, in remission, cured or walking the journey with someone that they love, we are ALL survivors.
The complete blog that Tara kept before, during and post transplant, is now being uploaded. From the very first post, when the original blog was published, through the entire transplant journey, you can read along as the story unfolds.