A lot of people are talking about the idea of rebirth, resurrection, miracles, and faith following Easter weekend. They are themes often on my mind too, though perhaps for different reasons: On December 1, 2010, I was reborn. Sort of.
From a science point of view, the process of an autologous stem cell transplant is pretty straightforward: Grow and extract stem cells from the bone marrow, condition the body with extremely high doses of toxic chemotherapy drugs to try and reach every single microscopic cancer cell that might be lurking in the body, and then, the rebirth: revive the body from the brink of death by introducing the stem cells, and putting faith in biology while the stem cells grow into red cells, white cells, and platelets, effectively bringing back life.
But a stem cell transplant is also a dark and morbidly humorous process: we obliterate and revive, obliterate and revive. We endure countless needle sticks, we pee in cups, we get sick in buckets by the hospital bed, we are tethered to IV poles that stay with us every single moment of the day for days on end, with only a few minutes of reprieve to bathe in a tiny, plastic, sterile shower. As for me, I had complications and a lot of pain, I passed out, I bled out, I spent inordinate amounts of energy to stand, let alone walk around the room.
At the same time, the stem cell transplant is also a process that can bring light, perhaps not in our physical bodies, but in our minds. You are at once reduced to your basic elements, you are acutely tuned to your own physics, you cannot process or consume information at the rapid speed that dulls our senses in every day life. You can seek comfort in knowing that you are steadfastly defying death and fighting with your entire reserve to stay alive because somehow, at some point, you realized that it was worth fighting this hard for. There is a lightness in this kind of resolution.
I cannot speak for every cancer patient, but I know that we have a lot in common amongst us. While we can find meaning in our illness, meaning in our recovery, meaning for the purpose of our lives following re-birth, we cannot do it alone. We need to be sure that the treatments we take are the best available, that they have fewer and fewer side effects, that they are affordable, that we understand them, that our families understand them.
I am participating in a campaign to raise money for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society not to be named "woman of the year," or to make my company proud, or even to make my family or friends proud. I am doing it because I am physically and emotionally incapable of resisting the opportunity to share our tiny world with as many people as possible: no one but us can understand the depth of that darkness and the ecstasy of that second chance to be alive, but through this campaign, I hope you can catch a shimmering glimpse of it and it's enough to inspire you to give, and try to make the darkness a little more bearable. Human kindness is the miracle we need this weekend.