There was a time when I wasn’t sure if I would make it to my oldest child’s high school graduation, in 2003 — let alone my youngest’s from college this spring. I am so proud of my daughter, Katie, whose graduation from Brandeis University was a milestone for both of us: I have now seen all three of my children finish high school and college.
I am very proud of all three, who have survived and even thrived despite having had two parents with cancer.
When I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in March 2003, I had absolutely no idea what lay ahead. Luckily, I recovered sufficiently from my first few rounds of grueling chemotherapy to attend my son Ben’s high school graduation that spring. I was in the audience with a scarf on my head and a big smile on my face.
My rollercoaster ride with cancer began that spring, leading to my fourth bone marrow transplant five years ago.
But it wasn’t just about me; it was about my whole family.
A month before I relapsed for the first of two times, in 2007, my ex-husband went into a coma due to complications from a surgery for colon cancer. Six months after that, I was in a coma myself.
After the danger had passed, my middle son, Joe, demonstrated the perspective that all of my children have gained living with parents who had cancer. Showing that he had not lost his sense of humor, he said, “I’m grateful that you and Dad staggered your comas.”
Recently, I got an email from a woman with high-risk AML who has not responded well to chemotherapy. Unsure of what her doctors plan next, she is worried about her future and about her children.
I didn’t know how to respond to her until the graduation ceremony this past weekend crystallized my thoughts.
I told her that more than once I thought I’d come to the end of the road. But we patients never know what our doctors have up their sleeves or what our bodies can endure, and my team physicians managed to come up with solutions for me — as I hoped hers would for her.
I also proposed that if her children were surrounded by love and support, they would turn out to be more resilient than she might think they would be.
And if you take it one step, even one breath, at a time, the road will lead you to destinations you never thought possible.
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