The holidays are a very sentimental time for me; there are a lot of reminders of my hereditary cancer journey. The season is about so much more than gift-giving. Nevertheless, I thought that it was appropriate and timely to share my all-time best gifts in my blog.
The most romantic gift I ever received
In late December 1997 the holidays felt bleak. My husband, son, and I were displaced from our home to Houston while I went through treatment for my recurrence. I was not licensed to practice veterinary medicine in Texas so we had no income. With no friends or family nearby, we had only each other.
My fourth round of chemotherapy hit me hard. I remember getting out of bed one December morning and feeling my heart racing, 100 beats-per-minute at rest. It was hard to believe, the day before I had felt great, and walked a few miles for exercise. That morning I could barely move my head without my heart pounding like a jackhammer. My oncologist insisted I come right over. My blood count was dangerously low. He wanted me to have an immediate transfusion. The blood supplies were low, due to increased demand during the holidays. Dan, my husband, is O-negative; universal donor. Without hesitation he volunteered a directed blood donation for me. As I sat in the infusion center receiving the transfusion, I felt my heart slowing, my energy returning. For a year where gifts and blessing were hard to come by, I was reminded of my blessings when my husband gave me the most romantic gift ever, his blood.
The best gift I ever gave myself
Fast-forward a year and although 1998 was a difficult year—I finished chemotherapy, radiation, had an oophorectomy and my contralateral prophylactic mastectomy—it also marked my completion of treatment and my reclaiming of my post-cancer life. My family and I were back home by late November, 1998. I spent a lot of time on the Internet looking for support as I faced challenges and issues as a result of my recurrence, treatment, surgery, and menopause. Through breast cancer message boards I found a support system and amazing people many of whom are still dear friends. I met women who were going through or who had gone through cancer treatment, and others who, like me, had a BRCA mutation or were facing hereditary cancer. I also met a special group of people who were very high risk and had no cancer. It was clear that all of us facing hereditary cancer journeys had unique issues and needs that were not met by traditional cancer support sites. It was December 1998 that I decided a dedicated resource was needed to meet the support and information needs of the hereditary cancer community. New Years Eve, 1998, I began the message boards that became the foundation of a new community and organization. My first post was just a few seconds after midnight and a few minutes later I received a response. Early New Years Day, 1999 FORCE was born. People often tell me what a great gift FORCE and our community has been for them. But it was my own need for support and resources that led to the creation of FORCE, and a new and fulfilling career path that allows me to touch others lives in significant ways. Hands down FORCE was the best gift I ever gave myself.
The best gift I have received so far this year
December is the time of my annual rechecks. This year marks my 13-year post-treatment recheck. The best holiday gift I have received so far this year came today from my medical oncologist: “your tests are all normal, see you next year.”
Happy Holidays to you and yours. Every day is a gift. Celebrate. Be happy. Be healthy. Be well.