This past March, I finally paid it all off, including two surgeries that I'd unexpectedly had in the fall of 2016.
I was excited to put more money into savings, and to be able to share more freely with my kids. I was proud of myself that after a few years out of my high-paying job, I had finally recreated the same high-paying wage, but this time on my terms as I continued to build a new business. I got a bid to renovate my bathroom, and plans for more trips were underway.
Not a month later, cancer showed up, throwing my entire financial picture into chaos.
Did I mention that I am rarely sick?
I get one cold per year, if any; I decline the flu shot annually even though I am a nurse who makes sure my residents get one; I have never had aches or pains, except self-induced by overdoing activity; I have always slept well; I have healthy skin, nails, and hair; I walk almost daily and practice yoga weekly; I am a Life Coach and RN who practices stress-free living; and I have built a beautiful life for myself and my family. I'm told often how much younger I look than my soon-to-be 55 year-old-self.
I have had six surgeries in my lifetime and I have healed quickly and easily after each without needing any narcotics for pain relief. In fact, I don't do well on narcotics so I usually decline them when prescribed. I also birthed three babies without medication. My colleague said that if there was ever a poster child for healthy living, I am it!
And besides having cancer, I'm a really healthy gal! Chuckle, chuckle.
On April 18th, my middle kid's 25th birthday, I finally, finally updated my will, feeling very adult that I'd completed it after so many years of it being obsolete.
The evening before, I turned my head and felt an electric shock travel from my left upper back, through my neck and into my head where it immediately began pounding for about an hour, three days in a row. The headaches eventually went away, but the ache in my back lingered. I thought it was just a pulled muscle; a massage a few days later confirmed that I had many small knots in my upper back.
I now believe that the odd muscle stitch was one of the first symptoms that morphed into the chest pains that took me to the doctor two weeks later.
I kiddingly warn friends to never, ever update their wills!
This is a newsletter I wrote in September 2017, which made my return visit in May 2018 feel like a premonition I didn't even know I'd had.
As a nurse, I'm pretty fastidious about getting my annual check-ups. It's the only time I see an MD because I've been blessed with good health. But after my annual blood draw last month, I was referred to a hematologist, a doctor who specializes in blood disorders.
I was surprised, but not worried, because when I asked myself if something felt wrong in my body, my immediate "knowing" was Nope.
I also rationalized that if something was really wrong, I would've had an appointment immediately, but instead, I was given a date a month out. I promptly forgot about it until I had to rearrange my work schedule to go, but feeling concerned didn't even occur to me. Until, of course, I pulled up to a building today that read: "Cancer Care Center."
For the first time, it felt just a bit too real.
As I climbed the steps toward the bathroom, I asked myself again: Do I resonate with having cancer? Again, I heard: Not one bit.
At the check-in desk, my blase attitude began to lean toward concern as I was handed a large stack of papers to fill out. When I mentioned that this was only a consultation, the gal replied that everyone--whether diagnosed with blood disorders or cancer--gets the same packet.
The visit suddenly felt a bit more worrisome.
Everyone in the waiting room looked my way and I imagined them thinking, "There's the new girl. She still looks well, but everything is about to change for her."
I sat next to a couple waiting for their loved one who was coming out of a procedure. I heard one of them whisper, "Thank you, Jesus" when a nurse informed them that all had gone well.
I filled out the stack of papers in minutes since most of my answers were negative: I do not have any symptoms. I don't have pain or nausea or headaches. I have no history of problems, and I only take 3 pills a day, two of them non-prescription.
Then I glanced at the TV screen on the wall that was showing a film about cancer survivors. I was surprised when I saw my sweet friends' face, her hair cropped close to her head, talking about her experience with cancer. She had survived, but her prognosis on that day was still unknown. I could see the sadness and worry in her eyes as she described life with cancer.
I suddenly felt such love and awe for her and for the painful and triumphant fight she had endured. I was nearly crying.
Then the thought hit me: This could be me, too. What if my world changes today, in an instant, just like Annie's had? With blurry eyes, I returned my packet to the desk. My mind tried to imagine what life would look like with a diagnosis of cancer but I quickly dismissed it.
There is nothing wrong with me, I reminded myself. Instead, I imagined what I wished I had done before today, before a possible and sudden change in plans.
And that's when I felt a powerful surge overtake me. It was the same surge that ran through my body when my life was altered some years ago: I was standing in my living room, "knowing" that divorce was imminent. All that we'd planned for, saved for, and fought for was going to be lost. My only regret was that we'd wasted so much time doing things that barely mattered.
In that moment, I no longer cared about our money, our cars, or nice home, because it would soon be gone. What mattered was our happiness, our dreams, and living life fully.
That profound experience turned me around, pointing me toward a future of chasing dreams instead of merely wishing them to happen. I began to live boldly for the next several years.
Until I stopped. The details about why I stopped aren't important here, but the sentiment to continue living boldly was with me today. There is little time to waste. It's time to go for everything I want. NOW.
My reverie was interrupted by someone calling my name. I was taken to my room where (no surprise) my blood pressure registered 150/100. I told the CNA how unfair it was to take it minutes before a consultation in a cancer care center. She agreed and we shared a good laugh.
Minutes later, the doc came bounding in and his first words were: "What are you doing here?" Assuming he was commiserating with me about the possibility that my life could change for me today, I answered, "I haven't a clue; you tell me."
He wheeled his chair close to me with his face inches from mine and said, "Nothing is wrong with you. Not one damn thing. You shouldn't even be here." I almost cried.
He opened his computer screen to show me an eight-year history of labs. Although I had an obvious trend toward falling lymphocyte values, my overall hematologic trend was perfect. I took my first normal breath since seeing Annie on the screen.
And then it was over.
Doc led me to the check-out desk where he put my paperwork down on the counter in front of me. With his pen, he drew a slash across the page. "No charge" he told the receptionist, then turned to me and reached for my hand. "Nice to meet you; I never want to see you here again." He winked as he walked away.
I teared up: for his generosity, for his humanity, and for my relief. I knew all along that I was okay.
But the possibility that today could have just as easily ended in a different outcome scared me enough to consider how I live my life. It also proved that I know, without any doubt, that I am aware of what is right and true for me and my life.
I have changes to make, big things to create, and places I want to go. Coming a bit too close to an altered future shook me up enough to expedite my roadmap. I refuse to waste another minute indulging in fear or hesitance before venturing forward.
So this is my message for you: What do you already know to be true for yourself and your life?
Listen to it. My experience today also begs the question: If you had six months to live, what would you change today? What would you do, where would you go? How would you live?
Then go out there and do it.
Because your life can change with a single blood draw.
When I returned to CCC in May 2018, I saw the same doctor, who reiterated that he would have still sent me home today had he seen my blood work from September.
Perhaps, on that day in September, cancer had not yet started to invade my body. Perhaps it's why I felt so grounded that I did not have cancer. Perhaps this visit was just a "dry-run," meant to get me used to the idea of the cancer that would become alive and active just eight months later.