My husband and I spent the majority of 2012 jumping through hospitals. On April 11, 2012, after only 18 months of marriage, his doctors diagnosed him with acute myeloid leukemia.
After a whirlwind of tests, emotions, worries, and prayers, he completed his first round of chemo. It didn’t work. We exhaled, began plans for a bone marrow transplant, and trudged forward with treatment. After several more rounds and what seemed like an eternity between the four walls of hospital rooms, we announced his remission! We were given the green light for the transplant.
Meanwhile, I was struggling with health mysteries of my own. My symptoms were increasing, forcing me to leave M’s bedside to be poked and prodded myself, mostly to no avail.
We packed our things and moved to St. Louis for his BMT. Because treatment for the transplant is so intense and the recovery so delicate, we were required to stay in close proximity to the hospital for several months. We made the best of it by taking residence in a cozy loft in an artsy part of the city (fulfilling a wish on my bucket list).
That September, I watched as my best friend was stripped of his immune system and waited (im)patiently as his new one grew. He is alive today because a young man – a stranger – from Germany chose to donate his stem cells, and was a perfect match for M. We have yet to learn his name, but I have endless gratitude for our Creator’s design, this generosity. We would gladly cross the ocean to hug this man’s neck.
M was well enough to be released from the hospital two days before my birthday. We celebrated life completely, in so many ways those few days. Exactly one week later, on October 5th, I was rolled into surgery to remove the tumor that had been growing on my thyroid, and was thought to be causing my health problems. (My Arkansas doctors had wisely released me into the capable hands of Barnes-Jewish, so my surgery could be completed and I still be by M’s side as he recovered.) Two weeks after surgery, I got a phone call. My tumor was malignant – almost 5 cm of thyroid cancer – specifically, follicular carcinoma. Less than thirty days after my first, I had a second surgery to remove the remainder of my little butterfly organ. In early December, they treated me with radioactive iodine and by mid-December, we were allowed to come home to Jonesboro.
After nine months of doctors and hospitals, we were home. That Christmas was so very sweet.
I returned to teaching in mid-January 2013 and finished out the semester. That May, I resigned. I had been ill for a long time, and after caring for M and needing recovery myself, I was beyond exhausted. I needed a change. I needed rest.
That summer and fall, we built back our strength and attempted to regain “normal” life. I began classes in Graphic Design, just to dabble, to learn. In October, we took a trip to Nashville for a conference called Storyline (and just to roam Nashville – it’s a super cool place), only to be interrupted by an emergency appendectomy. (Because, what’s one more surgery on my chart, right?…) We now add Vanderbilt to the list of great hospitals we’ve visited.
M’s one-year checkup was clear and excellent; mine showed regrowth. I redid the radioactive iodine treatment. My body had mostly recovered by March 2014, but I took a break from graphic design classes.
At the end of 2014, M’s two-year checkup was splendid. His blood counts were “perfect” and “ideal.” My two-year scans, however, showed regrowth again. So, at the end of January 2015, I took another dose of radioactive iodine. Now, I recover and marvel at this body I own, how resilient we were designed to be.
I wish I could say that we’ve been steadfast and out-willed cancer, kicking its boo-hiney with magnificent strength. The reality is that we have been carried through hell and nursed back to health by countless loves. We simply didn’t let go.
**Be on the lookout in the coming months for updates on the progress of my debut memoir, a collection of stories and lessons learned from cancer, recovery, and life ever after.**
Stupid Cancer is an advocacy group for young adults with cancer. We are quite fond of them and so grateful for their work. To support their efforts (or just get a cool t-shirt), click here.