In February we introduced you to guest blogger Jessica Melore, who told the story of her blood cancer journey. Here her journey continues…
I value a sense of control in my life. For me this translates to being a planner, a useful life-skill I like to playfully blame on my parents. When I was in elementary school, I had regularly scheduled piano lessons, ballet and tennis practice, in between schoolwork and family trips to museums. In high school, I crammed my days with tennis matches, theater, choir and various social and volunteer activities. And now at age 31, I continue to plan a pretty packed schedule. But when life hits you with adversity, it’s not exactly part of your life plan.
As I shared in my previous blogs here, here and here, I’ve been through a number of unplanned events in my life: a heart attack at 16, followed by a leg amputation, a nine-month wait for a heart transplant, and two bouts of blood cancer. People often ask me how I was able to maintain a positive mindset during those periods, and I remember how stressful it could be, especially in the beginning. Through all this adversity, it might surprise you that I felt the biggest threat to my well-being was not the physical trauma of the events themselves, but the uncertainty about my future: Would I ever receive a new heart? Did I have cancer? Was I going to die?
My whole concept of normalcy was derailed, along with my sense of control. I’d seen the stress, anxiety, self-doubt, and in some cases, paralyzing fear that uncertainty could provoke in others. What was to become of me? I still had so much life ahead of me--how would I pursue my plans and dreams?
When I first faced non-Hodgkin lymphoma my sophomore year at Princeton University, the worry about possibly having cancer was far worse than the treatment itself. At first I walked around in a daze, seeing visions of my family gathered at my tombstone. I’d read statistics about 90% survival rates and focus on the 10% who didn’t make it. I’d rub the enlarged lymph nodes on my neck obsessively, willing them to shrink in size.
Once the diagnosis was confirmed, and I starting talking to my doctor about treatments, everything changed. My life was no longer in a holding pattern. Even if it meant hair loss, nausea, and fatigue, at least now I had a plan, and I wanted to finish it and put it behind me as soon as possible. I was ready for action.
Of course, while the diagnosis and treatment plan gave me a better sense of certainty about what was happening, the uncertainty of whether the treatment would work remained. Even though physically I had to put myself at the mercy of my doctors and medical science, I realized that there were other ways I could still have control over my life. I believe that the mind and body are inextricably connected, and our minds can be our greatest motivator or our worst enemy. That’s when my planning skills kicked in.
Check back tomorrow for the second installment in this three—part series from Jessica.If you'd like to share your story please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: Jessica, center, with friends, at her college graduation, two years after chemotherapy