Each time I look outside our living room window, I see a small green house across the street in front of me. This house is not just any house. Sixteen years ago, my parents rented this home. Sixteen years ago, the unimaginable happened. When someone is diagnosed with cancer, they are usually considered cured after five years in remission. It had been six years since my parents were stunned by the news that their nine-year-old daughter had dysgerminoma. They were more stunned to learn I had relapsed at age 15.
The technical term was recurrence due to it being more than five years since the last sign of the cancer but it meant the same thing. I had cancer and this time it was not stage I. The dysgerminoma somehow left my remaining ovary alone and grew through the ureter of my right kidney. A protocol of bleomyacin, cisplatin, and etiposide was to follow five days after the removal of the tumor and compromised kidney.
The years 1992-1993 were the lowest of my life. I went from being a vain and shallow 15 year old girl to being a humble and bald 15 year old girl over the course of one month. In 1992-1993 the Internet did not exist in the form it does now. It was impossible for me to log onto a computer (if we had a computer and did not at that point) to look up dysgerminoma and the cure rate. I assumed that because it was a recurrence it meant life was over for me. This assumption continued until I finally looked up what dysgerminoma was and the cure rates in 2001. 90 percent of those diagnosed are cured and finally, after eight years of wondering if the next year would be the last, I began to accept the cancer was gone. The many prayers people sent to God for me, the chemotherapy, the unbelievable luck of catching the cancer before it attacked other organs saved me.
2001 was also the year I became a St. Jude alumnus and no longer had to return to the hospital. It was the year I got my life back. My husband and I got engaged, were married the following year, and were expecting our first child eight months later. We lived in an apartment that had two levels. Out of fear for a baby’s safety climbing the steps, we went in search for a home. Well, my husband and in-laws embarked on the search.
I was a little surprised when the home they found was located across the street from the home that holds my memories from chemotherapy. I have looked at the little green house and remembered the day my mom brought me home from the hospital after a health scare and my dad surprised me with Super Mario Brothers 3 playing on the television screen. My parents’ income was terribly low due to their being off work to spend time with me and I knew the sacrifice they made to buy me that game. Calling out my brother-in-law who was then dating my older sister on his real age happened when we lived in that house. He told my sister he was only one year younger than she but I clarified very quickly that he told a lie because I remembered him in high school. Probably the saddest memory in that house was when my cousin and I were talking in my bedroom. My cousin was my best friend and had never seen me without the wig my grandma bought for me not long after my first round of chemotherapy. The wig was bothering me and I asked her if she cared if I took it off and put on a do-rag type thing instead. Her face showed mixed emotion but she said it was fine and I did remove the wig. I looked at her long blonde hair and wondered if I would ever have hair that beautiful. It was a sad moment for me. A lot of sad moments occurred in that house.
Now I am twice the age I was when I went through chemotherapy. If you are thinking, “you should get over it” then it shows you don’t understand what having cancer during the formative years of your life is like. Even when we moved into this house in 2003, I felt some sadness looking across the street to the green house where I felt so much pain and fear. Over time the sadness has faded and my feelings are more sentimental. A sad event happening in life is something that must be conquered.
This time of the year is very special for me. February 15 is my celebration day. Ask any cancer survivor and most, if not all ,who were of an age to understand the implications of what they had, can tell you the day they were declared cancer free and the day they went off chemotherapy. This February 15th will mark 17 years off chemotherapy. The amazing thing is that 17 years is more than half of my life ago. The teenage girl who didn’t believe she would live to see 16 is about to more than double that age.
A curious thing happened the other day. My husband and I left for church and to leave for our church, it is necessary to drive right past that little green house. I looked at the house and all fear and sadness were gone. I actually smiled. It took me 17 years to erase those painful memories but they are gone. In their place is a deep gratitude to God for giving me the additional time, allowing me to learn to trust in him more, for sparing my fertility and giving me two wonderful children, for giving me a husband who though we fight and argue often we love each other. Even though I learned cancer will be an even bigger risk later in life due to Cowden Syndrome and I was diagnosed with stage zero breast cancer in 2008, I feel amazingly calm and happy. No one chooses the life they are born into but everyone chooses how they react to it. I’m blessed and in exactly one month from today on February 15, 2010, I am going to party down with all the junk food I can eat. Seventeen years have gone by and cancer did a number on my physical health but I have finally conquered my emotions, my lack of faith, and what truly matters. Isn’t that a reason to party if nothing else is?