Gratitude In Cancer

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In March 2019, I began feeling off…I didn’t know what it was. I thought perhaps it was the loss of a relationship that broke me to my core, or that fact that an old friend had asked me to be a kidney donor for someone I had never known. I agreed to be tested to see if I was a possible match.

Fast forward to October: after continual pain in my right shoulder blade, I was tested for a possible blood clot that had formed. In reality, that feeling I had all those months was the unimaginable. After a kidney donation, the news “you have a giant mass in your chest and it doesn’t look good” stopped my world. Days later it was confirmed it was Stage III large B-cell mediastinal non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. All I heard was the word cancer, and immediately I thought death. But that was not an option. I had to survive and I was determined to do it with a bit of grace.

After weeks of appointments, different cancer centers, and treatment options, I finally met with a doctor that I felt would help me exactly how I needed.I picked an inpatient regimen and started two days later. In a moment’s notice I could no longer work, go out to dinner, or do everyday normal things. I couldn’t have fresh flowers or use the simple lotions I loved. My job was cancer and I was the only employee. 

For the next 5 months I would fight this war. I thought I had educated myself on all possible side effects and felt “prepared for chemo.” However, I experienced several conditions I wasn’t prepared for… I had port infection, my liver struggled greatly, I had a PICC line placed, my possible BMT donor (in case I needed it) backed out, I developed allergies to agents that are common in the hospital like chlorhexidine soap, wipes and disks for my PICC line, and my skin on my left arm began peeling off from the chemo. I couldn’t have a traditional dressing over my PICC line and nurses had to pioneer a special man-made dressing to keep it safe.

By the time I was 3 cycles down, I wondered if I would be able to do this. It was harder than I thought. But I kept going. Something deep down in my bones was telling me this would be bigger than me. In March 2020, I entered the hospital for the 6th and final treatment of this round. It was the first week of the Stay at Home order for Colorado. As I ended my treatment and got the long-awaited moment to ring the bell, I did so with a small group of nurses, as our floor was officially shut down to avoid COVID-19 infections. This was not how I imagined ending treatment. All I was working for was a “normal life” again. So just as I was about to start life again, the world stopped for everyone. Up until this point I had kept my story pretty private. However, I chose to begin to share my story.

Six months ago, my world was pulled out from under me and I felt scared, lost, and couldn’t see the light. I felt much of the world felt like that now in the midst of a pandemic. I want to show people that when you are in the fire it is ok not to see the light, it’s ok for the world to feel heavy, and it’s ok to wonder “how am I going to do this?” I feel in a place now to hold some of that heaviness or negative space for people. I’ve come out of the fire, a little burned, but I’m coming back with water!

I always said I wanted to find gratitude in my cancer. People would scoff at me like I was crazy. But what if, this crazy, horrible diagnosis was the fire I needed to go through so I could help others. Help others during a time when everyone is affected in some way or another? So now, I share my story. One that I aspire to bring grace, love, humility, and hope to others.

By Lyndi Abote

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