I look forward to every Valentine’s Day because of the special significance it holds for me.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, I can’t help but think about my most vivid Valentine’s Day memory, nine years ago. My room had been heart-attacked by my church youth group and there were presents of candy and stuffed animals all over the bed and dresser. It was the sweetest gesture from a supportive group of friends who were trying to cheer me up. I was 15 years old and I was coming home after my first hospital stay after undergoing my first chemotherapy treatment.
I always get emotional around this time of year. At the end of January of 2006, my parents drove me down to the Jimmy Fund Clinic at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to discuss the findings of a week long of tests, scans, and a biopsy. I was 15 years old and working on getting my drivers license and worrying about this boy in the marching band I was totally crushing on and I walked into that office and was told that I had cancer. In fact, I had a six-inch tumor growing in my left tibia and I needed to start chemo yesterday. Within a few minutes, my world stopped and my life changed forever. I was 15 years old and I had cancer.
As Valentine’s Day approaches this year, I think about coming home from my first chemotherapy treatment nine years ago. They don’t lie when they say that chemo is straight poison. Within the first week of my treatment, I dropped 20 pounds and needed a blood transfusion because the chemo had killed off all my white blood cells. I think about how hard it was for me to walk up the stairs to get to my room, how weak I felt and how angry I was that my left leg had betrayed me. I think about the year I was about to endure; the day I lost my hair and the day I lost my eyelashes and the eighteen agonizing chemotherapy treatments and the one very aggressive surgery to remove my tumor and reconstruct my leg.
But what I think about the most around this time of year, as Valentine’s Day approaches, is the love that was given and shown to me. My mom left her job to make sure I never had to spend a night in the hospital alone. My dad took care of all my siblings while my mom was with me and became both mom and dad for them for a while. I think about my little sister, who helped me move around when I was heaving a 20-pound cast after my surgery. I think about my best friend, who stood by me the day I shaved the rest of my balding hair off and how she, without hesitation, shaved her hair off, too. I remember my high school band, who all bought Livestrong bracelets to support me and signed a picture of them all wearing them for my room. I think about my church youth group who made me a hospital quilt to take with me for my treatments, about our neighbors who paid to have our lawn mowed once a week, about my family and friends who would make the hour long drive into Boston just to visit me and bring me treats.
I think about the children who became my friends on my hospital floor; the little 8-year-old girls who became my sisters and their mothers who kept my mother’s spirits high. I think about my nurses who worked holidays to make sure I was making it through my treatment. I think about my doctor, who always treated me like a person instead of an interesting case and who listened to me cry about the experiences I lost out on or how sick I felt. I think of the golden retriever who visited me once a week; who let me hug him and pet him and curl up with him for a few minutes of companionship. I think about the Patriot players who came to visit us on the floor, the musicians who spent time making music with us and the generous donors who paid for our parking garage tickets.
Nine years ago, I was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma and I thought my life was going to end. And even though I wouldn’t wish cancer on my worst enemy, I am so grateful for the way it changed my life, opened my eyes and truly let my life begin. I am grateful for this time of year because as painful as it is to remember what I went through, it is absolutely amazing to remember the acts of love and kindness shown to me and my family. I remember that I am worth something after all, that I made it through my cancer for a reason.
I am nine years post diagnosis and instead of wallowing in self-pity for what happened to me and my leg, I choose to be a survivor. I choose to remember the people who love me and who made fighting possible. I choose to keep that memory of their love and their kindness alive and to let it motivate me through my hard days.
You know who you are. To you, my loved ones, thank you. You made my life worth fighting for. And on Valentine’s Day, every year, I am reminded of that priceless gift. Happy World Cancer Day!