Cancer comes with its many challenges and pitfalls, but that doesn't mean it has to all be bad news.
When I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia after months of fatigue, and rushed to the ER, I was shocked and horrified. “Why me? What now? Where did I go wrong?”
I asked anyone within earshot, but no one could provide an answer. But after four weeks of hospitalization and eight months of recovery that resulted in my glorious remission, I began to see the myriad benefits that cancer can offer.
You’re Never Lonely
I must confess, I’d been single for over five years when diagnosed, and when Match.com didn’t work, it was tough to be by myself. In the hospital, though, people were everywhere – they streamed in and out of my room day and night. First there was the chaplain.
“Is there anything you’d like to talk to me about?” he asked just five minutes after I had donned my horrid hospital gown on Day One and lay down. He was dressed in black and smiled kindly.
“Like what?” I asked.
“Transitions,” he replied.
“I think I need a nap,” I said, turning my head away from him, shocked and appalled at the implication of his question. Did he think I was heading to heaven?
Next there was the bubbly Baby Boomer.
“I’m the head of housecleaning,” she said, bursting with pride. “Our mission is to keep our rooms spic and span. How do you like the floors?”
Then there was the endless array of nurses who sneaked into my room every few hours or so throughout the night to take my vitals, before drawing blood through the tube in my neck.
And, of course, there were my friends, who came bearing food I couldn’t eat (I had painful mouth sores), and plants I couldn’t keep (they harbored bacteria).
Even a fanatic I knew showed up and begged me, as I lay sick and helpless — too weak to protest — to become a Republican.
It didn’t take long to realize that my IV pole, with its life-saving drip, and to which I was tethered 24 hours a day, was my favorite companion.
You Lose Weight
For many years, I struggled to be thin: Weight Watchers, Jennie Craig, back-to-back spin classes. I tried them all, but to no avail. When faced with food, I’d lose all control. One day I downed a quart of chocolate-decadence coconut-milk ice cream with a chia seed sprinkle (I was trying to be healthy); another time, I devoured an entire watermelon(it was too good to stop); and I remember the time at work when I inhaled a 12.5-oz bag of Lay’s Original chips (I was bored with my job).
But at the hospital, after just one day of my 24/7 Cytarabine-Idarubicin chemo regimen, I swore I’d never eat again. “Meatballs and spaghetti?” the nurses pleaded. No thanks. “Apricot-glazed salmon?” I’m just not hungry. “Chocolate layer cake?” Maybe tomorrow.
I dropped 20 pounds in a month.
Once discharged and able to fit once again into my size 8 jeans, I basked in the stares and winks I got as I paraded around town in my stylish wig, mask-free at last, since my blood counts were back to normal. I felt young, and even healthy, once again.
Your Skin Glows
Some of my friends have paid thousands of dollars to their dermatologists for dermabrasions, chemical peels, and facials of all kinds. The results? Meh. But after my chemo marathon, sheets of dried, dead skin peeled from my face, hands, and feet like you wouldn’t believe. Doctors from every floor and specialty rushed to my room to witness for themselves this “Mother of Adverse Reactions”.
In a mere three months, however, I realized this adverse reaction was anything but. My skin grew back as smooth and soft as a baby’s, and I was the envy of all my friends. After all, I had gotten an unexpected beauty treatment that was covered by insurance!
You Never Run Out of Password Ideas
If you’re over 50 like me, one of the hardest things in life is remembering your passwords, and for that matter, coming up with new ones every time your computer demands one, which seems like every two seconds. When you have cancer, you’re bombarded with terms and acronyms that are strange and frightening, but when you think about it, they make the most novel passwords, sure to elude even the wiliest hacker.
There’s “apoptosis,” the birth of cells; “necrosis,” the death of cells. I’m particularly fond of “angiogenesis,” the development of blood vessels. It’s just so lyrical. If I were a WOCBP, woman of child-bearing potential (hey, yet another PP [possible password]), I’d consider naming my daughter that and calling her Angie for short.
My all-time favorite, though, is MUGA (multigated acquisition scan), an imaging test that evaluates how well your heart pumps blood. The doctors assured me I was “normal.” I always knew I had a good heart.
5. You Worry Less About Money
I was never good with money, and now that I’m retired, I’m sometimes a bit concerned. But then I remember. I may not need as much anymore, so I spend with reckless abandon. My prognosis is good, but who knows? I feel entitled to everything! Anything! Whatever the hell I want.
So, if, and when, Americans are ever welcome back to Europe, I vow to take a month-long trip to Paris. I’ll prance about town to show off my new svelte bod and radiate happiness as I bask in my newfound joie de vivre.
Marilyn Kochman is a writer and editor from West Windsor, New Jersey.