Friday, April 20, 2012

Twenty Five Years

I am 25 years old.  I am a thousand years old. 

This was the year that I:

Finished my first year of grad school.

Planned a trip to Haiti.

Stood next to my sister-in-law while she married my brother.

Watched my blood counts drop.  Relapsed.  Almost got a bone marrow transplant.

Did not go to Haiti.

Lost my grandmother.

Moved home from Pittsburgh.  Took a semester off of grad school. 

Found out I’m going to be an aunt.

Started a blog.  And people read it. (THANK YOU!!!!)

Had chemo, again.  Recovered.  Watched my counts go back up.

Moved back to Pittsburgh.  Started grad school again, started working again. 

Watched my sister’s heart get smashed.  Watched my sister turn sorrow into strength and pain into beauty.

Became an aunt.  Learned how to hold a newborn. Fell in love with a teeny tiny human. 

I am 25 years old. I am a thousand years old.

I am tragedy.  I am hope.

I am fear. I am faith.

I am hypocrisy.  I am honesty. 

I am anxiety.  I am peace.

I am weakness.  I am strength.

I am sorrow.  I am joy.

I am despair and I am promise.  

I am 25 years old.  I am a thousand years old. 

And this is the year that I will:

Walk in my graduation ceremony with the same people I started the program with. 

Become Kelsey Allen, MPH

Give back the generosity that you all have shown me. 

And a whole lot more.  Who knows??? That's the beauty of health and youth; it lets your view of the future expand as far and as wide as the horizon.  And what an amazing gift that is. :)

This is my prayer in the harvest, when favor and providence flow
I know I’m filled to be emptied again
This seed I’ve received I will sow

Thank you for reading and walking on this journey with me.  I had no idea how much this blog would mean to me and what a lifeline it would become, but it certainly has. Here’s to the next year with hopefully a lot less platelet talk and a little more adventure. THANK YOU for all of your love and support!


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Detroit Love

People say a lot about Detroit.  People say true things.  People say untrue things.  But people say (mostly negative) things about Detroit.  I’ve heard many of them and maybe even said a few of them, but there is something about Detroit that not everyone knows. 

Detroit is a place to heal.

It may find itself on the top of almost every “Most Dangerous City” list and have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, its school system may have no money and the auto industry attempting to pick itself up from bankruptcy.  But Detroit is full of people who are full of hope.

In Detroit I’ve met amazing doctors.  I’ve met amazing nurses and nurse practitioners. 

I’ve sat next to cancer survivors in the waiting room at Karmanos cancer center.

And I fell in love with all of them.

I fell in love with them because they don’t whisper.  People from Detroit don’t whisper about their sports teams.  They don’t whisper about how their job is going. 

And they don’t whisper about cancer.

This is so rare, and so incredibly refreshing, it’s hard to describe.  Because when people are uncomfortable, when they don’t know what to say, or how to express their concern, or what questions they’re supposed to ask, they whisper. 

They tilt their heads to the side and tell you really softly, I’m so sorry for you…

And there is no worse emotion than pity.  Pity is useless.  Pity, to me, feels a lot like saying “I’m so glad I’m not you.”  Pity is a waste.  It is not productive.  Pity doesn’t lead you to get off your seat and try to make someone’s life better.  Pity doesn’t stir your soul and inspire you to pray for your sick friend, or a famine on the other side of the globe.  Pity sits comfortably in it’s comfortable life and says, “Geez that really sucks,” and then goes back to enjoying that life. 

So when I sat down in the waiting room at Karmanos for the first time, and a stranger across from me said, “You look too young to be in here, what kinda cancer you got?”

I was shocked, but I think part of me was so relieved to be around strangers who didn’t feel like they needed to walk on eggshells around me.  I explained my situation.  Then she continued, unprompted, to say that she had lung cancer, and had been through chemo several times. 
We finished talking and my Dad leaned over to me, smiled and said, “Well I guess this isn’t a shy crowd…” and I responded, “I guess not.  I think this is the boat, and we’re all in it.”

That was the moment that every little part of me that was asking, “Why me??  Why do I have to deal with this??” dissolved.  Because it’s not just me.  Not even close. 

Maybe I don’t deserve this, but neither did anyone in that waiting room.  No one in that room deserved to deal with cancer or whatever rare disease had landed them in the cancer hospital in Detroit. 

Because that’s the thing about disease.  It doesn’t discriminate.  It doesn’t care if you’re only 21 years old, just trying to figure life out.  It doesn’t care if you’re 45, just lost your job, and have 4 kids to raise.  It doesn’t care if you’re rich, poor, nice, mean, ugly, or beautiful. In the eyes of cancer and aplastic anemia, we are all the same.  I am the 65-year-old woman next to me in the waiting room.  I am the 40-year-old businessman sitting across from me.  I am them and they are me. 

I also fell in love with the camaraderie of being in a room full of people dealing with an awful, uncontrollable situation and still having reason to laugh.  And still finding a reason to praise God.

I fell in love with the way it feels to hear someone who’s been through your fight 20 years ago and look you in the eye and say, “You’ll be alright.”

I fell in love with witnessing the kind of love and loyalty it takes to be the friend, family member, the neighbor, who’s sitting silently in support of their sick loved one.

What’s so great about Detroit is that it may be down on its luck, but it sure doesn’t feel sorry for itself.  Because maybe they don’t have jobs, and maybe they have cancer, but no one walked into that hospital alone.  A grandmother walked into the treatment center with her grandson helping her.  Two sisters walk in together, sharing stories about their spouses, their childhood, and their children.  Maybe they didn’t have everything, but they had each other. 

My Dad likes to say that all the Allens were born with shovels.  We were born with shovels so that when life gets hard we can dig in.  And when life gets harder, you don’t give up.  You just get a bigger shovel.  Or you call your family and tell them to bring theirs. 

In the face of something as scary as cancer and aplastic anemia can be, it’s easy to want to turn your back.  It’s easy to want run from it and whisper quietly to your neighbors about what a shame it is.  But it takes an incredible community to turn and face, and dig in.  Detroit is packing some seriously big shovels with the challenges that they have faced and it has left a group of people that are not to be messed with. 

I will forever be indebted to Detroit for showing a girl from Ypsi the meaning of community. 

For showing me that it’s possible to face adversity with grace, laughter, and an unwavering faith in God. 

And for lending me their shovel.  ;)

Love, Kelsey

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Right on Time

Remember in my last post when I said that I needed to get through the heaviness and find the lightness that I knew was to come??

I found it. :)

I can feel that heaviness leaving me and replacing it is sort of a rush of happiness and contentment.  An expansion of my view of the future.  The feeling that doors are opening in front of me and the uncertainty of what the next few years will bring tastes sweet and hopeful. 

I’ve started my classes and my internship and the greatest gift that I have received is that the response to my return consisted of mostly, “welcome back” messages, or “I’m glad that you’re doing well,” a few people asked how I’m feeling.  But for the most part, the surprise and awkwardness of coming back from this was short-lived and very supportive.  I’ve been back for about 2 weeks and it already feels normal to be here doing all of these wonderfully normal things.

Right now almost everything that I do makes me feel lucky.  Even the silliest things, remind me that a month ago I didn’t have this privilege.  I feel lucky to be in grad school (although that doesn’t mean I’m not beyond excited to graduate).  I feel lucky to slug it out in my internship for a small stipend that doesn’t even cover my rent.  I feel lucky to walk in the freezing cold to the tiny gym at Pitt and spend my 30 minutes sweating on the elliptical.  I feel lucky to watch Friends with my roommate.  I feel lucky to make dinner for a friend.  I feel lucky to wash my own dishes.  I feel lucky to feel soreness in my muscles from exerting myself.  I feel lucky to feel tired from doing something rather than fatigued from a medical condition.  There’s definitely a big difference. 

I think part of what makes this mean so much is that not very long ago, my health was improving, but I still felt sluggish and down.  Even though my counts were going up, I didn’t feel good.  The thought of coming back to school felt daunting and scary.  I think part of me didn’t want to come back at all. 

A few months ago, I was searching the Internet for some post-chemo exercise plans (which as it turns out don’t really exist, but I really think they should), and I found an article on post-cancer depression.  It was written by a NY Times journalist who was blogging about his experience surviving testicular cancer. 

“After more than a year of diagnosis, treatment and waiting, it’s almost as if, finally and unexpectedly, my psyche heaved a sigh and gave itself permission to implode.”

His words described exactly what I was feeling.  That tiniest feeling of validation to what I had been thinking was all the push that I needed to know that I wasn’t alone.  And I wasn’t crazy for feeling depressed after having gone through this.  The article states that nearly 25% of cancer survivors face depression.  I didn’t even finish the whole blog post before I picked up the phone.

Going to see a therapist was one of the best things that I did for myself during this time.  I got to be completely honest about my fears and feelings without worrying about upsetting the other person.  It was a huge part of the healing process for me, and I am so glad that I took the time to dig into what was making me so sad.

Because honestly, this feeling as I write this right now, is totally worth it.  I feel great.  And it is so much more than my counts going up.

I think there is a little tiny part of me that didn’t want to write about going to a therapist.  There is a part of me that wants to be the type of person who just skates through tribulation in life with ease, and without professional help.  And the truth is that I could have survived this experience without counseling, sure.  But I would not feel as I do now.  I would feel physically better, without a doubt, but the fogginess of depression would still be with me.  And I would push through it, because I’m stubborn, but it would be hard.  And maybe I would have days where I ask myself, am I depressed? Maybe I should see a counselor.  But I never would.  I would just push forward, through the heaviness.

Do you see the difference?  Sorting through my sadness in Michigan means that being in Pittsburgh today, I am here.  I am not haunted by the nightmare I just survived.  I’m not falling asleep still shaking from the experience.  I am not anxious.  I am not held back by suppressed emotion.  I am present. 

I found this quote on Pinterest (obsessed, I admit), and I think it pretty much sums up this feeling.  Being back in school feels right in a way that I can’t quite put my finger on.  It feels like it was supposed to be this way all along.  I am exactly where I need to be, when I need to be there. 

Your journey has molded you for your greater good.
And it was exactly what it needed to be.
Don’t think that you’ve lost time.
It took each and every situation you have encountered to bring you to the now.
And now is right on time.

As always, thanks for reading :)