The Reflection

Have you ever caught your reflection in a mirror or a store window when you weren’t prepared for it?  It can be startling.  Usually when we look in a mirror we are prepared for what we are going to see, we use the filters in our brain to prepare for the image and to help us interpret that image in a way that is familiar and comfortable.  When you are not prepared the reflection can be startling.

I saw a friend at a business meeting today.  I hadn’t seen her for a while.  After the meeting she asked how I was doing, in the quiet serious way that let me know that she was asking how my health was.  I explained that I was doing well, it had been two and a half years since my stem cell transplant (SCT), and because the transplant hadn’t gotten rid of my cancer I’d had a “T-Cell” transplant almost two years ago which had worked and I have been cancer free for almost a year and a half. She told me that she remembered all that and that I looked great.  What she told me next took my breath away.

She shared with me, for the first time that her brother had also been diagnosed with a cancer similar to mine.  Around the time I was having my SCT, he too was having a transplant.  He, like me, had a family member of the same gender who was a ten point match who’d agreed to be his donor. Also like me, his SCT had failed to cure his cancer.  He also had a “T- Cell” transplant.  In his case the “T – Cell” transplant failed and he died.

My head was spinning.  He died! What! How? Why?

I was shocked.  I knew when I had gone in for my transplant that I could die.  I had updated my will, organized my finances, met with my attorney to make sure that all my affairs were in order before I was admitted to the hospital. When the initial transplant failed and we were told that are only next option was the “T – Cell” transplant, I knew, once again that there was a risk that I could die.  In fact at one point things were going so poorly and I was so sick that I actually drove to the funeral home and sat in my car in front of the facility trying to work up the courage to go in and make my own arrangements so my wife would not have to do it.  I couldn’t do it.

I realized after several days of thinking about this story almost constantly, that I had begun to take my survival for granted.  Daily living had begun to crowd out the fear of dying that had been so much a part of my life.  My deep sense of awe and gratitude, awe that my brother had done so much to save my life and gratitude for the health professionals, family and friends who had rallied to support my survival are still intact, but in less than two years the intensity of my experience had begun to recede.  I don’t ever want to forget how lucky I am and how close I came to losing everything.