The BIG Picture

Most stories have only one beginning; I, however, am blessed to have many.  

May 15, 2009 – Instead of walking with my graduating class at Yankee stadium, I was 3,000 miles to the west and receiving my first dose of chemotherapy. 

I talked to my college swim coach, Lauren, that morning.  She had been diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer the month before.  Nuggets of wisdom I have since dubbed Laurenisms, she said, “Don’t hang onto what the doctors tell you,” and secondly, “Whatever you do, stay positive.”

September 10, 2009 – Merely four months later that first little Laurenism blossomed.  I had completed 6 cycles of ABVD chemotherapy and was ready to get back to “normal,” when I was told that not only did the chemo prove ineffective against my cancer, but my scans had been significantly misread.  Due to the location and size of the mass covering my right lung, the doctors at Scripps in San Diego recommended a treatment program that would have the effect of, “…if you used to run a few miles, you might only be able to make it around the block.”

“I cannot make any decisions today,” I told the doctor and walked out in pursuit of a second opinion.  My plans to take the LSAT would have to take a backseat; the battle for my life had just begun.

February 18, 2010 – Nurses came into my room on the “protective isolation” floor at UCLA Ronald Reagan around 7am, two little infusion bags containing stem cells in hand and singing “Happy Birthday.”  The stem cells looked like frozen tomato bisque and were absorbed into my system much faster than the other crap, but I knew the most trying weeks still lay ahead.  I had just completed high-dose chemo, the effects of which my body would endure over the next unknown number of days until the stem cells took root in my bone marrow, regenerating a new-and-improved immune system.

In reference to my blood type, one of the nurses remarked, “B positive, be positive!”

All I could think about was what Lauren had told me months before: Laurenism #2.  Hold onto myself, Alli D, and stay positive.  And what other choice did I have?  It was in blood, literally.

September 19, 2011 – It had been a year since I finished radiation therapy at UCSD Moore’s Cancer Center.  I was on the plane, flying back to San Diego after attending Lauren’s memorial service in New York.  Emotions high since I landed in New York 36 hours prior and let the reality settle, I had wanted to say “thank you” to her family, but I couldn’t find the nerve to lift my eyes to theirs.  The memory of standing in her office back in 2008, together brainstorming what might be causing our shared shoulder pain was all too vivid and the “what ifs” naturally fleeted across my mind.  

But it was during that 6-hour flight that I opened my laptop and began drafting an email to my club coach, Joe.  In light of an awfully negative series of events, I felt the urge to do something momentously positive – not only for myself, but to inspire others with their own challenges, none too small, to see that life really is beautiful.

What I proposed was to do something universally understood as challenging, some even call it impossible: to swim the English Channel.  Incredibly fortunate to have a second chance at life, it was understood that I had also just gained the motivation to attempt such a feat.  Joe was on board without hesitation and the training began, Lauren’s voice waking me up before dawn every morning.  ”Cut the crap,” she says, smile on her face, of course.

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