It’s my birthday, too! Today I am 5 years old. Well, put a 4 before the 5 and it’s a little closer. But seriously…
5 years ago today I received a stem cell transplant for a recurrence of Hodgkins lymphoma. Upon completing a treacherous chemotherapy regimen which killed my immune system, I was confined to a hospital bed for three weeks wherein the doctors pumped stem cells that were weeks prior literally extracted from my body back in. Scientifically, I was reborn.
I hadn’t really thought anything about the transplant today until I went to my mailbox and saw a letter with an unfamiliar name and return address. As I opened the small envelope and pulled out the folded paper, I burst into tears. It was a letter written by an older woman, Noreen, in response to my recent article in the Boston Globe. In this moment, the past seven years of my life flashed before my eyes. It was a feeling I cannot explain; a rush of some kind that at once I felt elated and sad, embraced and alone.
I sat quietly outside in the unseasonably hot late-September sun and read her letter. She shared with me stories of her life – immigrating from Ireland, joining the National Guard, and meeting Elvis Presley. She described her family including her husband of 52 years, two daughters, and one son. Without knowing who she was writing to, she explained about her daughter with special needs and how times were not always easy. She wrote to me, “Don’t be a slave to anger and sadness for lost time … you are a wonderful human being.”
A message from a stranger, who with just my name and the name of my workplace scribbled on an envelope, took the time to write me a two-page letter to tell me the words I needed to hear on the exact day I needed to hear them.
So, in celebration of my “rebirth” and in honor of Noreen, I live my life with a deeper sense of hope and gratitude, and the knowledge that I’m not in this alone.