Big Sis In Burgundy: We Give Thanks
Published: Nov 21, 2011 11:58 am
In this week of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for many things, including the opportunity to share my family’s myeloma journey with you and the relationships that have grown as a result.
While I am still not thankful for the myeloma diagnosis, the last seven months have been filled with blessings. It is generally not my style to repeat words over and over in my writing, but for this week, please bear with me, because there’s going to be a whole lotta thankful going on.
On Monday, November 14, we were blessed with a bountiful harvest – my sister Deana, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in April, collected 15.24 million stem cells on the first day! In a word, we were thrilled. Deana will be admitted to the hospital today, and we expect the transplant to occur on Wednesday or thereabouts. We give thanks.
The Multiple Myeloma Resarch Foundation (MMRF) Fall Gala served as reminder that all in the myeloma family can be thankful for Kathy Guisti, who, along with her sister Karen Andrews, founded the MMRF shortly after Kathy’s diagnosis. You can imagine how their story touches me, and I am inspired every day by their work. It was an honor to meet them last month. Stevie Wonder received the Spirit of Hope award that evening and left us with this thought: “Don’t just talk about it, be about it.” Kathy and Karen are definitely “about it.”
Attending the Gala allowed me to connect with so many people, including Walter Levine, who graciously gave me a copy of his book, How Can I Help You?: The Most Important Question in Business and Life. The few moments I spent chatting with Walter, a myeloma survivor, and his wife were special indeed.
It was a treat to meet myeloma patient and volunteer Jeanie Dreyer live and in person. Trust me, reading articles about her does not do her justice. She is high energy and radiates positivity. My family continues to find great hope in her story, given that she is a younger patient and a very active wife and mother, just like Deana. I am thankful for Jeanie generously sharing her experiences to benefit others.
Marianne Brassil was my seatmate at the Gala and offered many terrific suggestions and words of encouragement, especially relating to the upcoming fundraiser called the Empire State Run Up, for which I have registered. Visiting with survivors like Marianne is special. I continue to be touched by the openness and generosity of all who have crossed my path thus far, whether in the electronic world or face to face.
On November 11, I attended the MMRF’s “Clinical Insights in Multiple Myeloma” program at Emory University in Atlanta. This was an excellent seminar and one I would highly recommend if it comes to your area. There was so much information shared, and I was especially heartened by the news of clinical trials and new treatments that will likely be available in the next 6 to 12 months. While it is my hope that Deana will soon enter remission and that her remission will last indefinitely, it helps to know that should we need to enter active treatment in the future, great advances are being made in treating myeloma.
Of course, I also met many patients, survivors, and caregivers and have added to my circle, which is something I, as a high extrovert, cannot get enough of. Nancy Bruno, who serves as Group Leader and Executive Director of the Atlanta Area Multiple Myeloma Support Group, inspired me with her gracious spirit, which shines through like the sun. Her husband was diagnosed in 1998 and had a stem cell transplant in 2001. Her husband was in remission for 6 ½ years, which she described as great years. The myeloma resurfaced, and he passed away in January. I give thanks for people like Nancy, who continue to give so much to others, even in the face of personal loss.
The following day, I returned to Atlanta for the MMRF’s Race for Research 5K. I generally do not run 5Ks (the distance is too short for my liking) and certainly do not travel 90 minutes to do so, but for myeloma, I’m doing many things I would not normally do.
It was a very chilly morning, but there was a feeling of warmth in the air. There was the opportunity to chat with some of my new friends from the previous day, and I also talked with Dr. David Vesole of the John Theurer Cancer Center. Dr. Vesole was one of the presenters from the seminar; his talk covered stem cell transplantation, which is obviously at the top of my list at present.
Despite it being a Saturday morning where he had just run 3.1 miles, Dr. Vesole was very kind in listening to my concerns, and not surprisingly, told me I was welcome to be in touch with him if I had further questions. Before I left, I sought out Dr. Sagar Lonial, who served as the seminar’s emcee and delivered the presentation on clinical trials. He too offered to review Deana’s case at any time. I am grateful for the work of these accomplished researchers and touched by their generosity.
Everyone I have met who is employed by MMRF has been terrific beyond description. Their dedication to their work and finding a cure for myeloma is something we can all be thankful for.
My thankfulness for all who have joined my family as members of Team Beat the Heck Outta Multiple Myeloma (BTHO MM) knows no bounds. We draw daily on the thoughts, prayers, and positive energy being sent our way. The kindnesses of our friends, old and new, move us to tears on many occasions. We are truly blessed.
The renewed sense of perspective brought on by the activities of the last seven months is cause for thanks, too. It is unfortunate that it takes something like cancer to remind me of what is truly important. The ability to spend more time with my immediate family, my beloved mother, and sisters and the little tribe of nieces and nephews they have given me to love, is a gift.
I am thankful to have a job that gives me the flexibility and financial situation to be there to support my family, and I am so fortunate to be part of a work family that also supports each other through all that life throws our way. My colleagues are incredibly special to me, and I consider the opportunity to do work that I love with people that I love to be with to be one of the great blessings in my life.
Superlatives are a challenge as they are absolute, so I’ll just express my thankfulness for having the greatest husband for me. Peter is aptly named. I’m not sure how his sweet mother knew that he would indeed be “a rock,” but he is. There has not been a moment in all of this that he has questioned my heading to Pittsburgh to be with my sister Deana – in fact, at times he expresses surprise that I am not there. My job takes me away from home quite a lot. There are late nights, weekend work, and then there’s travel. We do not have the time together that a “normal” couple would have, if such a thing even exists anymore. Since the moment Deana was diagnosed, he has continued to be my rock and I am so very thankful that he chose to spend his life with me. In his ever quiet way, he has made sacrifices of time and money and has accepted my “caregiver brain” (akin to “chemo brain”) and has not spoken a syllable of discontent. He is a treasure.
My mother and I were fans of the TV series Sisters, popular in the 1990s, which to me, feels like yesterday. There was a beautiful Thanksgiving blessing shared on one episode, which I have saved to this day. While I refer to it often, it is especially pertinent to me this Thanksgiving.
We give thanks to our Creator for the blessings you have bestowed upon us. For the days we’ve had together and all the days to come; for the joys and sorrows that bind us ever closer; for the trials we have overcome. And, for teaching us that we can do no great things. Only small things, with great love. We thank you.
My very best to you and your families this Thanksgiving.