“My Voice” by Theresa Ameri

Theresa Ameri - 'Survivor'

In part, the past six years have been an absolute blur. One minute I was in complete control of my life, and the next I was spiraling out of control into chaos. The irony being, of course, that control is one of the biggest illusions. At twenty eight, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It is one of the cancer’s they say is like winning the cancer lottery. High cure rate, low mortality. But is cancer a lottery ticket that anyone would stand in line to win? And what happens when you aren’t a “winner” and you have to go through round after round of chemotherapy and two bone marrow transplants? Well, you either laugh, or you cry. I did my fair share of both.

I was not the typical presentation of Hodgkin’s. In fact, I think I was the exception to just about every rule. I think I took being unique and one of a kind to a new level. It even took five months to be diagnosed and when it was, it was the most advanced it could be: Stage IV B. The statistics did not look hopeful right from the start. All along, though, I knew that for me, the only statistic that mattered was the 50/50. Either I was going to survive, or I wasn’t. What happened to anyone else didn’t matter. And even though one of the physicians that treated me told me I had been reduced to a 10% chance of survival after the second relapse, I didn’t listen. I wasn’t going to accept that that was my fate.

I met some amazing people going through cancer as a young adult. Two of the most special women had exactly the same cancer and exactly the same course of treatment and exactly the same path until I survived and they did not. I lost some surprising people. People who I thought would be there for me no matter what. But in the end, I realize that it is not who or what you lose because of cancer, it is what you gain. And I have learned more lessons in the past six years fighting to live than I think I would have learned living sixty years more in good health.

It never occurred to me to do anything different than what I did. By the second bone marrow transplant, I was still forging forward. I look back and I surprise even myself. I don’t know how I worked, coached basketball, finished graduate school and stayed in close connection with my friends and family. I do know that I didn’t do it on my own. You cannot survive on your own.  You need people around you that love and support you. Hair, no hair. Weight gain, weight loss. Pale, green, not looking so great. I was still me on the inside and I am an even better me now.

I have a perspective on life that it may have taken me years if not a lifetime to obtain. I see people as they are. I take chances. I go all in. I don’t hold back. The way I fought my cancer is the way I want to live the rest of my life. I grieve some of the things I lost. But I am alive. I am here. I want my life to mean something. I want what I went through to mean something. I wish that everyone that was diagnosed with cancer would survive. I know that this is not possible. At least not yet. My hope, though, is that everyone diagnosed with cancer can find something in themselves that they can be proud of and call upon to give them strength even in their darkest hour.

I have a list of things that I want to do. Places to go. Things to see. While there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t worry that my cancer will come back, I don’t let that fear stop me. I acknowledge it and then I face forward. I surround myself with love and am grateful for each day that I have the chance to give and receive love and happiness to those that mean the most to me.