“My Voice” by Liz Strobel

Liz Strobel - 'Survivor'

I am no stranger to cancer. I have met it several times over the course of my 26 years. My first meeting was my grandfather, who was diagnosed with skin cancer, though it didn’t affect me and the people in my “bubble”. Cancer didn’t enter my world until 1992. My little brother was diagnosed with Medulloblastoma (brain cancer) at the age of 7. It took 10 years, a 9 hour brain surgery, losing his sight, countless treatments, 3 referrals to “take him home and let him die there”, and one bout of becoming paralyzed until we reached the “cured” finish line in 2000. Today, he is a happy and semi-healthy 24 year old. Then God decided to shake things up.

In 2005, I was a college student at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. I was majoring in Family & Child Development. I was taking 18 credit hours, living in a two bedroom apartment off campus with two other girls, working two jobs, and dating a guy I met at work. I was like every other college student who attempted to balance too many plates at one time. In August of 2005, I started feeling “ill” in the sense that I just wasn’t myself. For weeks, I chalked it up to being overworked and not getting enough sleep and just went on. It didn’t really get my attention until the bruises showed up. I’m not talking normal, everyday bruises; I’m saying bruises that should have come from being kicked by a horse, or getting hit by a car. Since neither of those things has occurred, I started getting worried. I talked with friends and they all said “take some iron”. Unfortunately, the impending breakup of my relationship put my health concerns on hold for a bit and the bruises went on the back burner.

Then one day, I went to work and showed one of my co-workers my bruises. She immediately told me that I need to go to the ER. I called my dad (who is an RN) and asked him what I should do. He told me to go and make sure they draw blood. So I went and sat in the ER for a few hours and had blood taken. About 30 minutes later, my ER doctor walked it with the results. He sat down and said, “Ms. Strobel, you have no blood cells. No reds, no whites, no platelets, no nothing. I believe you have leukemia”. At that moment, I felt like I was a million miles away. I vaguely heard the words, “oncologist”, “call a friend to be here” and “bone marrow biopsy”. Here I am, 22 years old, 800 miles away from home, alone in an ER triage room being told that I could have cancer.  I finally snapped back enough to call my parents and tell them what was going on. Then I called friends. I called everyone in my phonebook and no one answered. Finally, I had to call my ex because I just needed someone there and I needed a hand to hold. Luckily, he did just that. After that, I was moved to an isolation room and the next day, I was released from the hospital, packed whatever I could into a suitcase, and left VA to come home. When I arrived home, I was put into isolation, where I was told it could be another disease and sent me to Shands Hospital at the University of Florida. I was admitted, and given a crash course in “cancer 101”. I had my first bone marrow biopsy done and after that, all I could do was wait for the results.

September 5, 2005 was the day I was diagnosed with Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia. I started on a heavy course of chemo right away and spent 31 days in isolation. Then I returned home and came back for 5 months for outpatient therapy. On February 22, 2006, I was put into remission, and then placed on an oral chemo for 2 years, which I finished in 2008. I lucked out, so to say, with the type of cancer I had. I have a 95% chance of survival and I responded well to treatments. But emotionally, I was a disaster. While I was in the hospital, my boyfriend decided to break it off for good and immediately started dating another person. My friends, who all promised to call and write, never did, and everything that I worked for the past 3 years was gone in the matter of days. I just wanted my “normal life” back. I just wanted to be healthy. I was angry at not only the cancer, but God as well. For months, my prayers were no more than screaming at Him until I finally stopped. Then I realized that I cannot do this on my own, not anymore. I sought help; I got on medication and sought godly counsel for my situation. Thank God for the few people that stuck by me and refused to give up on me or else I would not be here, writing this letter, sharing this story.

Today, I’m 3 years in remission and all my tests are coming back normal. I am a survivor and I wear that badge with pride and honor. Survivorship isn’t just a term to me, it’s my life. Every day I wake up, I thank God for His unending mercies and blessings. My advice to people dealing with cancer: Don’t be ashamed of your feelings. It’s okay to be angry! BE ANGRY! Scream! Punch something! Yell! Cry! Do whatever you have to do but NEVER STOP FIGHTING! Get angry at the cancer, fight it for all it’s worth and declare yourself a survivor because you ARE one! You are alive! You are not a victim, but a survivor!

Am I where I thought I would be 4 years ago? Absolutely not. Am I the same person I was 4 years ago? Not at all. Would I change what I have been through? Not for the world. Cancer made itself personal; it took friends, loved ones, hopes, dreams and goals with it. It pushed and pushed me to see what I was made of. It took me a while, but I finally pushed back and told cancer that I am not a victim anymore. I am a survivor and as long as I have breath in these lungs, I will continue being one.