A Milestone

It’s August on Monday, already! And this August marks a very exiting milestone for me. On August 26th it will be 5 years since my stem cell transplant for acute myelogenic leukemia.

The whole ordeal feels a whole lot closer than 5 years ago, I still remember it vividly. I spent a total of 9.5 months in isolation, with no human physical contact. Everyone coming in and out of my room at the hospital had to wear a gown, gloves and mask and I spent a lot of time on my own despite many visits from family and friends.

I wouldn’t say I learnt a lot about myself, but I learnt a lot about being by myself and became very comfortable in my own company. There were a few moments when my family and even I thought I wasn’t going to make it through. The first treatment proved ineffective and life (or death) got really real, really fast. I came to terms with death and dying, and almost glorified the idea of dying young. “How noble,” I thought, “how brave.” I imagined many people at my funeral just like the hundreds who showed up to my mum’s funeral 5 years prior. I thought I would leave a legacy, and people would remember me as youthful and I romanticized the idea of death at a young age. Then the second treatment worked, and we looked for a stem cell donor and found one and I had the allogeneic stem cell transplant 6 months later, 5 years ago this August. I started to get better, minus some complications that led to a very infected gall bladder full of stones that needed to be removed, sepsis, and two cases of e-coli from the chemo treatments ripping through my intestine.

As I got better I started to worry about what I would do with the rest of my life. I had come to terms with having months to live and here I was at 21 years old gaining a potential 60+ years and I was exhausted by the idea of what I was going to fill all that time with. I worried that I would grow old and irrelevant and that people would forget about me. Honestly, those fears haven’t completely dissipated. It’s been a tough road since my recovery, and I have wondered why I stayed alive only to live more trials and hardships. But I’ve learnt that that’s life. I wrongly felt entitled for life to be easier after cancer, and I have accomplished a lot since then, just not in the time frame I’d hoped for, and there have been some unfortunate steps backwards.

I’m working on being patient with myself, and celebrating the little victories. I know I’ll get where I want to be in time. I still don’t know what I want to fill this life with, but I’m confident that I’ll figure it out as I go. Here’s to 5 years of life I didn’t think I’d get, and to many more!

xo

Ashlinn

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