At 4 p.m. on September 11, 2020, I had my last round of chemotherapy for diffuse large B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
To be clear, I refused to call it “cancer”. I decided that I had been diagnosed with unwanted guests and they didn’t know which house they had entered.
Of course, this was important when the treatment was over and there was a flood of emotions.
We had done it; went through what most described as treatment that was like hell on earth. No more hair loss. No more nausea or general discomfort.
I should probably step back a bit and explain that I had been an accomplished athlete and competitive runner. The chemo and its effects were both physically and mentally destructive for me.
So, one beautiful sunny morning in early 2020, I was on an eight mile run when I felt a pinch in my abdomen.
I thought it was a urinary tract infection. Maybe gallstones. Of course, nothing very serious.
It turned out I was wrong.
A shocking turn of events
Doctors said I had several tumors – four the size of tennis balls – in my abdomen that were starting to crush vital organs. I needed immediate surgery.
The surgeon was unable to remove some of the tumors and gave me the assessment bluntly: unless I started chemotherapy immediately, I had about a year to live.
I was shocked. A possible short-term urinary tract infection without aggressive chemo? Life is full of euphemisms, eh?
My surgeon said if there’s one thing he learned as a doctor, it’s that you never know. “You are good, until you are not,” he said.
As 2020 drew to a close, I vowed not to make 2021 a milestone in my life. I rallied friends and neighbors to successfully preserve dozens of historic oak trees alive along the beautiful River Road that runs along the Indian River Lagoon. These trees are part of the historic heritage of Brevard County and will now be preserved for generations to come.
And two days after Thanksgiving 2021 – against the advice of others – I took part in the Space Coast Marathon. I thank Space Coast Runners, Don and Denise Piercy of the Running Zone and other good friends who have supported me this year. God carried me through it.
Earlier this year, I also became a counselor for the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center’s Volunteer Program for Patients and Their Families, hoping my story will inspire others to come through with hope after a devastating cancer diagnosis. . I am honored to have been invited to serve on their board of directors and recently produced H. Lee Moffitt’s very first podcast designed to inspire clinicians and staff, as well as give hope to patients. newly diagnosed cancer patients.
Perhaps most heartwarming, I rescued a yellow lab puppy named “Buddy” from Labrador Rescue of Florida. I am training Buddy as a therapy puppy and once he is certified hopefully he brings smiles and comfort to others who are in pain. Dogs have a knack for this stuff and there is a lot to be said about pet therapy.
It was a lot for 2021. But I have not finished.
Live in an emergency
Here are five goals I want to accomplish in 2022 to give more meaning to my life and the lives of others:
1. I have been asked to do motivational conferences at oncology and health care facilities across the country. If my experience and my humble words give hope to a single patient, or inspire a clinician, it will be a success.
2. I want to start with a book (niggers out there?) On how to face and overcome adversity. I have a few glimpses of some of the lessons I have learned. I just need to organize myself and have something on paper.
3. I will continue to passionately and zealously support local environmental organizations to preserve our trees, water, wildlife and air. These are treasures that must be aggressively protected for future generations.
4. I want to know more about this wonderful world we live in. This will involve research, travel, and reading. Perhaps, more importantly, it will involve listening. I think we all need to listen more and talk less.
5. I intend to continue to embrace my love for the arts and music. I started to paint again, which has long been a passion for me. In 2022, I would like to learn to play the piano, the guitar or both. Carnegie Hall, watch out!
Maybe what I learned through it all is that life is not about repetition. You really have to live with a sense of urgency.
It means don’t wait to apologize, don’t wait to say “I love you”, don’t wait to have this baby, to have that pet or to go visit your family and to your friends.
And don’t wait to check out all those places you want to see.
I’ve learned that reaching goals, especially after a life-long or life-threatening cancer diagnosis, sometimes requires an emergency.
Michelle Maricic, Rockledge, is an accomplished athlete, former emergency room nurse and successful businesswoman who has served as an executive, leader and mentor in healthcare for the past three decades.
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