Yesterday was my 2nd transplantiversary. The first thing I would like to do is thank Rebecca Friedman for that term.
You see I used to use, and many do use, the phrase new birthday. After all, my new blood system turned 2 yesterday. But here’s why I am no longer happy to call it a birthday (though I am still welcoming presents). For me it is not a remembrance of when my blood system started, or that some new life that began two years ago. For me it is a time to remember, appreciate, and recognize all those that made this new lease on life possible.
I would not be alive today if it was not for my son whose first day of college was spent face down, anesthetized as 50 probes extracted over a liter of bone marrow. I would not be here without my transplant oncologist Dr. Horwitz, his amazing nurse practitioner Kristi Wiggins, or the entire care team at Duke.
But just as important to my recovery was my wife who was my constant advocate, memory, cheerleader, drill sergeant, and ultimate reason to go on living. Also, my mother who was with me the first week before the transplant, stayed with me for weeks during the transplant, and who, with my step-father Bob, uprooted their life so that my sone Andrew could stay at home, at school, and cared for.
When I unveiled the beautiful cake Nikki Gilbert made for the 2nd anniversary, Andrew, my youngest son, said that this was really a celebration for me and Riley – he didn’t do anything. It was a great opportunity for me to explain just how wrong that statement was. Knowing he was doing well in school, having him send me jokes and memes, knowing what a great man he was growing into was essential to me persevering. I also wanted to acknowledge the toll this took on him. The uncertainty, the stress, the trauma of a parent in with cancer is a very real cost to be paid, and his contribution to that cause is equal with a donor and a doctor.
TO this list I have to add my sister who supported me the whole time and did time as a caretaker. Her life was in the midst of major change, and she took the time to lift me up. This anniversary is very much a remembrance of my work colleagues that covered my responsibilities at the university and advanced the school while I was in treatment. From classes covered, duties accepted, and meals delivered, I can never express how much their support mean to me.
And this support extends to friends and colleagues that sent notes, and cards, and simply let me know that I mattered, and they cared.
A birthday is a time for celebration, a transplantiversary is a time for gratitude and reflection. It is a time to remember earnest talks with my wife about what my funeral arrangements should look like. It is a time to be glad that after months of chemo and treatment I was unable to climb stairs, and now go for (nearly) daily 3 mile walks with my dog. It is a time to be grateful for good health care that paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars and the recommit to advocating for health care for all as a right. It is a time to recognize that cancer will always be a part of my life, has shaped my life, and deepened my appreciation for life.
Celebrating a transplantiversary is an easy thing to do, and I invite you all to join in. Donate blood. Give to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Hug the ones you love. Write a person you know wrestling with cancer just to say you were thinking of them.
I’m sorry I didn’t get a cake big enough for all. But do know that you are in my thoughts and you have my thanks. Next year we’ll celebrate outside of our house and without masks.