Thursday, June 21, 2012

ReBirth Day 2012

June babies blowing out the candles to mark our dirty 30.
I turned one year old this past Saturday, June 16. One year old about three or four times over now? I feel so mature in my old age having survived one year post donor stem cell transplant, never mind my two autologous transplants in 2010. In the eloquently raunchy lyrics of Eminem’s “Cinderella Man” – a line that’s been stuck in my head for months now: “By the skin on my teeth and the hair on my nuts I skated by.” So true, Marshall, so true. Thank the universe for that figurative teeth skin and nut hair because sometimes I felt that was all I could hold onto.

The whole week leading up to the anniversary of my Day Zero – the day my sister’s stem cells were sent into my blood stream – was very emotionally draining. I didn’t expect to have such a hard time with the approaching day, but in reality I lost much sleep over it. I had restless nightmares with flashbacks of last year at this time when my mouth was so full of open sores from the chemo that it was pooled with blood for days, smears of red coating my teeth. I’d bolt up in bed with my heart pounding remembering waking up from the anesthesia too early and hearing the rush around me as interventional radiologists worked to jam a new catheter down a vein in my chest yelling for pressure and a transfer table as a bag of my mother’s donated platelets dripped into me in an attempt to clot my blood.

To say I went through some trauma would be to put it mildly. Unfortunately, those memories still haunt me, and I don’t know that I’ll ever process it all. Fortunately, I have so many positive memories of this past year that most of the time they overshadow the scary parts. It was those memories and the immense amount of gratitude and disbelief I feel that I gave attention to on my first re-birthday.

Craig and I hosted a huge shindig at our home to celebrate this re-birth and both of our 30th birthdays which happen this month. There were more than 100 of the most special people in our lives here to celebrate with us. We had an Extreme Octagon inflatable complete with adult jousting and boxing matches, a taco truck dishing out fresh creations, and a live band – Organized Chaos – consisting of an incredible group of guys from T’Ville and the surrounding area who rocked the lawn. We also took up a collection for the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge NYC, which was home to us all last summer and also this spring when I was in the city for radiation. Everyone’s generous gifts of needed living supplies for the facility filled a HUGE patio furniture sized box of goods that we can’t wait to deliver.

It was an incredible and beautiful evening after a rough afternoon spent talking myself out of crying and pushing myself to enjoy and relish in my accomplishments rather than dwell on the difficult memories of the past. It’s over. I’m past it. Maybe the cancer isn’t completely gone, but I’m fucking here and alive and feeling good and that’s pretty damn cool. Once the party started there was no way to dwell on all of the bad when surrounded by so many fun, positive, smiling people that have been there for us throughout our lives and especially throughout the most difficult times. I don’t know how we got to be so fortunate, but I’m so humbled by the people in our lives.

This past year has been a year of rebuilding. There is the obvious evidence of that: my formerly bald head is now covered in nearly three inches of baby fine curls and I’ve gained back 15 pounds of mostly muscle (I like to think!) filling in the scary bony look I sported last summer and bringing me back to a comfortable weight for my frame. I got to standing on a surfboard and I’ve been active and feeling healthy. I suffered with a bout of bronchitis over the past two weeks, but now I feel fine and my cough is completely gone – just like a normal person. I’d say that’s a pretty tangible sign that my new immune system is alive and well. We’ve just got to get that baby trained to go after those invading lymphoma cells. I have confidence that it will.

But more important than the physical aspects is how far I’ve come mentally and emotionally. I’ve experienced so much growth over this past year. I suppose coming that close to death kind of forces you to become very intimate with your self and very aware of the loved ones that surround you and the brevity and unpredictability of life. My close relationships are deeper than they have ever been as I find myself opening more and wanting desperately to give back the love that I was showered with during my most difficult times. Challenges seem less daunting and fear is no longer an issue. I’m more accepting of where I am at in life and more appreciative than I’ve ever been of my body and its incredible resilience. I firmly know who I am, what I stand for, what I’ll tolerate, how I want to spend my time, what I need and what I don’t need in my life. These realizations and self-awareness are absolute gifts.

I don’t pretend to have it all figured out. I never want to have it all figured out because if I did, what a boring life that would be. Every day I strive to discover, explore, challenge, learn, digest, and mostly just take it in and “be.” I’m fully aware that on paper, I’m not really supposed to be here, but I still am, and I’ll never lose sight of that and the responsibility and humility that simple fact carries along with it.    

Putting my game face on in the Extreme Octagon. 
Tacos for everyone! Showing a little bit of Texas love in honor of our time in Houston. 
We are Lucky Tacos fo' sho'.
Sammy came over to receive the "Happy Birthday" song with us. 
Our peeps.

Warning: Explicit Lyrics. Sometimes expletives are the only way to describe the craziness of life, and this song has been a bit of an anthem for me. When I want to get all pumped up it does the trick and is incredibly appropriate right about now.  


  1. Karin, you truly are an inspiration. Always finding the positive things in life and never losing your ability to smile :) I have found your blog very informative during this difficult time as I watch my best friend go through treatment for Hodgkin's. You are an amazing woman...I look forward to the day when you both have never to use the words chemotherapy again. Sending lots of love from Ireland x

  2. I just want to say that you are an absolutely beautiful person- inside and out!!!!!!!

  3. Happy birthday! I am so thankful that God gave you another year! God bless you, my cancer treatment center likes this.

  4. what a beautiful celebration! happy birthday to you and craig, wishing you both another year of love and laughter :)

  5. The fav photo is you and Craig illuminated by the glow of candles on your 30th birthday and other birth day cake.
    Something about the glow and the warmth of your embrace - ah embracing the future, each other --------the warmth of candlelight. It is all encouraging. And the orange dress can only represent victory, after struggle. Carry on valiant warrior.

  6. Happy 30th to you and Craig, and congratulations on ONE YEAR! What an accomplishment. Your spirit shines so beautifully in your photos and in your writing - thanks for sharing your love and wisdom. Sending my love right back at ya! ~Ashleigh

  7. Congrats on an amazing year. Continued good health and happiness to you, Craig, and Sammy.

  8. Happy Birthday my rebirthay is the end of this month... Strange thing I am grateful, I am happy... I am unsettled. Best of luck as you continue on your journey...everyday is a good day.