Friday, March 30, 2012

One Year Later

A year ago today, Lily's heart stopped beating, and the rest of our lives changed.

This morning, Ryan dropped me off at the edge of Central Park, and I walked to work, enjoying signs of the season I missed last year. And thinking about that ultrasound appointment. Thinking about Ryan, Katelyn, my parents.

My parents flew in to support us after we lost the baby, before we knew I was sick. That's just how they are. Always there for us. I know they made several trips in the weeks that followed my diagnosis. I don't know how many. I have blurred memories of them sitting next to my hospital bed. I wish they'd been walking through Central Park with me this morning, though at least I will see them tonight.

Today is the first in a series of one-year anniversaries. Sunday will mark one year since a doctor first told me something was wrong with my blood. Next Saturday will be one year since my diagnosis. Each of these one-year anniversaries will stir traumatic flashbacks, but also good memories.

Today, I'm thinking about all that my parents did for me last year, and feeling really lucky to have them.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Coping Through Creative Expression


Originally posted on, the website of CURE magazine, a free publication for cancer patients, survivors and caregivers. Also posted on, an online support community for young adults affected by cancer (15-40), which is sponsored by The I'm Too Young For This! Cancer Foundation.

Fear can be one of cancer’s most debilitating side effects. Sparing no patient, survivor, or caregiver, it is also the most common. Medical professionals, faith, and loved ones can help you manage anxiety. So can a colored pencil, bottle of glue, or keyboard. Art therapy provides a mechanism for working through difficult emotions and reducing stress. Regardless of how well you can draw a stick figure or write a haiku, creative expression can bring you comfort.

Many young adult survivors have turned to art to restore their sense of optimism and passion for life. Chris Ayers, an artist working in Hollywood, began a project he calls, “The Daily Zoo” on the one-year anniversary of his acute myelogenous leukemia diagnosis at age 29. As part of his recovery process from a bone marrow transplant, he set the goal of drawing an animal a day for one year. The result: a published anthology of rhino plumbers, alien possums, and much more called, “The Daily Zoo: Keeping the Doctor at Bay with a Drawing a Day,” which was followed by Volume  II—a second year’s installment of drawings. Will Reiser, screenwriter of “50/50,” is another high-profile example of a young adult cancer survivor who used comedy to come to terms with his traumatic experience, as well as to move forward.

Creative expression as a healing mechanism does not require talent. The only prerequisite is the willingness to face your fears. There are many paths for exploring the complicated mess of emotions that cancer causes. Cancer blogs have become a common means of therapeutic expression, with readers can able to offer encouragement via the comments function. YouTube and other video sharing services provide another medium for expressing oneself.

Transformative writing is a powerful strategy, which I’ve been practicing since my diagnosis with acute myelogenous leukemia in April 2011. My blog is entitled, “Shelley’s ‘Life’s a Beach’ Blog.” The Our Story page concludes with the thought: “As I wrote in my first post, life can be a b*tch, but we must always remember what a beautiful beach it is too.” The first drafts of many of my entries were much darker than the final posts. By reworking my thoughts into a version that wouldn’t terrify my family and friends, I lessened my own fear. Iterative writing can transform the worst of thoughts: “I’m going to die,” into “I might die,” into “I will survive.”

Friday, March 9, 2012


Last night I attended a "Ladies Night Out" fundraiser dinner. Despite taking a highly strategic approach to dropping my raffle tickets into the small pink bags corresponding to various prizes (i.e., zero tickets in the full bag for the weekend get away, three tickets in the almost-empty bag for the Thursday night comedy club show), I did not win a single prize. In contrast, last year I won three.

Last year's haul at "Ladies Night Out"

Three weeks after winning three prizes last year, our baby died. A week later, we were informed I had a disease that only 900 of the 310 million Americans are diagnosed with each year. When I showed off my three prize baskets to Ryan that night, I had felt pretty lucky. A month later, I felt very unlucky. Had I used up my luck on an autographed basketball, crotcheted newborn sweater and blanket (that should have been Lily's but is now in our basement), and a hand-painted chair for Katelyn? Or was my diagnosis a continuation of low probability events happening to me?