Meet Noreen

This past spring I had the pleasure of meeting darling Noreen. Noreen had just been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and she was referred to me through our oncologist Dr. Leo Gordon. At that time I was just a few steps ahead of Noreen. I had recently finished treatment and was slowly tiptoing out of the shadows.  As I was trying to reacclimate, Noreen was saying goodbye to her sense of normalcy and doing her best to embrace her new reality. Noreen and I connected over our love for dance, our fascination with the ridiculous, and our strong belief in holding on to hope.

Noreen was my first tiny twister- who happened to tower over me by 1/2 a foot.  After her first round of chemotherapy, Noreen and I went to North Avenue Beach and twisted out cancer.

Noreen is and was a fighter in all senses of the word. Cancer unlocked her creativity, allowed her to access parts of herself that had become quieted, and perhaps most importantly allowed her to appreciate life in a new and profound way.

Here is Noreen’s twist on cancer.

I am a survivor. That has a nice little ring to it doesn’t it?! On the eve of my first follow-up CT-scan post chemo, I am healthy, young and a hopeful Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Survivor. In May 2011, I learned that the start of my 31 years of life would be filled with cancer.  From the moment of being told I had cancer, to the 6 months of chemotherapy, and to the ever so interesting life of post treatment and the ongoing phase of recovery, the feeling of shock and disbelief never left.  As a high-energy, constant life on the go kind of gal that I am that is completely devoted to family, friends and my career, I never let cancer take control of my life.  I worked full-time throughout treatment, I lived my life like a 31 year old should. I laughed, I danced, and I continued to fight everyday. I blogged about my journey and found that it was a great release and allowed me to keep my friends and family updated.  In my everyday life, I lived in the black and white.  There was never a doubt that I wasn’t going to beat cancer.  I did what I had to do to survive.  But as I blogged, it was my moment to live in the grey.  I exposed my fears, my uncertainties, but managed to showed people I was strong. My low moments brought on tears, hopelessness, fears, isolation and the feeling of being lost.  I soon learned that greatest gift that was ever given to me was cancer.  I know that is crazy to say but I have learned so much more than some may learn in their lifetime.  I was given the opportunity to evaluate what was important to me in life.  I saw different layers of beauty in people, my world and my soul.  My family and friends lifted me up everyday.  I made a promise to myself to slow down and smell the roses.  I take a moment everyday to look at the sky and absorb the beauty and the ever-changing masterpiece the earth creates everyday.  I close my eyes and take deep breaths and savor each breath that enters and escapes my body.  I am alive today.  I am real. I am grateful and loved. I am a real human.  And I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Survivor’s Guilt

Yesterday I was back at Northwestern- back on floor 21- back in throws of the system.

Every three months- my blood is carefully examined, categorized,and  stripped down to its basic elements.

Every three months- I am forced to contend with the fear of recurrence, the fear of unruly cells, the fear that my blood and my body is perhaps no longer my own.

As I sat there and waited, I realized that I was contending with feelings that I was previously unable to label.

I was and am suffering from survivor’s guilt.

As I sat there, feeling healthy, hopeful, and strong-I was surrounded by countless people who were noticeably ravaged by the disease, exhausted, and seemingly hopeless.

The sadness and fear in the room was palatable- overwhelming-suffocating.

And then there were the few that I could readily identify as warriors- that were living in spite of Cancer- that were holding on to hope- and fighting for every moment.

The longer I waited- the more uncomfortable I became.

So where exactly do I now fit on floor 21?

I don’t look like anyone else there- yet somehow I am still a part of this diverse community.

As I continue to get better, continue to strengthen, and continue to have clean scans- my survivor’s guilt worsens.

I suppose this is what happens when you are thrown into a fight with no rules-with an opponent who doesn’t play fair.

While I am grateful for my survival, grateful for my life in hypercolor, I am also deeply saddened that many are not given that same chance- that chance to live a life that has been elevated by their dance with Cancer.