This is Why I Remember September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month
September has always been one of my favorite months. Labor Day may only be the unofficial end of summer, but it is still a sign of many things changing.
It means shopping for back-to-school clothes, checking off each item needed on your school supply list and — if mom is feeling generous — maybe even a new backpack.
It means the school buses will be rolling up soon, carting away my three kids and leaving me with a few (blissfully bittersweet) hours to myself once again.
September is when I start losing my husband to the newest football season, with games on seemingly every single day. But I don’t always mind because I know I can also look forward to the start of an all new television season, catching up on the latest happenings at Grey-Sloane Memorial and Olivia Pope & Associates, while stocking up on tissues to watch the newest episodes of “This is Us.”
And I can’t lie — This September I am anxiously awaiting the revival of “Will & Grace.”
September suggests we are going to (finally) get back to our routine. The sun sets earlier, the kids are tired from school, homework and activities. I can trust in the predictability of the buses’ arrival at end of the day, the start of after-school practices and each child falling into bed (hopefully) happy and exhausted each night.
And September heralds the beginning of fall, my absolute favorite season of the year. The air starts to chill and we begin to hear the crunch of leaves under our feet. I love my flip flops, but am thrilled I can finally start to think about breaking out my sweaters and boots again.
Since retailers insist on rushing each upcoming holiday, it typically means Halloween candy has probably already been on the shelf for a few weeks. Soccer season is about to begin, our youngest daughter will celebrate her birthday and our older daughter’s birthday (at the beginning of October) is just around the corner.
September has always made me happy.
But now September is also about something else — Blood Cancer Awareness Month. And as someone living with a blood cancer, September now means more — much more.
Nearly three years ago I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood.
According to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF), multiple myeloma is a cancer of the blood that develops in the plasma cells found in our bone marrow. Plasma cells are “a type of white blood cell responsible for producing antibodies (immunoglobulins), which are critical for maintaining the body’s immune system. Through a complex, multi-step process, healthy plasma cells transform into malignant myeloma cells.” The bad cells can eventually crowd out the body’s normally-functioning immunoglobulins and can result in bone and kidney issues.
I was 42 years old when I was diagnosed with this disease, and it was caught when I went to the emergency room with an infection in my eye and what I thought was a cold. That cold developed into full-blown pneumonia within 36 hours and I was unconscious for a week, on a breathing tube, feeding tube and received dialysis twice.
Simply put, I was a mess.
When I woke up from this unplanned “nap” I was told I had cancer — and a cancer I had never heard of before. All of sudden I was a patient. Until my diagnosis, I thought I was healthy. Sure, I was tired and I got sick a lot but I assumed it was because, at the time, I was a full-time working wife and mom.
And then I found myself sick. Really sick.
Until this, September meant all those other things to me. Life was simple.
If you’re like me, you probably quickly scroll through your Facebook feed each day. I typically grab my phone before I even get out of bed, hurriedly scanning to make sure I hadn’t missed anything overnight (like what, I’m not entirely sure). There are some posts that garner more of my attention than others. I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit I would sometimes move hastily past posts for charitable organizations or (fill in the blank) Awareness Month.
But now, I stop each and every time.
I amazed by how many causes there are — how many of my friends and family are affected by something for which they need to put themselves out there and ask for support. And this is hard to do, trust me. Pre-cancer it was not easy for me to admit I needed help.
But since I got sick I have had to make myself vulnerable in ways I never even imagined. We have had to lean on our incredible village, needing friends to pitch in with our kids, accepting meals when I wasn’t able to cook for my own family and now, most difficult for me, having to ask everyone — anyone really — to help support a cause that literally is life or death for me.
Which is why September is now about getting the word out about blood cancers, especially since so many of the symptoms are vague and easily confused for other illnesses, such as the flu. Despite being the second most common blood cancer, myeloma is very often misdiagnosed many times at first. Symptoms like anemia, bone pain and fatigue are frequently dismissed as something else.
Given my young age at diagnosis, I am not your “typical” myeloma patient, though I am learning there are more and more younger people being diagnosed. As such, I feel I have a responsibility to raise awareness, raise funds and raise the profile of multiple myeloma.
I didn’t ask for this. I never expected to be speaking or writing about cancer, let alone my cancer. But here I am — an accidental advocate.
I now have an obligation to make sure people are aware of the risks of blood cancers and know how these cancers can show up, even when it seems unlikely they will get it. Anyone can find themselves in my shoes.
September is the time to shine a spotlight on blood cancers, what they look like and how they can affect us all. So please, don’t scroll by too fast. Please take a minute to think about those who are touched by blood cancers.
Even if September still means all those wonderful things it used to mean to me, maybe this year make it the time you think about your own health.
Be your own advocate.
If something doesn’t feel right, slow down and listen to your body.
Stop delaying that doctor’s appointment.
Take time for some self-care or just recharge that Fitbit to make sure you get in your 10,000 steps.
Putting yourself first is something you will never regret, no matter what time of year.
For more information on blood cancers, including leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma, please visit www.lls.org. And to help support Blood Cancer Awareness month please consider a donation to www.lls.org, www.mmrf.org or www.myelomacrowd.org .
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Thinkstock photo by Konstanttin