Like many other young women, I dreamed my life would be the perfect fairly tale. I would grow up to meet my Prince Charming; we would marry, have children and live happily ever after. Although my fairy tale has not turned out the way I had envisioned in my childhood, in a strange sort of way my journey has far exceeded anything I could have dreamed. I realized life can be a fairly tale, just maybe not the way we dream it. The experiences and challenges I have overcome in my life have given me the ability to share my story of faith, endurance, courage and hope. It is through the sharing of my journey that I hope others will be encouraged and empowered in their own struggles.
For nearly the past 2 ½ years I have been running at least 5 days a week, because I can. You see, there was a time in which I could not even walk a block without becoming extremely exhausted and short of breath, so now when people ask me why do I run…. I simply say because "I CAN”.
Almost 20 years ago when I was 29 years old I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was 5 years into my marriage at the time of diagnosis so being young and vain I chose to do breast preservation (lumpectomy), chemotherapy and finally radiation. All went extremely well and I could not have been more pleased with my outcome. However, in 1997, my husband was tragically killed in a car accident. The realization that my life would never be the same hit me hard and I was truly devastated. Once my husband was pronounced brain dead, in a thick cloud of grief I had to decide if I wanted my husband to be an organ donor. My decision came quickly and without hesitation I immediately said yes. Knowing the kind of person my husband was, I knew this would have been his wish as well. At the time of the accident and ultimately his untimely death it gave me great comfort in the midst of my grief to know that my loss could somehow enhance and give new life to someone struggling to survive. I was so happy to learn that they were able to recover and place 3 of his major organs, heart and both kidneys in the bodies of people waiting for that vital organ to survive.
In 1998, one year after the death of my husband I would receive some not so good news yet once again. This time it was breast cancer in the opposite breast. Being a little older and not quite so vain I opted for a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction followed by another three months of chemotherapy. After I finished my chemo I was ready to move forward and return to what I used to remember as LIFE. Things went well for the first 3 months post chemo and little did I know but this time the chemo did irreparable damage to my heart; I would be diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure secondary to chemotherapy. Fairly an uncommon condition post chemo but it does on occasion happen. And it happened to me. I would spend the next decade of my life managing my Congestive Heart Failure with multiple medications and a fierce adherence to doctor's orders. Not to mention regular check ups, routine exercising and a heart healthy diet, I was determined to overcome and prove to my doctors that I could live a strong and healthy life.
For years I experienced little to no problems and mostly forgot I even had heart trouble, there wasn't much I couldn't do until April 2009. In the beginning I dismissed my general malaise to working too hard and a seasonal cold. I went to my cardiologist and told him my symptoms and we tweaked some of my meds in hopes that this would resolve or alleviate my problems. But I could tell I was getting a little worse with each passing day, to the point of becoming winded walking even short distances. Something told me it was heart related and I didn't want to believe it. My hunch was correct, and after extensive tests and a couple of weeks of being hospitalized, the medical team came to one conclusion.
They told me that at this point all they could see as an option was a "heart transplant.” I was completely stunned by the words I was hearing, no one dreams that one day they will need a heart transplant in order to survive. I had to take a step back and start asking whether this was God's plan for me and my family. Taking that step back would mean stirring up a multitude of emotions of a very different type, emotions from when I made the decision to donate my late husband's organs. I found myself thinking as I lay in the hospital how is it that I now need a heart in order to survive when years earlier I had given one away to a complete stranger in order for them to survive. What an ironic twist of fate.
I wasn't out of the woods yet. First I had to pass several tests in order to even be considerate a candidate for transplant. Having had cancer, I found myself waiting with bated breath for each and every test result and hoped they would all be "clear.” My medical team all came to the conclusion that I was a good candidate and we proceeded with placing me on the national registry list for a heart. My transplant took place on
June 2, 2009 and I thank God, my donor and my donor's family each and everyday for giving me the gift of life and a second chance at life. If it wasn't for the kindness from a complete stranger I may not have had this opportunity to share my story with others. God has brought me full circle from donor family to transplant recipient. I have been blessed beyond belief in this life and I hope you too can see how awesome the gift of life can be. The gift of life is appreciated more than words can ever express and I believe the real hero's are the donor families who give to recipients a whole new meaning to the word "LIFE”!!!
As I ponder my childhood dream of a fairy tale life, while my life has not played out the way I had imagined in the days of my youth, it has been an incredible journey that has led me to a much deeper appreciation for the gift of life, a gift for which I am eternally grateful.