“You sure know how to make lemonade,” a friend commented to me the other day. Now, I guarantee she wasn’t talking about the lemonade you drink, as my lemonade-making process comprises of opening up a container of Countrytime Lemonade, scooping the lemonade into a pitcher, and adding water.
Advice from posters
We adorned our first college dorm with its pale tan with two posters. One poster was a kitten grasping a branch for dear life that said "Hang in There, Baby." The other one had a pitcher of lemonade that said "When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade."
So what do my culinary challenges and my less than tasteful dorm room décor have to do with blood cancer?
Facing dual cancer diagnoses
In 2019, I had dual cancer diagnoses. The first was a rare blood cancer called polycythemia vera or PV. I had never heard of this cancer prior to diagnosis. A gene mutation called JAK2 normally causes PV. This causes the bone marrow to over-produce red blood cells, which makes the blood thick. This ultimately increases the risk of blood clots, strokes, and heart attacks.
The second diagnosis was invasive ductal carcinoma or breast cancer diagnosis followed only a couple of months later. Over a year of treatment followed with chemo, surgeries, and more trips to the ER than I could count.
Admittedly, with this cancer double whammy, I struggled to stay positive and look on the bright side of things. I spent a lot of time initially feeling sorry for myself. I wondered, what now?
When life gives you lemons
The expression, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” which with a quick Google search I found was used as early as 1915. It conveyed through the years with use in several forums: books, poems and slogans.
It means taking hardship and making something positive from it.
I’d like to think I’m an optimistic person. I usually look at things with the “glass half full” attitude; always think things can only get better. I faced adversity in the past and had overcome it.
I decided early in my cancer journey, I would not let cancer define me, so I began to metaphorically “make lemonade.”
Initially, I started volunteering with several organizations for both cancers. Breast cancer was easy, as there were plenty of support groups and volunteer opportunities. Connecting with others with PV was a little more of a challenge. I discovered the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) has a program called Patti Robinson First Connection Program. I became a mentor, reaching out to others with PV, sharing issues and concerns.
Making lemonade through writing
Writing has always been therapeutic for me. In 2018, I attended a writing workshop for cancer patients called Voices of Recovery, co-hosted by Curtain Up Cancer Foundation and Gemini Ink, a local writing organization. Shortly afterwards, through what I would call a fluke, Blood-Cancer.com asked if I’d be a regular contributor after sending them a story. Shortly after, I got involved in a Veteran songwriting organization called Soldier Songs and Voices. With their support, I began writing songs.
Virtually keeping busy during COVID
When COVID-19 hit, I had to keep my immunocompromised butt at home. Instead of brooding about my circumstances, I found things to keep busy. I signed up for several classes, continued writing stories and songs and even started taking part in virtual open mics.
In 2021, a plethora of skin cancers resulted in multiple procedures, all on my face. Initially, I was struggling to make sense of yet another cancer. However, instead of moping around cursing fate, I reached out to Skincancer.net and now am writing stories for them too.
Looking back at my almost six-year cancer journey, there have been a lot of sour lemons thrown at me. However, despite this, I know I’ll continue to make lemonade.
Do you worry about relapse?