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Word of the Year and the Impact on My Cancer Journey

Every end of year, I come up with a word for the new year. For me, it seems to be a better alternative than trying to make resolutions. I try to make it something inspiring that I can come back to any time of year.

A word, instead of a resolution

Sometimes the word comes very easily. For instance, in 2020, I had chosen the word “surrender,” not knowing exactly how much actual surrendering was in store for me and the rest of the world. I was diagnosed with a blood cancer relapse that year, and it seemed scarier than before. My doctors were hesitant to give me chemo as they had done for the 2 previous bouts of hairy cell leukemia I had experienced in the past.

Their fear was that my blood counts would be knocked too low, and with the unknowns of COVID-19, they didn’t want to take the risk that I wouldn’t survive because of the low counts lowering my immunity. So not only did I surrender to Covid by leaving my job and changing my life, I had to surrender to the decisions my doctors were making regarding treatment choices.

It was decided that I would receive a non-chemo drug that would be easier for my body to tolerate but would give me a shorter remission, requiring a repeat of treatment much sooner. I wasn’t thrilled about this option, but I was committed to surrendering.

Unable to receive treatment

My diagnostic bone marrow biopsy couldn’t be performed until I was tested for COVID with a negative result. My husband and I were both sure that I would easily test negative for COVID because I was not leaving the house, and he was being extremely cautious when he left and returned. Much to our surprise, I tested positive for Covid in June of 2020. I had no symptoms, and no one close to me had tested positive. But because of my positive result at that time, I was ineligible for a bone marrow biopsy. And without the biopsy, I couldn’t receive treatment of any kind.

Initially, we were really scared, not because we thought I had COVID, but because I was having more leukemia symptoms, and we didn’t want to have to wait to move forward with treatment. My word of the year seemed to keep coming into play! Thankfully my blood counts, though very low, were holding pretty steady. I was able to make it through the rest of the year without treatment. My medical team came to think that I had falsely tested  positive for Covid, but the result did buy me some time and was a true example of how surrender served me.

Continuing with the same word-survival

When 2021 rolled around, I decided to carry over my word of the year. I knew there was still much to learn through surrender, and I knew the opportunities for surrendering were still showing up. I received a bone marrow biopsy in March of 2021, and I was able to begin treatment in April. The good news was that the doctors felt more comfortable for me to have chemo at this point since there was more general knowledge about Covid.

The bad news is that I was to be treated with a chemo drug that would be administered over a longer period of time so that it wouldn’t knock me all the way down. Treatment then lasted the whole rest of that year causing both my husband and I to lean into surrendering.

New words - strength & energy

I had reached full remission by the end of 2021, and it was time to choose a new word for 2022. The word I chose was “strength” as I worked to regain both mental and physical strength. In 2023, I chose the word “energy” as it was my hope to regain energy for activities and learn to manage the energy I exert, also with the intent of providing positive energy to anyone who didn’t feel it within themselves.

I have to say that choosing these words really does motivate me partly because I can revisit them even if I have days when I forget.

As of now, I have not yet chosen the word for 2024. I am mentally tossing around several words to see which one lands. I am grateful that words from previous years seem to come back to mind and carry over. I’m sure my word will come, but if you had to choose a word, what would it be?

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