How an unexpected opportunity to get the Covid-19 vaccine sparked the perfect memory to help me appreciate my 20th cancerversary.
"Wow, you are a walking miracle!"
I'll admit it: This encouragement was both surprising and nice to hear a few days ago. I happened to be receiving Dose 1 of the Covid-19 vaccine.
I was in Springfield, Mo., to work on a project for Fight CRC. My dear friend and teammate Anjee got a call about a nearby vaccination center having extra doses. The shots were going to expire by the end of the day. Anjee immediately rushed herself, me and Molly, a Fight CRC team member, to the clinic. We soon learned only Anjee qualified to receive the vaccine since she was connected to the health care facility. I completely understood, and Molly was planning to hold off anyway.
What I didn't realize, however, was that as Anjee got her shot, she wasn't only sharing about surviving breast cancer this year and taking pictures with her nurse, she was also telling people that her friend in the lobby (me) had survived cancer too. Wink wink.
The facility cleared out and Molly and I rejoined Anjee. We were all super pumped for her, it was an exciting day! As we walked back out the glass double doors toward the parking lot, we heard someone yelling her name. We were already half-way down the sidewalk but we turned around to see a woman in bright blue scrubs propping a door open and signaling for Anjee to come back.
"Is your friend with you—the cancer survivor?"
A big grin graced Anjee's face.
"She's right here."
Before I knew it, the three of us were back in the lobby and a clipboard was in my hands. The nurses were pulling strings. They wanted the last dose to go to a cancer survivor, regardless of the policies and protocols, instead of seeing it go to waste. Joy raced through my body, from the top of my head to my toes. This was really happening.
Without hesitation, I made my way to Nurse Sarah's station.
Over the past several months, I have closely followed several science communicators who have explained the vaccine so well, it made me not only comfortable, but eager, to receive it. I believe in research and that vaccines play a positive and important role in public health, something Nurse Sarah and I had in common. A Christian woman who came out of retirement to give the Covid-19 vaccine to patients, she passionately talked about her collection of books regarding how vaccines change the world as she administered my shot. I felt blessed to get paired with her.
Nurse Sarah and I didn't have much time together, as vaccine shots are pretty quick, but in the few minutes we did share, I mentioned that getting vaccinated for Covid-19 on Inauguration Day was redeeming to my story. During the 2001 Inauguration, 20 years ago, my gastroenterologist discovered my tumor.
To face another unexpected circumstance on Inauguration Day, but this time a positive one, gave me a new memory and a welcomed surprise. This sparked several questions, which were then followed by the wide-eyed amazement I've come to expect from the most compassionate of caregivers.
I was how old? 17.
What type of cancer? Colorectal.
How did I catch it? Blood in the stool.
I had it again? Yep, at age 25.
Nurse Sarah shook her head in awe at the rare, yet inspirational, story. But then she said something that caught me off guard, something I haven't been told, or thought of myself as, in a long time:
"Wow, you are a walking miracle!"
In an instant, her comment took me way back. Back to the library where my parents first came to tell me the colonoscopy report said I had cancer. Back to the hospital where my hands rubbed over a freshly stitched belly. Back to the chemo chair where the taste and smell of the treatment made me nauseous and the radiation table lit up from a red lazer beam.
The comment sent me back to the time when Taco Bell's soft taco supremes were the only food I could keep down, and when the elephants on my pink sheets kept me company as I dreamed of returning to high school and being with my friends. Days that felt a lot like the pandemic often does, but when public mask wearing, social distancing and needing a Covid-19 vaccination wasn't yet a thing.
Although triggering, the comment sparked vivid memories and a very sweet one I'd nearly forgotten about until she said it. It took me back to a moment where I was sitting next to Mikey B on the couch. I had just passed him a lined piece of paper I'd torn from a spiral notebook, a song I'd written to reflect over my first year with cancer and what I hoped my testimony would be.
It went like this:
JANUARY 23, 2002
I bow my head at what You've done
Gather around everyone
Rise and shine oh brand new day
All of the struggles have been swept away
No more crying, no more sorrow
With hearts held high we face tomorrow
Lord Most High, ruler of my heart
Thanks for giving me a new start
My gratitude to you is lyrical
For you've made me a walking miracle
Turned my water into wine
I can now see, but once was blind
The pain is gone, the hurt's away
My smile has returned for it's glory day