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Against All Odds

How a Brief Encounter in a Baby Store Changed My Perspective

by Stacey Polak

Inspiration image

In 1998, I received chemotherapy while I was preg­nant. Diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma at the end of my first trimester, the prognosis wasn’t great, and the unknowns were terrifying. I was sick from both the pregnancy and the chemo. Weak and exhausted, I rarely left the house. The odds weren’t in my favor, yet by my third cycle of chemo, my tumor was shrinking.

I wanted so much to experience just one moment of a “normal” pregnancy – one moment to be excited and happy and to feel like my situation wasn’t all so scary – so I decided to take a trip to the baby store. I planned my outing just be­fore my next cycle of chemo when my side effects were less severe. I gathered every bit of energy and determination I could muster and drove myself to the baby store to shop and to pretend I was no different from any of the other happy moms-to-be in the store. I held tightly to my shopping cart for support and lost myself looking at all the cute baby items I hoped I would soon need. It felt good. I felt hopeful, just me and my baby belly enjoying an hour away from reality.

Then a woman on my aisle noticed my bandana-covered bald head, my lack of eyelashes and eyebrows, and my pale, colorless skin.

In my search for positive survivor stories, I found that one against-all-odds story of hope and survival can sometimes negate the worry brought on by ten sad ones.

“I hope you don’t mind me asking, but are you having chemo?” the woman probed. When I told her that I was, that I had lymphoma, she became visibly upset and replied, “My brother died from lymphoma.”

Shocked by her thoughtless remark, I just smiled and continued shopping, trying to hold it together.

When I got home, I immediately began searching for sur­vivor stories – stories of hope, of surviving against all odds. I chose to focus only on the stories with good outcomes, disregarding the sad stories I came across. I told myself that those people were different from me and I would have a more positive outcome.

After that shopping trip, I didn’t go out again except for doctor’s appointments or medical treatments. I got weaker and sicker, but the chemo was working. After my sixth chemo cycle, my water broke, and my daughter was born five and a half weeks early. Weighing in at just over five pounds, she was healthy, gorgeous, and perfectly normal. I went on to have two more cycles of chemo, followed by radiation.

Sixteen years later, I still think back to that moment in the baby store, to how much the woman’s comment wounded me. The insensitivity of her remark was likely unintentional, but it really hit home in that moment. It reminded me of all I could lose. However, in my search for positive survivor stories, I found that one against-all-odds story of hope and survival can sometimes negate the worry brought on by ten sad ones. This is why I’m sharing my story. When you’re fighting can­cer, you need all the hope and encouragement you can get.

Today, my daughter is a smart, beautiful, kind, talented, amazing teenager, and I’m a happy, healthy 44-year-old mom who lived through cancer despite the odds stacked against me. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t always put stock in what the “odds” say, and you should never let insensitive comments bring you down. As the saying goes, “You can’t always choose your circumstances, but you can choose your attitude.”

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Stacey Polak is a non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivor living in Indian Trail, NC.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2014.