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Signs along My Road Trip through Cancer

by Jody Winsick-Soluri

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My journey through leukemia over the past six years has seemed somewhat like a road trip to an undetermined destination. Along the way, I’ve encountered several road signs, just as you would on any period of extended travel.

The first sign I saw had me slamming on my brakes – it came out of nowhere. My life came to a screeching STOP on January 19, 2009. This is the day I was diagnosed with Philadelphia chromosome–positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

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The news of my cancer diagnosis set me on a sudden and unexpected DETOUR. I worried that life as I knew it – being a full-time mother, profes­sional, homemaker, and philanthropist – was over. Just days before my diagnosis, I was kickboxing at the gym. Now I was lying in a hospital bed, wondering what the future would hold.

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The road ahead was rougher than I had anticipated. Murphy’s Law took effect; whatever could go wrong went wrong. Loops and twists, climbs and dips – medical setbacks had me riding a physical, mental, and emotional rollercoaster. Traveling under HAZARDOUS CONDITIONS became a way of life.

A year after my diagnosis, my condition began to improve. I was gradually adjusting to my new normal. I put on my rose-colored glasses, and as far as I was concerned, I was cured. In May 2010, I celebrated my first anniversary post-transplant. As sum­mer turned to fall and fall to winter, I felt like my life was finally getting back on track. I was on the HOME STRETCH, racing toward a cancer-free life.

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Two years post-transplant, I had a follow-up appointment with my oncologist. Though my blood count had dropped, I finally got the news I had dreamed of hearing – I had a 95-percent chance of a cure. Despite the great news, my gut instinct told me to proceed with CAUTION.

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Three days later, I found myself veering straight into a FALLEN ROCK ZONE. My blood counts had fallen again, and I was back in the ER. I didn’t believe that lightning could strike twice, but the Philadelphia chromosome was back and so was the leukemia.

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Along the treacherous road through cancer, I tried my best to remain positive, even when I learned I had relapsed. I presented my arm to my doctor and told him to start chemotherapy immediately. I figured the sooner I began treatment, the sooner I would be done with it. I had my eyes focused on the light at the end of the TUNNEL.

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I knew I was facing a BUMPY ROAD. My second transplant was successful, but I have emerged visibly weathered from my journey. My hair is much thinner than before treatment, and my eyelashes are considerably shorter and sparser. My muscle tone has decreased, my complexion dulled. Chronic fatigue, pain, neurological issues, balancing problems, forgetfulness, and mood swings have become part of my new normal. It’s amazing how simple tasks such as getting out of the bed in the morning can seem as difficult as participating in a triathlon. Despite these bumps along the road, I am thankful to be alive.

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In August 2014, I had my three-year follow up. To say that I was nervous would be an understatement. Three times would definitely not be a charm. However, I am proud to say that I have defied the odds; I am still in remission. Though I’m cautiously optimistic, I try to keep my glass half-full and not take life for granted. I am finally starting to see the FINISH LINE.

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Jody Winsick-Soluri is an acute lymphoblastic leukemia survivor living in Hillsdale, NJ.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2015.