From a sailboat in Puget Sound to a hospital bed; from stomping through the jungles of Cambodia to getting chemotherapy. Kristina defined herself by her zest for adventure and travel. In 2007, she was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a disease that was discovered by chance, with no symptoms. Her disease quickly turned into acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) and doctors told her she needed a transplant as soon as possible.
Luckily, Kristina found a matching donor and had a transplant soon after diagnosis. But this was just the beginning of a long road to recover her fiercely independent sense of self and active lifestyle.
“Cancer wasn’t ever supposed to happen to me. I was attracted to living life on the edge and suddenly, I was told I was dying. Did they know who they were talking to? Maybe it was the New Yorker in me, but there was no way this was getting me down.
Going into treatment, I knew I couldn’t be the individual I’ve always been or lead the lifestyle I was so passionate about. I knew I had to accept the transition and take my recovery one day at a time. Simplifying my perspective helped me make it through that time in my life. Just as I had packed my backpack for countless trips, I decided to pack my emotional backpack and get through it. The sun will always rise again in the morning and set the next day.
After transplant, the biggest thing for me was getting back my quality of life. I knew I would get there no matter what. Though my recovery went well, I had a flare-up that was a devastating setback. I got graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) and spent so much time on the couch watching TV that it scared me. It made me realize how easy it was to curl up in a ball every day, how easy it would be to slip into feelings of self-pity.
As transplant survivors, we have to drag ourselves out of it. It took a lot of self-motivation. The first step of recovery is to just get moving. It sounds cliché to say, ‘just get up,’ but it’s true. Whether you do this alone, with a caregiver or through a program, little steps make a big impact.
I joined Team Survivor Northwest, an organization that provides fitness programs for women cancer survivors, and attended every class to help regain my quality of life. I got stronger and bonded with other women whose lives were affected by cancer.
My ‘new normal’ included my mindset, physical changes, how people reacted to me and my emotional well-being. And while I experienced many changes and realized new things about myself, I was able to get back the part of my life that I loved.
It’s amazing to live through such an experience. Look at what we, as transplant recipients, have done already! If we can beat a disease, we can get through the recovery as well.”
Regaining your sense of self
Like Kristina, you may struggle with balancing who you are now with who you were before your transplant. Think about the emotional, physical, spiritual and social changes you’ve experienced and use these changes to assess your sense of self.
- In what ways have I remained the same? In what ways have I become someone new?
- What have I gained and what have I lost through my experience?
- What can I do now to help me adjust my expectations and goals? What can I do to help my family accept these changes?
Answering these questions is a good first step toward setting your personal goals and adapting to life after transplant.