February 14, 2015 – Toronto.
I am looking at the flowers that Nagib brought me to the hospital on Valentine’s Day two years ago. I was on the 14th Floor of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in the stem cell unit, preparing to undergo a stem cell transplant. I remember being nervous and excited, hoping that the stem cells would settle happily in my body and start functioning. Nagib brought the Valentine’s Day spirit to the hospital ward and we marked the occasion together – tired, hopeful, cuddling, crying, laughing and making dreams for the future. And he brought me flowers – not real ones because they were not allowed in the ward – but a wonderful, strong, robust arrangement of white and pink flowers that cheered the room and now sits in our family room as yet another symbol of hope.
It has been two unforgettable years since the stem cell transplant. And as I reflect on Munira Version 2.0, two years later, I am stunned at how far I have come with God’s grace. The chemo before the actual transplant was brutal. I went through the side effects of chemo all over again and experienced everything from brain fog to extreme fatigue, from hair loss (again) to weight loss, from not being able to go to the bathroom to going to the bathroom all the time. Two weeks after the transplant, I saw Dr. Tiedemann and he said that things were progressing well but that I needed to take the time to heal. He told me to be patient.
For a long time, nothing came easy. Walking was particularly hard. Going back to work was out of the question. Slowly, slowly, the stem cells settled and things started to get better. We celebrated every milestone: the first time I could eat a full meal; the first time I could wear heels again; when my hair came back in full force; when Dr. Tiedemann said I could work one day a week.
Fast forward to today. I am working (almost) full time, doing work I love to do! I am able to travel (without having to resort to using a wheelchair). My energy level is increasing and I am not running out of spoons so rapidly. In fact, I have noticed that, on many days, I actually have a few spoons left at the end of the day – and that makes me smile! I continue to go to the hospital for bone strengthening treatment and clinic appointments every 3 months, but other than that, life has returned pretty much to normal.
One of my biggest joys today is seeing my family intact. For two years, Shayne and Sabrina put their lives on hold, figuratively, too frightened with the thought of losing me. Sabrina returned from Africa to take care of me for many months. My mom and sister fed me carrot juice and beetroots, among other things, to will me to health. And Nagib, my love, showed me then, as he does now, what it means to love someone so completely and absolutely.
When I was ill. I made a lot of promises, most that I have been able to keep and a few that I need to work on. I was passionate about wanting to change people’s perception of cancer patients, and I am making some progress on this front. I wanted to seek ways to give back to the cancer community. I am doing this by being part of the Executive Team for the the Toronto & District Multiple Myeloma Support Group (http://www.myelomatoronto.ca/). As well, my family and I have raised more than $50,000 in the past 3 years for the Molly and David Bloom Chair in Multiple Myeloma Research at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. Our next MM5K Walk is on June 21st, 2015.
In Africa, Shayne kept asking me the question, “what is your big game?”. This is the question I used to ask Shayne and Sabrina over the years when I felt they were playing small, or not thinking big enough. In the spirit of playing big, and taking Shayne’s challenge, here is what I plan to accomplish this year, God willing, to celebrate my stem cell birthday:
- I will write a book about my journey.
- I will record my third CD of devotional hymns.
- I will make time to spend with people I love.
- Yes, this year I will make fitness a priority.
- I will re-create “Jahazi”, a beautiful space in our basement to hang out and chill.
- I will go back to Africa and support Kidogo at a grassroots level.
- I hope to raise another $20,000 for cancer research.
- We will open our home for people to come and interact.
- I hope to watch a baseball game at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
I am exhilarated by what is possible this year and would love your input. Tell me what I should do, or find, this year – it can be intriguing, fun, crazy, creative. I will take all your suggestions and incorporate it as part of my big game.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Munira, Version 2.0