What it’s like to be reborn
By Vickie Girard

We cancer patients receive a unique gift. Yes, we know what it’s like to come too close to death, but we also know what it’s like to be reborn. I remember vividly the day I stepped outside the hospital -released at last from weeks of undergoing a bone marrow transplant. Oh, if that wonderful rush of the senses could be bottled, it would be worth a thousand times its weight in gold.

It was a beautiful summer day, but beautiful is inadequate. The colors that day were turned up, as if I had been seeing with poor reception before. The scents in the air were almost overpowering. I could smell fresh-cut grass, growing flowers, traffic, food – I could smell the time of day. Morning smells different than evening or midday.

The sounds rushed at me. Voices, no longer filtered or contained by hospital walls, had a different ring outside. I heard a dog bark, a horn honk, a child yell, shoes hitting pavement, and multiple conversations going on all around me. And the feeling- there was a slight breeze and I could feel my skin. It was almost as if the air itself had texture as it touched my face and arms. The sun, it warmed me from the outside in. Even walking felt different than it had in hospital corridors.

Had the world always been like this, this alive? I vowed to always look at life this way, to never forget this moment.

Eleven years ago today at 10am, I was hooked up to IV bags with tubes (connected to my heart) hanging out of my chest.

I was on the tenth floor of the UCLA medical center having just finished my last week of intensive chemotherapy that brought my blood count close to zero. I was there being treated for cancer – stage IV-B. That’s as bad as it gets. There is no stage V…

At 10am the medical team performed a bone marrow/stem cell transplant.

They call it “Day Zero” – the day you are literally “reborn” from a cellular level. They call it your “re-birth” day — and even give you a cake. (I didn’t eat the cake. Too nauseous from the chemotherapy still πŸ™‚ ).

Today is “Day 4018” — my “rebirthday”. My reborn cells have turned eleven years old.

The five year mark is a big day for cancer survivors, so eleven years feels really special.

It’s been quite a journey. I was back exercising about a month after the transplant (I was discharged just over one week after the transplant which at the time was the fastest recovery in UCLA history).

Until the last couple of years I still had a hard time with energy levels — and the struggle back to fitness has been challenging a lot of the time. I’m not complaining though, it is an enormous privilege to be able to even exercise at all after my diagnosis. It can get depressing at times, but only for a second — as the alternative is much worse πŸ™‚

I’m now aware every day of how amazing life is.

I don’t know why I was given these extra days on this planet. But I can assure you that I recognize each one of them as a gift and I don’t take any of it for granted. And I don’t take any of you for granted who have cared enough to read my writings, or come to my seminars.

As cancer survivor Lance Armstrong says:

“I take nothing for granted now. I only have good days and great days”

I can relate completely. For me, the glass will always be half full from now on. People who have had cancer or other illnesses understand that you don’t have all the time in the world….

Thank you all for joining me on my journey over the last eleven years. It had it’s ups and downs and up’s again — and it has been both challenging and grueling at times. But it’s also been amazing.

Thanks again. Today is a special day for me.