To truly live and not just exist should be the most rewarding thing any of us should want to succeed at in this world. I’m alive. I feel alive. To have experiences that I never thought I was going to have again in my life is the best feeling in the world. Don’t take things for granted. Love what you have and be grateful for it. Life can be hard and anything of value is not going to be easy. If you’ve been keeping up with my story, then you know what it means for me to be where I am today. This post is a long one but well worth the read as it reveals more truths and the same honesty you have come to expect from me.
Recently I had one of the best days that I’ve had in a very long time. It was my Cancervivor Photo Shoot with Sivan Photography. Back in 2014 before my transplant, we had done a shoot with my entire family to lift my spirits and those around me. Although I was in pain that day, I wanted the pictures to be captured. Of what cancer looks like. I was having a bad reaction to a chemo pill. I had a lot of fluid on me, my face was swollen, it hurt to smile, I couldn’t wear makeup, and I was bald. I’ve been humbled beyond belief after everything that I’ve been through. I’m stubborn as shit and the show must go on. Sivan captured some beautiful shots that day. We decided that when I got better, we would do a Cancervivor Session. People that know me know that I’m a realist. I was scared and I go into things with the attitude of “let’s hope for the best but expect the worst.” I didn’t know if I was going to make it, much less get to do that shoot, but what a lovely thought and something that I tucked away in my mind.
Two years and 6 months later I’m surrounded by amazing people feeling like the most beautiful person in the world. That is a miracle. After everything that has happened, that I’ve had to go through, that I’ve seen, I made it to this very special day that at one time felt like a pipe dream. It was surreal.
“No one fights alone.” We hear this all the time in the cancer world. For a lot of people, it’s true. They have wonderful support. For me, I couldn’t have asked for more loving parents. They have gone above and beyond and there truly are no words for what they mean to me. Also my brother, a few friends that stayed by my side and distant relatives that were there throughout the tumultuous last few years. The thing is, when you have cancer, you fight it alone. No one else knows what you’re truly going through. It’s you against cancer. Everyone else, including the doctors and nurses, are on the sidelines. This is the reason why I chose to do my Cancervivor Session solo.
I had a few random ideas but that’s what is so brilliant about collaboration. After Sivan and I met up a few months ago, what started as a standard photo shoot quickly became this elaborate and very thought out creation. To bring it to life, we would need help from other vendors and we were very lucky that the ones we reached out to were willing to dedicate their resources and time to this project. This photo shoot was done in stages and so…without further ado, I would like to present ‘My Cancervivor Session.’
Stage 1: In the Cocoon
Cancer. This is something you never speak or think of. It happens to other people. It won’t ever happen to you. I was wrong. It happened to me and at the peak of my life. I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia in January ’14 and had I come in a few days later, it could have been too late. It had already taken over 85 % of my body. My body had betrayed me.
Everything happened so quickly. One day I’m living my so called life and then I’m in a hospital doing aggressive chemotherapy to try and treat my cancer. Within two weeks my long blonde hair was gone. I was in constant pain and hooked up to machines 24/7. My world had turned into hospitalizations, needles, biopsies, spinal taps, tests, pills, being sick, and the constant worry of if my time was up. I believe I was in a constant state of shock, though I was in fighter mode the whole time.
Cancer took over the old Michele and the new one was waiting. Waiting for a miracle.
Stage 2: Rebirth
This is the point of receiving my double cord blood stem cell transplant on 7/31/14. We were told that everything I had gone through up to that point was basically nothing compared to what still lied ahead. There were no matches in the entire Be The Match Registry so we had to do this riskier transplant that had a longer recovery time.
My body did not reject the blood thankfully so I was reborn but I had to trudge a very long road. I was so incredibly weak all of the time. My mom helped me with my showers every day since the day I was diagnosed until about 1 year later. Even after the 30+ days of being in the hospital for my transplant, I had to go into the clinic several days a week to get fluids and platelets. That lasted for months on out. My parents and I were always going to the Cancer Clinic. My health was a constant concern. I had to wear a mask everywhere I went and I wasn’t allowed to go many places those first few crucial months. Talk about cabin fever.
I knew when all was said and done, I would be forever changed by this whole experience. How could I not be? I was going to come out of this a stronger person. Pain changes people and it doesn’t have to be for the worst.
This is the point where I’ve emerged from the cocoon but everything is still so unknown.
Stage 3: Enlightenment
Ever since the beginning, I’ve taken it one day at a time. One foot in front of another. Somehow it’s lead me here. A place where there are still so many questions and doubts. My eyes have been opened. As far as my health goes, I’ve come to the realization (and my doctors have told me) that I will lead a more fragile path. I’ve now watched my mother go through breast cancer for the second time while she was still trying to take care of me. Those were some dark and long days. With us combined, we had more doctors appointments than I care to remember. I’m realizing how precious life is and how none of us are promised tomorrow. Don’t sweat the small stuff and if you have your health, it’s all small stuff.
This first dress I’m wearing is called “Moment” and for me it represents finally coming up for air. My scars show that I’m a warrior and I wear them proudly. For the first time in my life, I feel real. Completely authentic. I’m searching for something but I don’t know what that is just yet.
Stage 4: Hope of Life
I am transformed into the new Michele. I have overcome many obstacles to get to where I am today including going through a divorce. I’m in remission and my health may still be fragile but there’s always hope and where there’s hope, there’s life. I’ve found my voice and I’ve become a stronger and more assured woman. I love the person I am and I couldn’t be happier to find out what life has in store for me. I live in a TINY house with my cat. That is absolutely insane and I am ready for this adventure! I already have so many crazy stories. Btw…I’m fairly certain I’m going to start a Tiny House Blog for anyone interested 🙂
The big reveal dress is very appropriately called ‘Bloom.’ I felt like Cinderella and I did not want to remove myself from the dress…
I have this need to inspire others to live life to the fullest. Even if my story and words only touch a handful of people, than I’ve done some good in this world. I may still be searching for my purpose in life but I feel I’m on the right path.
As we all go into the new year and like I’ve said in one of my favorite blog posts of 2016, See Me Thrive, I feel I’ve gained something amazing. A New Beginning. Even though our plans may get blown to hell, we can start over at any point in our lives and start again. Don’t ever give up. Keep fighting and rise. Happy 2017 to each and everyone!!
A huge thank you to these people that were involved with this incredible shoot that was near and dear to my heart!
Photography: Sivan Photography
Studio: Studio Adorn
Dresses: Solutions Bridal
Custom Floral Wall: Dazzling Deco
Hair & Makeup: M3 Makeup
Custom Cocoon: Greg Toney