You basically have two choices in life. You can get busy living or you can get busy dying. It’s that simple.
I first found out who Kris Carr was while watching Oprah. It was a show about confronting death, and it also featured Randy Pausch, the author of The Last Lecture. I think the exact date it aired was October 22, 2007. I didn’t watch it that day, though, as I was busy flying home to Michigan from Alaska. I had my sister DVR it, and we watched it late one night during my trip home.
To say that the show was an “eye opener” would be putting it mildly. Here were people, facing death, and they had amazing attitudes. Most of the healthy people I knew were always whining and complaining about something. This show featured people who really had something to complain about it… and they didn’t. Instead, they did awesome things and were thankful for the opportunity to do them.
Of course, we were moved by Randy Pausch’s story. We found the Last Lecture video online and we watched it. My sister bought his book and we both read it. And when I had heard he died last year, I felt sadness for his passing.
The story that really stood out to me while watching that show was the story of Kris Carr. In 2003, at the age of 31, she was diagnosed with incurable cancer of her liver and lungs. She has 24 tumors. Instead of giving up hope, she went on a quest for remission. She made a documentary of her journey, Crazy Sexy Cancer, wrote several books, and has a great blog about healthy living.
When I watched that show, something inside of me said “remember this… it will be important.” I thought about it for a while… but I had other things on my mind. I had recently launched this website and was busy trying to get it up and off the ground. I was going through a lot emotionally… I was contemplating leaving my husband and staying in Michigan during that trip. (and yeah, we all know I ended up doing that very thing about six months later…).
Between October 2007 and July 2009, I visited Kris’ blog every so often. I thought about that show once in a while. I wondered if she was still doing well…. I wondered what I would do if I found myself in that situation.
And then, on July 16, 2009, I got a phone call from an unknown number that changed my whole life. I let the call go to voice mail. I knew when it rang that it was not going to be good. I nervously called my voice mail and listened to a message from my doctor that said to to call her as soon as I got that message. I called her and she instructed me to go to the hospital immediately and get a blood transfusion. My hemoglobin was dangerously low and I was in danger of passing out at any moment, and if that happened, I may not have been able to be revived.
My first thought was cancer. I didn’t have enough blood. My blood had to be going somewhere. I immediately assumed it was feeding a tumor. I asked “do you think I have cancer?” She said “we’ll be testing you for that.” I reminded her my grandfather died from leukemia, which is cancer of the blood. She told me my white blood cells weren’t the problem, that it was my red blood cells she was worried about.
I was scared but also very calm and focused. It was almost surreal feeling. There was a man in the waiting room, complaining to security guards about not being able to smoke. I was watching him make an ass out of himself… and here I was, sitting there calmly, thinking “I am really sick. Something is really wrong with me.”
This was not the time to panic. This was the time to find out what was happening and to find out how to make it better. I spent the next 9 days in the hospital. I received blood transfusions. I had my blood plasma sucked out into a machine, spun clean and pumped back into me. I had shots, IVs, blood draws, x-rays, a main line put into my artery, answered questions from multiple doctors, and had days of disappointment as my blood counts continued to drop.
I did not cry. I did not give up. I closed my eyes and I pictured my body making good blood. I thought about Kris Carr and how she was 31 when she found out she had cancer. I was 31. And I was now dealing with a scary medical drama of my own. She didn’t let it stop her. I wasn’t going to let it stop me, either.
I asked for a piece of paper and a red marker. I wrote “Make Good Blood” in big letters and hung it up on the wall, so I could stare at it from my bed in the ICU. I asked the hospital dietitian to give me as much raw food as possible – raw spinach, carrots, and grapes with every meal. I drank green tea and had my sister bring me green superfood smoothies and wheat grass powder so I could make my own wheat grass drinks in my hospital room.
I asked the doctors lots of questions. I took notes and I had people Google the various things the doctors told me might be wrong with me. My sister brought me in pages and pages of info, printed out and stapled together. I circled things, crossed things out, and asked the doctors more questions.
Eventually, they figured it out. It was Pernicious Anemia. B12 shots were going to make me feel better… but I will never be ‘cured.’ I don’t feel it happening, but my body is creating antibodies that are attacking my stomach. I don’t look sick. I don’t act sick. And I don’t feel the war going on inside my body. But it’s there.
Biopsies show that my stomach cells have metaplasia. That means my cells are changing. If they keep changing, they may turn into cancer. But they may stay right where they are. Most likely, I will not develop cancer. I just have to keep getting biopsies to keep an eye on it.
I know that I am very, very lucky. I know that there are millions of people with cancer and other diseases that wish all they had to do was take a B12 shot in order to feel better. I will never take that for granted.
During my stay in the hospital, I wasn’t allowed to have my computer. That meant I was forced to take a vacation. The night I got out of the hospital, I posted about what happened and why I hadn’t been working. I received a great amount of comments on my post, emails, @ replies via Twitter and messages on Facebook.
Many people told me how strong and brave I was and how surprised they were that I was working again. I didn’t know how I could possibly do anything else. What was I supposed to be doing? Taking it easy? Was I supposed to sit around and cry? Hell, no! I had been sick for a while before I went into the hospital. I was really sick of being sick! Now that I was out of the hospital and feeling better, I was ready to enjoy what “feeling good” felt like!
We all face some kind of adversity in life. Chances are, your problem seems very small when compared to the incurable cancer that Kris Carr faced, and continues to face each day. But she’s living. She’s probably living a fuller, happier life than many of the people who will be reading this.
On the website for her documentary, Kris asks “Why, when we are challenged to survive, do we give ourselves permission to truly live?”
Don’t wait for a life threatening illness to show you how awesome you actually have it right now! As I said in the beginning of this post… You can get busy living or you can get busy dying. What choice are you going to make?