A Tale of Struggle and Soul Searching After Hitting Rock Bottom

In November of 2004, I was in the very best shape of my life. A few months prior, I had run my fastest marathon in San Diego, beating out all of my previous six finishing times in Austin, Nashville, Dallas, New York, and Boston. One month prior, I had completed the Los Angeles Triathlon, finishing in the top bracket in my age division. I was even in the process of training to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. But then, my entire world was turned upside down.

While getting blood work and the necessary vaccinations for my upcoming trip to Africa, we discovered my platelets were at a life-threatening level. Within 18 hours I was diagnosed with a highly aggressive, incurable stage IV non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. My doctors told me, no matter what they did, my cancer could not be cured. It would come back. I was only 27 years old. With that prognosis, I had to ask myself: what's the point of fighting? 

I was searching for the answer when my uncle offered me some advice that I still carry with me today. He told me to readjust my goal.  Instead of aiming for a cure, I should instead do whatever I needed to do to buy time. Do the best treatment option available and get into remission, because chances were, there would be a new and even potentially curative treatment available for the next go-round. 

It took me not one, not two, but three different diagnoses and two bone marrow transplants, each with 40% mortality rates, to finally give in to my new way of being. 

I had my moment of finally wanting to give up when I refused my last round of chemo during my second bone marrow transplant. I knew with certainty that no amount of joy could be worth the suffering I was in. Nurse Jan just needed me to squeeze her hand; just needed me to say okay; just needed me to choose life. But I couldn’t squeeze her hand. I couldn’t go on. But then I looked at the canvas print of my two miracle children, who were lying on the floor with our beloved dog, Riley. I focused on their smiles and innocent eyes. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the feel of their kisses on my hollow cheeks. I listened to my husband’s voice as he begged me to fight. All I had to do was keep my hand limp; keep it from responding to Nurse Jan and Tom’s pleas. All I had to do was let go and the suffering would all be over. All I had to do was nothing. But. The kids. My husband. Riley. I squeezed Nurse Jan’s hand.

Mine is a story of love, loss, pain, and the ultimate realization that the hope of true joy always outweighs the struggle. Mine is a story about the messiness of motherhood and the journey to healing. Faith saved me, medical research treated me, and hope sustained me. 

I have absolutely no clue what will happen with my health in the future or what day will be my last. But do any of us really know what tomorrow will bring? 

I know we can all relate to a tale of struggle and the soul-searching that comes with hitting rock bottom. I believe dogs heal and that love conquers all. I don’t believe in fairy-tale endings, but I do subscribe to the idea that we can always be given a second chance and that there really are some things in life that are worth the fight. See, thanks to cancer, I now know the struggle is what makes life worth living. That’s where we find the treasure. In the depth of our sorrow is where we find the good. In the darkness of our suffering is where we find love. In the despair of our pain is where we find hope. And that’s what it is all about. Hope. Because if we don’t have hope, then what the hell is the point?

And if anyone is feeling like despair is outweighing optimism, try to remember the words of my wise uncle. Let’s readjust our focus back to hope because sometimes we find it in even the most unlikely of places.

I would love to hear from you and keep this conversation going. You can find me on my website www.carolineneelyrose.com or on IG at @caroline_and_riley_rose.

I’m rooting for you and sending so much love your way. 

In love and hope,