V. You may say that I’m a dreamer
I’m the girl with the travel itch, the never-ending wanderer always contemplating my next move as if my life is one big chess game with the world for a board. I spend every waking minute fighting for visions that run through my dreams night after night. When I dreamt up moving to Ireland for my MBA, I packed up my life, summoned my courage and took the plunge head on. I dream, then do. My dreams have taken me far and wide from hiking the most strenuous cliff trail of Pu’u Manamana so electrifying that some die each year in attempt to dinning alone in the center square of Krakow with nothing but sweet music, kielbasa and my thoughts. My dreams are as exotic and unique as they come, then without hesitation I live them. Cancer replaced my endless dreams with nightmares that leave me gasping for air in the middle of the once peaceful night.
Cancer didn’t stop at invading my nights once spent dreaming of sipping cappuccinos on Dublin’s canal; it also ransacked my days. Against my better judgment, my first and last thought of every day begins and ends with cancer. I wake up, look in the mirror and instead of my reflection, I see and think and feel cancer. I blink my hardest, breathe slowly and try to see past it, but all I see is my hairline that is pushed all the way back to the middle of my head. Truth be told, baldness has plagued my family since the dawn of time. When the plague hits, the Maurer’s swing back and my father chose wrongly to sport the legendary comb over for much of my childhood rather than succumb to baldness. It’s a long running joke that my little brother is next in line to receive the gift of genetics. I beat him to the punch and enough is enough. I woke up one morning in the typical way, straining my eyes in the mirror to see past the cancer and upon failing, grabbed the person that I trust the most in this world, a razor and my Taylor Swift playlist. With Taylor belting out her latest beautiful tragedy, I watched the rest of my beautiful blonde hair fall, grip to the shower wall, cling to the shower curtain, stick to the back of my neck, hide behind my ears and painfully swirl slowly down the drain. My knees surely would have buckled if not for Taylor, whose misfortunes I hummed and my valiant hair stylist whispering sweet words of encouragement. I’ve only seen the aftermath once in the mirror. For some experiences, once is enough. To avoid reality, I wrap a towel around my invisible hair after every shower and sleep in my electric pink wig dreaming of the day that I wake up resembling Taylor again instead of waking up as a firework, although, I could get used to and have taken a liking to, “Good morning, Katy.”
Disease has temporarily stolen my dreams and my hair, but I’ll be damned if it steals my running. Most girls turn to chocolate, and while I frequently enjoy spooning whole tubs of Nutella, running has always been my fix. When stress hits record highs, I strap on my running shoes and push my body to its limits. I fight challenges by taking on more challenges. Give me eight finals in four days and I’ll grab my best friend for a six mile run through the streets of Dublin to the beach to breathe in salty air and life. If you ever had any question about my state of mind, four short days after chemo, I slapped on some spandex and raced a vigorous gentleman to the Iwo Jima memorial to take in the sunset over our nation’s capitol. He teasingly took great delight in running faster than a cancer patient, but all the medals from my past will keep me laughing onward to victory.
I’m in an endless battle to take back and hold on to my dreams. A curious character recently posed a question in regards to my persistence on working full-time through treatment. I assure you that my back is not up against the wall. I could take time out and dig further than medical bills already have into my savings, but that was never an option for me. I never throw the towel in on anything and I’m not about to start now. While pay is undeniably a part of everyone’s reason to work, my main reason has always been a sense of accomplishment, worth and contribution to society. How could I ever let cancer steal my sense of worth? That would be my true death sentence. If cancer can’t stop me, nothing ever will.
I’ve always measured my worth by work and accomplishments. My battle added one more dimension to the equation, my friends. I believe that I am only as good as the company I keep. My optimists randomly text cancer bonuses and picture messages proudly displaying their boldest middle finger honoring my cry. My detectives uncover my favorite local spot and send me gift cards encouraging me to put some meat back on my bones. My chefs warm my heart through an endless supply of lasagnas, Sheppard’s pie and Matzo ball soup. My favorite moms from the past send me little gifts of hope reminding me that although I’m out of sight, I’m not out of mind. I am overwhelmed by good and I promise to pay it forward.
While I anticipated love from my loyal friends, I never in my wildest dreams imagined such a strong outreach from strangers. After my second chemo, I received an enormous care basket and a flash of embarrassment shot across my face as I realized that I didn’t recognize the names in the card. For a full day I searched my brain for clues and Facebook reminded me of my little sister’s friends. Shocked and grateful are the only two words that come to mind. Even more surprising are the friends of friends who sent cookbooks, as if these strangers could read my soul and understand the need of a healthy diet and not that box of mac and cheese that I am eternally craving. I am always left in wonder about strangers’ generosity. After every act of kindness, I sit silently trying to understand with the realization that in some way every single being has encountered tragedy, misfortune, heartache, anguish; call it what you will. Strangers are no longer strangers because of shared experiences. It’s comforting to know that we are all in this together, and not one of us comes out alive.
Amidst all of the help and words of encouragement, I occasionally find myself grappling with getting out of bed in the morning with my mind consumed on the 30% chance that my cancer reoccurs within the first year. My trepidation abruptly dissipates and there is light at the end of the tunnel. I wake restless from tossing and turning in my striking pink wig, which is lopsided with bangs dangling in my eyes, and there is a coffee greeting me and a voice uttering, good morning beautiful. At the end of my tunnel there is coffee with him.
Although I’ve found my light, many others still need help. This is where ya’ll come in. I am starting a team to raise money with the hope that others in the future will not have to put their dreams on hold. I’m pleading with you to support my cause by either joining my team or donating anything, even five dollars instead of that morning Starbucks. Suitably named, Light the Night is a walk that culminates a fundraiser that helps provide research, financial assistance, educational material and advocacy, which I have personally used during my search for a second opinion. Please, please, please help an organization, Lymphoma & Leukemia Society, that not only helped me, but also provides hope for the future. In the words of a good friend when she discovered my diagnosis, “Twenty six year old girls should not have to worry about things like cancer” and let’s make sure they never will have to again.
If you wish to make a donation: http://pages.lightthenight.org/nca/WashDC13/LMaurer
If you want to join my team, help me raise hope and walk with me in D.C. on October 19th: http://pages.lightthenight.org/nca/washdc13/beautybrainslymphoma
Since I’ve met the Dalai, I’ll leave you with a Tibetan proverb. If I tell you my dream, you might forget it. If I act on my dream, perhaps you will remember it, but if I involve you, it becomes your dream too.
P.S. – I am halfway home! Third chemo strong.