Young Adult Survivor - Alicia Keller

Diagnosis
Acute Myeloid Leukemia
Date of Last Treatment
December 2015
Cancer-Fighting Motto
We got this.

July 14, 2015, just another gorgeous summer day for most. For me, this was the day my life would change forever. I think at some point we all have one of these days, each of them look different and some are more critical than others, but days like this truly change perspectives. My game changer arrived as a result of routine blood work. Acute myeloid leukemia, AML, had been identified and diagnosed. As a young female, on top of the world in my own way, I thought this was an impossible scenario. In my mind, I was not going to take a break from my job, friends, and involvement to fight cancer. This was not in my plans, and if you know anything about young women, we control our plans! Little did I know that six hours later I would be admitted to Roswell Park Cancer Institute to take part in the fight for my life. As I sat in my hospital bed listening to test results, treatment plans, and commitments to the “new normal,” none of it seemed real. Somehow, someway I was going to return to my old life filled with fun, hard work, little sleep, and the things most 25-year-olds are experiencing. Honestly, this was the only thing I cared about. With these thoughts the words, “we got this” played over and over in my head. I preached this motto to any and all who would listen. Doctors, nurses, support staff, friends, family members, and prayer groups all knew this was my take on this chapter of my life. A handmade banner hung in my room as a pledge, the words laced my prayers as a promise.

As the days and chemotherapy infusions passed during my first hospital stay, I told by my best friend that the future is always closer then it appears. The close future in my mind also meant I could return to my old life. Each time I brought this train of thought to someone’s attention they were quick to remind me that there would be a “new normal.” I cannot tell you how much these words pierced my ears or how much I wanted to prove those that spoke of this concept wrong. I was going to be the patient that didn’t change. I now have to admit that I was wrong during this time. Upon discharge after 28 days at Roswell Park, I had changed. I didn’t want to leave those hospital walls. I was scared of the world, I feared living as I did in the past, I pushed away those that loved me, and most of all I was unable to comprehend the future and how I would move forward in what felt like a crippling situation. There was nothing normal about the “new normal” nor did I want to be a part of it.

In the days ahead that turned to months, treatment and treatment-related situations filled my time. Things that I used to do before cancer were no longer a part of my life. Every ounce of my time was used to fight whether it was mentally, physically, or emotionally. Some pieces of the fight may have resembled the old me; working part time, volunteering to teach youth home skills, writing greeting cards, or making plans. But they were different. Every component of my old life that graced the “new normal” seemed richer, more exciting, vibrant, blessed, and beyond beautiful because I got to live for it. As I worked to get through each day and fill my time with opportunities I could handle, I realized it was ok that I was never going to be the same again and the “new normal” was better than anything I ever could have ever planned. What was once considered a negative situation had become an incredibly positive journey.

Today, I am thankful for my life. I am also thankful for the “new normal” that I feared more than living itself. The “new normal” has taught me that experiences change people and its ok. We need these experiences, both good and bad. I have learned to love deeper, hug tighter, accept challenge, fight with grace, find joy in simple pleasures, laugh harder, trust the greater plan, and live in the moment. These experiences are ones I hope I never forget, they are challenges I hope I can inspire others to pursue, and I beg those I love to always challenge me to live in this manner. If someone tells you there is a “new normal,” don’t worry, amazing things are heading your way. After all, if we aren’t fueling our lives and fighting for love, are we living at all? We really do “got this.”