by Barbi Appelquist
Three years ago this weekend, I was diagnosed with my second cancer, a soft-tissue sarcoma. I remember with haunting clarity the early days and months of my diagnosis. This morning, I read a CNN article that highlighted how, in the United States, cancer will bypass heart disease as the No. 1 cause of death.
On April 16, I will celebrate two years cancer-free. New parents are receiving the news I received and struggling with how to tell their children, their parents, their friends. Below is something I wrote two years ago as I prepared for the surgery that would heal me. As more Americans are diagnosed, treated, and become cancer survivors or succumb to the disease, our elected leaders need to support and enact policies that guarantee affordable medical care, access to preventative medicine, innovative treatments, and compassionate care. I am running for State Senate to bring these issues back to the legislature.
It’s 3:30 p.m. and I am stuck. After any big announcement to the world about my diagnosis, I always feel depleted, vulnerable, and then stuck. A little pause on the to-do button while I regroup, rethink, reorganize, readjust to more people knowing all about me. It is as if someone turned a spotlight on me and I have to squint my eyes as I eek out of the way to regroup, rethink, reorganize, readjust.
Today, I took a macroeconomics midterm. Early in the late night/very early morning, my little girl woke up and crawled into bed to cuddle. She woke up a little after me to help study. I heart her.
And after the exam and a proper conversation with my administration and professors as a school-mandated open door chat about surgery, complications and cancer, I wondered why am I back at school if my life is more limited. My heart wants to just spend all of my days with my family, playing in the sun or cuddling in bed with some stories. Let’s make paper dolls and build condos out of blocks and space ships from cookie boxes. Or dance to silly songs we make up along the way. Let’s eat cereal for dinner and pasta for breakfast and cookies all the time. Let’s hop on a plane for a family trip to Hawaii in the off-season and play with dolphins and sea life.
But my head knows that this is not the best way to raise a child. Teach her resilience, and courage, and perseverance. Teach her how to work hard and earn that A. Teach her that even when everything seems unfair and you feel like falling apart, you have to pick yourself up and carry on. Keep your eye on the prize, and all of that other nonsense.
Except it isn’t really nonsense. I am teaching her how to survive and how to enjoy life.
I’m fighting a life-long war against cancer. I’m preparing for my biggest battle yet with surgery in mid-April. But I believe I will get through it, better at the end of it.
And I will do my best to remember the details: The way she belted out on top of ol’ Smokey on the sidewalk yesterday afternoon and how the sun caught her tangled hair like golden cotton candy; her intense focus when she played with letters this morning while I worked on my flash cards; the way she screams “ma-ma!” when I walk through the door after a day at school.
And in the moments when I am just living and not fighting for my survival, I am happy to be stuck with my 4-year-old doing pirouettes and twirls in the sun in our pjs.
Barbi Appelquist, Esq., is a two-time cancer survivor, having been diagnosed with pediatric liver cancer as a baby and diagnosed more recently with a gastrointestinal stromal tumor, a rare soft-tissue sarcoma, in 2011 at the age of 34. Later that year, Barbi was invited to the launch of The Women in Public Service Project in Washington, D.C. She is an active member of her alma mater, Barnard College, and is currently working with Camp Kesem, a non-profit that provides support to children (ages 6-16) who have a parent diagnosed with or who has died from cancer. She has been cancer-free since 2012.
Barbi loves spending her free time with her husband and their 6-year old daughter in Los Angeles and is actively training for the next half marathon.