Today marks one year.
One year ago today, I was laying on a hospital bed and the attending doctor at my local hospital held my hand and said, "Mrs. Soriano, you have Acute Myeloid Leukemia." (AML)
Moments before that statement, my husband was sitting at the foot of my bed, looking at me with so much love in his eyes. He already knew something was wrong. They had told him the night before - a night that he didn't sleep, but only did research all night long. A night where he was alone with that information because I had already been admitted from the emergency room - a night where he called my nurse every hour to make sure I was okay, still breathing, still alive.
Before the doctor gave me my diagnosis, I thought everything was okay. I'd been in the hospital before, for various reasons, since I started motherhood. After having a child, it seemed like my body had changed on me. Before having my oldest, I never even stepped into a doctor's office, let alone an emergency room. To be admitted for observation to the hospital really didn't seem like a big deal.
See, I was pretty ignorant. When my ObGyn said my lab results had come back and she wanted me to see a hematologist, I didn't think much of it. I didn't know what a hematologist was. All I knew was that I'd had an abnormal period, my mouth hurt, I was extremely tired, and that the bruise I got two weeks before hadn't gone away. When I was rushed through ER and then admitted overnight and an oncologist came to ask me some questions, it didn't even sink in then. I don't know why. I guess I just had faith that this was just routine and I'd go home the next day.
The next morning, seeing my husband's face, my children sitting on a little sofa on the side, and the doctor saying those words, I can't remember what I responded. I think it was "ok" and tears started to fall. That doctor, though, was so smart. She knew the magic words to get me through - she showed up for me. She said, "The people who survive this are the ones that stay positive. You have to."
And I did. If you followed my AML journey, you know I did. From that moment, I made sure I was my own warrior. I had to - for them...for my babies. My husband walked out to the hospital garden to tell them. Miah (12), Lucas (10), and Annika (8 months) came back to my room and hugged me. The strongest little faces, holding it together for their mama. They were a force to be reckoned with and I made sure that they knew I wasn't going anywhere.
It's been one year since that diagnosis. It was my most trying year of my life. If you have ever read anything in this space, you know I've been through a lot since I was a little girl. But 2016 was really rough. I didn't know that my body could break down on me like that, scream at me as if saying, "that's it! I'm done!" But I had no problem screaming back! I wasn't going to let cancer end me. I've been through way too much in my life to just give up like that. All I can remember is that I had to fight for my kids...for my husband. I couldn't leave them.
The oncologist that visited me the night before my diagnosis had pulled my husband aside that night. In a hospital conference room, he stated pretty bluntly that I may not make it - he asked if I had stated my wishes. The oncologist asked if I had a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) on file. That was what my husband thought about all night. Hey Mr. Negative Oncologist, bite me! I'm still here - alive and kicking! You were wrong!
In the days and weeks to follow, I was transferred to my insurance's home hospital where they did my first bone marrow biopsy. From the results of that painful procedure, the doctors from City of Hope took my case. It turns out that I had a special mutation within the AML. I went through multiple treatments of chemotherapy. I had a seizure, fevers daily, and delirious episodes. I don't remember a lot of it, but the chemo started working. Once the chemo brought my blood levels/numbers down, I started getting platelet and blood donations.
Can I tell you how blessed I felt with those donations? One person told me that she was donating at the donor center and heard someone say, "Please have my donation go to Renee Soriano." The nurse said, "Oh, you too?" It turned out that half of the room was donating platelets and/or blood to me. I've kept every yellow tag that said Designated Donor to remind of the love and support you all gave me. I have every card, every gift, every text message you sent me. I will keep them forever. A symbol that I was never alone in this journey.
On August 23, 2016, I was blessed with a bone marrow donor match. A 22-year-old girl (I overheard a nurse say she was on the east coast!) that I have never met saved my life. I prayed for her from the moment I knew she had been asked until this very day. As of today, I am almost nine months in remission. My prayers were answered. My positivity in the face of cancer worked. I could do hard things.
I always knew that, though. See, I had this army behind me each and every step of the way. Not only my husband and kids, but my extended family and friends were there. You were there. People I had never met, people that were there day in and day out, sending me their positivity, love, prayers. People like you stood beside me, behind me, around me, and made up my #sorianostrong army. I will forever be in your debt.
During the preparation of the transplant process, I didn't know if I could go one. Eleven treatments of radiation can really put a toll on a body plus the continued chemotherapy, you can imagine. I would lay there in bed and pray. I would cry up and tell God to give me strength and that I would leave it all in His hands. His will be done. Those moments were the hardest, but I persisted to get better. There wasn't any other way but to survive.
It's been one year since the diagnosis. I'm here! I'm in this space yelling from my mountain, "I am the warrior! I will not be defeated!"
One year. Yes!
A special thank you to Tausha Wierlo for taking the photos on this post. The photos taken here were from just days following my diagnosis. They remind me how far I've come. #blessed