Rachel Epperson: 2012 Atlanta Celebration of Hope, Survivors Spotlight
Good afternoon. My name is Rachel Epperson and I am a survivor of Aplastic Anemia. In the fall of 2009, I developed a cold I could not shake. After about 6 weeks of continued “sickness” and extreme fatigue, my husband insisted I get checked out. (I never seemed to have the “time” to go see a doctor. Kids, job, house, work, and the list goes on….) The next morning, on my way to work, I stopped at the urgent care center for what I thought would be a quick visit. (And to make my hubby happy!) Little did I know this would turn into a life-changing journey. When the nurse came in to let me know they had to send my blood work over to the hospital because their “machine was not working properly”, I was relieved. This meant I would get to sleep another 30 minutes!! When she came back in, so “rudely” interrupting my power nap, she asked me if there was anyone I could call. Call?? Why did I want to call anyone?? I just had a cold! Her response was, no, our machine was working properly. Your hemoglobin is 4 and your platelets are 8,000. You need to go to the hospital immediately! That day was November 17th. Just a few weeks later, on December 31st, I was at Emory University Campus Hospital receiving a bone marrow transplant, with my “baby” brother being the proud donor.
Today, you have received a lot of valuable information. For some of you, this may be the first time hearing any of it, and it may be a little overwhelming. For others, this may be “old news”, and a lot of “repeat” information. But for all of us, it brings hope. Hope for better, quicker, more accurate diagnoses, hope for better treatments and understanding of each disease, and hope for a long, happy future.
Along this journey, there were 3 things that brought me to where I am today. These things taught me that no matter what, there is hope in every situation. These 3 things are FAITH, FAMILY, & FRIENDS.
First on my list is faith. Webster defines faith in many ways, but one definition is a “belief that is not based on proof”. When thinking on this, I realized I had several types of faith. First and foremost was my unwavering faith in the 'Great Physician'. I had faith that God would heal me or make this journey tolerable no matter what this “Aplastic Anemia thing” turned out to be. I had no “proof” he would, but I had my faith. Second, I had faith in all the doctors. I had no “proof” that my hematologist had seen this disease before. I had no “proof” that he had a colleague at Emory that could help me, yet in faith, I let him treat me. Lastly, I had faith in research. Research you may ask? Yes. Great men and women like the ones at AA&MDSIF who had put countless hours in to researching my disease. And after those countless hours of research, they WILLINGLY shared what they had learned. I had no “proof” that they knew what they were talking about, but I had faith they did. Today, my standing here is evidence that my faith gave way to proof. “Proof” that God saw fit to grant me healing, “proof” my doctors knew what they were talking about, and “proof” that the researchers had done their job and had done it well.
Second, I have listed family. At the time of my diagnosis, my daughters, Hannah and Shelby Grace, were 8 and 5 years old. In the whirlwind that took place after my diagnosis, from tests I had never even heard of to being told I might have to spend upwards of 100 days away from my girls, I struggled to find hope. But who knew it would come in the form of my family? From my husband, Shannon, my number one supporter, and without whom I could have never made it, to my older brother (who HATES needles) being willing to be tested in the search for a bone marrow match, to my mom, Susan, and my mother-in-law, Carole, who had that “fun” job of taking care of my girls while I was ill. They inspired me. They prayed for me. They loved me when I needed it the most. Even when we prepared the girls by telling them “Mommy will be bald. She will lose all her hair.”, my girls gave me hope. My Shelby Grace saw me, looked at me (via Skype) and so matter of factly stated – Mom, you look just fine. You look just like Daddy!! Love you!! Bye!! And walked away!!! Who know that little statement from a 5 year old would inspire me to fight even harder than before and bring such hope!! On those days that I was in the hospital, my husband unable to be there because he was working (he carries our insurance), my family pictures and my girls' drawings were what got me through. On one really bad day, I told Dr. Khoury, who was here today, I just wanted to see my babies!! And, bless his heart, he responded “Why haven’t you? Tell them to come!” Needless to say, 24 hours later, in mask, gown, hat, and gloves, I was downstairs in the lobby playing UNO with my girls!! It was the best medicine any doctor I have seen ever prescribed.
Last, but not least, I listed friends. Wow. Who know I had so many? So many times it was friends who I relied upon to get to and from treatment, transfusions, and check-ups. They visited me while in the hospital, made sure my hubby and girls had supper EVERY night they were home and I was away from them (and for weeks before and after my transplant), and were there when I was at my worst. The nurses would jokingly give me a hard time because I always had mail! You should have seen all the cards & goodies I received!! They gave me hope. They showed me the power in prayer, the love of a true friend, and good ol’ southern hospitality. (You do know that food fixes everything in the South!) It was at this time that I learned the meaning of a “church family”. Not only did I have friends, I had a family that supported me, cared for me & mine, and truly meant “Call if you need anything.”
This disease has not been easy, kind, or gentle. I know that many of you even may wonder if you will ever lead a “normal” life again. I am here today to tell you – yes! Who can really say what “normal” is? Normal is what we want it to be! Normal is getting up in the morning and saying ‘What am I going to do today to fight this disease?’ Normal is taking up this challenge, in the form of a disease, and fighting back. Normal is following my doctor’s orders (no matter how aggravating they may seem!!). Normal is asking questions about my disease to better educate myself. Normal is spending time with family and friends. Normal is being thankful for another day. Normal is having HOPE.
II Corinthians 3:3-4 states – Blessed [be] God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. As I look back over the last 28 months, I can’t help but wonder if maybe, just maybe, I went through this journey so I could stand here today and bring something to each of YOU. To each patient, caregiver, family member, or friend represented here today. To bring HOPE!
As I close today, I would like to express my eternal gratitude to my God, Who has saved me and seen fit to put me on a path to healing, my thankfulness to my wonderful husband who has stuck with me through thick & thin, and my gratitude for all the wonderful care I received from doctors, nurses, and medical personnel I have come in contact with over the last two years. Last of all, I would like to thank the AA&MDS Int. Foundation for giving me the opportunity to share today.
Let us all remember as we close out this day – No matter what stage you are at in your journey, there is ALWAYS a reason for HOPE!
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