I was a freshman in college when I was diagnosed with aplastic anemia. I didn't have a bone marrow donor match, so I opted for the ATG and cyclosporine treatment. After experiencing seizures, which are a rare side effect to the treatment, I began the slow process of recovery. I felt very blessed that my blood counts began to climb, and eventually leveled out around normal and stayed there ever since.
It was seven years after my treatment when my doctor mentioned "complete remission" to me. I remember leaving the clinic in a daze. I was having one of those moments - I felt lucky, I felt guilty, but mostly I felt like I needed to do something big with this life I was so fortunate to have! I needed to take advantage of survival, spread hope to others battling aplastic anemia, and maybe even raise some funds for research.
Being diagnosed and treated for aplastic anemia was an ordeal to go through, but now I can say it is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It's totally shaped my life. It showed me how much I am loved - watching the doctors, nurses, family and friends that pulled together to help me get through it, and now those experiences continue to push me to try new things in this one, precious life I feel so fortunate to have. A bonus to all of this is how much I enjoy sharing my adventures with all the people in my life while spreading hope to other patients and awareness to those that may not have ever heard of bone marrow failure diseases.
My first, and biggest adventure, was born just after being told I was in remission from aplastic anemia. I decided to take an 8-1/2-month hike across the country with my mom to raise funds and awareness for bone marrow diseases through AAMDSIF. It was one of the most amazing adventures in my life so far, and there is nothing that will ever match that experience. My mom, family, friends, and I continued to hold a yearly fundraiser after the "big hike" for a few years after that. Raising funds, hope, making friends, and spreading awareness has always been a rewarding experience for me, and I hope to do more in the future.
I've recently taken some huge leaps in my life to, again, keep pushing myself into new adventures. Since being diagnosed, treated, and surviving aplastic anemia, I've not only hiked nearly 5,000 miles across the country from east to west, but became the fourth person to complete the "Frozen Otter" endurance race (64 miles in 24 hours, during the dead of winter in the Northern Wisconsin forests, overnight), ran several half marathons and one full marathon, gone skydiving (twice), and in 2013, I hiked 2,600 miles from Mexico to Canada. I find physical endurance challenges to be what I get most excited about. To have the chance to take such full advantage of my body's physical health, and with every single step being able to remind myself that I'm still okay is what usually helps me continue in the toughest of times.
I am currently on another new path, which is something completely different than anything I've ever done. I'm going to school to learn to drive a semi truck! I worked at 4imprint in Oshkosh, Wisconsin for 10 years and loved every bit of it - the work, the people, the company - everything. But I felt like I needed to break out of that routine for a little bit and try some new things. This is when I decided to hike from Mexico to Canada last year. Well, the adventure continued once that was over. A few months later I was enrolled in truck driving school, and I am nearing graduation in the next few weeks. My husband Adam and I are planning to drive over the road as a team - we've always wanted to find work that we can do together, and truck driving just seemed like the perfect adventure to share together while still making a living. I also hope it keeps my wanderlust at bay until I crack and go on another crazy-huge hike!
Even though I've convinced myself that I'm done with aplastic anemia, the truth is that I'm in remission. This means that at any time, I could relapse. I keep the reality of it in the back of my mind, but let the positivity stay front and center. It keeps me going. It's kind of become cliche to say, "you only live once," but it really is true. I'm 34 years old now and feel as though I've already experienced so many great things. All of this was the result of being blessed with a near-fatal illness at 18 years old and surviving it. Life is fragile, and sometimes pretty darn scary, but it's also pretty incredible. Keeping all those in mind that haven't been so fortunate in battles similar to mine also push me through life, living as fully as I can -- it's not all about the unknown amount of time I have left here, but it's also in honor of the time others were cut short.
I enjoy writing about my adventures and experiences, so if you're interested in following along to see where I'll end up next, visit my blog site at http://somanymiles.wordpress.com.