My 5 Is For All Of Us: What May 5th means to me
May 5th is many things to many people. A Birthday, Cinco de Mayo, a wedding anniversary. But since 2001, May 5th has been the day everything changed. Eighteen years ago, it was the day I was diagnosed with cancer and that this year officially becomes 5 For the Fight Day.
But to understand how my story has become a part of this, we have to go back.
Back to February 16. The day I was born, the doctor who delivered me misplaced forceps and crushed my cornea. It would be nearly 5 years before anyone really discovered what had happened that day. My brain had stopped listening to my right eye because of the damage, and getting it back was an intensive process. Naturally, protecting my sight become priority one and meant that there were many things it was safer for me not to do. So when I got the opportunity to play volleyball I jumped at it.
In late April 2001, I was at practice and I got spiked in the face.
Things happen. But when I was still seeing little black spots a couple of days later, it meant a visit to Dr. Eisenbaum.
He hadn’t been looking for long when I was asked to leave the room. When I was called back in, he explained that I had hemorrhaging on my retinas in both eyes. This wasn’t “normal,” but could be caused by any number of things — 4 more likely than the others: diabetes, lupus, hypertension, or cancer. He recommended a blood test.
May 4th, 2001, therefore, resulted in a blood draw.
May 5th, 2001. 4 AM. Did you know: when you’re deathly anemic, the lab will call you directly? No matter what the time day or night. We were about to learn all sorts of things like that.
Two hospitals, a couple of IVs, saline, and more blood being drawn than you’d think would be recommended for an anemic person later and I’m laying in a small room off the Emergency Room at Children’s Hospital in Denver. I’d heard the “c” word whispered several times — but it just couldn’t be. Cancer happened to other people. And I was healthy! True, between volleyball, band, school, piano lessons, and Girl Scouts I was tired, grumpy, and dragging. But that wasn’t unreasonable. At the end of the week, I was exhausted. I sometimes ran a fever. But I was back on my feet after some solid sleep and all in time for Monday.
The day seemed to stretch on forever. People had moved in and out of the room all day without answers. I was desperate for a bagel. Suddenly, everyone reappears; Mom, Dad, the doctors. They tell me that I have…cancer. Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. The most common form of childhood cancer for kids under 10. I’m 11, and I just don’t understand — why me? What had I done?
The doctors tell me about what’s going to happen. I’ll be admitted, they start chemo, install a port, on and on. But I’m not engaged in this — I’m out of control. For 28 months, I don’t really have a choice.
There are moments from treatment that just stand out, playing in my memory as clear as if they had just happened. Moments where I claimed myself back from this invader. And moments where I didn’t.
Meeting Dr. Edythe Albano. She strode into my hospital room with all the confidence of a superhero. She immediately got me on-side with ripping up the “no dairy” order that had been keeping me from that bagel. But she also told me about how we were going to beat this. How she was going to let me do absolutely everything I thought I could do. Her job was to make me whole and well again, but not stop me living life in the process of it. I’m not sure how many of us she has saved in some manner or another, but be certain — Wonder Woman is not mythology.
My first treatment. They told me I had charlie horses, but I know better. It felt like a pickaxe in the center of my bones, going after the hardened, traitorous bone marrow. The battle was on.
The hair. First cut to my shoulders, then shaved completely the day it clogged the drain.
Mom telling me that she knew this was awful, and I could be mad and mean to her if I had to. But in no uncertain terms would I be rude or unkind or angry at the team making me better. Being the pillar of strength for everyone while marking off each treatment in a countdown to cure.
That summer was absolutely anything but normal, but at some point normal started again. I started school. I started playing volleyball again. We adapted our 4th of July parade entry to my lack of hair — it was epic.
But suddenly, we started ticking through those 28 months like nothing. And I was incredibly lucky: cancer went easy on me. On August 19, 2003, I celebrated my final spinal tap and bone marrow biopsy. It was done.
So many odd events in my life had led to this moment and my gratitude the people who made my cure possible will never fade. But 5/5 had more in store for me.
In both good and bad ways, cancer remains a part of you long forever. It’s a part of your story, and — at least for me — it’s become my shadow.
Like how on August 19, 2008, my affinity to being a cancer survivor had me volunteering for Maggie’s Cancer Centre in London for their all-night hike. It was there I met the man who would become my husband while he was on duty at Horse Guards’ Parade in Whitehall. It was as if the universe or something was using my shadow to guide me.
I’ve seen it in how my story has connected me with people all across the world. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise when Qualtrics came into my world. It was while I was researching for the job I wanted that I discovered 5 For The Fight; it was as if everything fell into place. I felt like — beyond an awesome job — I could be a part of a force that was directly making an impact on cancer. I looked forward to joining a company putting so much emphasis on aggressively confronting cancer and hoped to find a way to put my past to good use.
But it can be hard to introduce your survivorship into a conversation in general, let alone one with a new set of co-workers. So I wondered about how and when to share my tie to this incredible effort, when — like so many things have done since the day I was born — things suddenly aligned.
I was invited to a 5 For The Fight meeting where the topic changed from a virtual 5k to how to claim May as 5 For The Fight month. The dialogue then shifted to wanting to make sure that May 5th — 5/5 — became 5 For The Fight day. Everyone felt it was a powerful and natural claim, but I knew this was it.
5 For The Fight claiming that day — my day — was just the moment. I walked up to Lori and asked if I could tell her my story. And I asked — what can I be doing to help?
I have found myself seeking my purpose as a survivor. Why did I have this story and what good could come of it?
I’ve realized that was the purpose: so good could come of it. I’ve always wanted my story to bring fire to those who needed it. But I have dreamt of a day where no one else can relate to it. It’s why I was in a study group that tested how extra chemo impacted my survival and after-effects. It’s why I would tell my story to anyone who needed to relight the fire in their heart when cancer reared its ugly head. I wanted to stop cancer. And so does 5 For The Fight.
For us to share a day is something special. It’s the day I started my fight 18 years ago, and it’s the official day of 5 For The Fight, the organization that intends to stop cancer. A date which had become my moment to quietly recognize the day everything changed, is now a call to arms. It’s a reminder of the declaration that we’re all in until cancer gives in.
So my 5 is for me.
My 5 is for Tommy. It’s for Danielle and her whole family. It’s for my Grandpas. For Megan.
My 5 is for all of us.
If we’re all in, cancer can’t win.
Today, My 5 is for all of us. We dedicate May to 5 For The Fight and May 5th as 5 For The Fight Day. Please join the fight against cancer in honor of all of us. You can register for a global virtual 5K anywhere in the world May 24–25 by visiting http://www.5kforthefight.com. #5forthefight #My5isFor
Nicole Parish is the Talent Brand Attraction Lead at Qualtrics. She is an alumnus of the University of Michigan and the University of Phoenix and has recently moved to Utah from Windsor in the UK. A bibliophile and casual knitter, she lives with her husband, son, and two dogs.
5 For The Fight on Medium crowdsources wisdom from the crowd of those affected by cancer. You can submit a favorite story behind your 5 For The Fight dedication by adding it to our publication in the publish dropdown menu (email firstname.lastname@example.org so we can add you as a writer).