Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Cover Girl

Occidental College graduates who read this have already seen this way-close photograph of me on this quarter's Occidental Magazine. It has been a surreal experience to be featured in such a way. It's not People or the New York Times, but for me, it's enough to leave me rather embarrassed, way nervous, and feeling wholly undeserving. Thank goodness for the writing and editing skills of the mag's staff, but I confess that I, of all people, am mystified by their feature story choice. The alumni magazine is supposed to be about people who are out there in the world, kicking ass and taking names. I am currently kicking ass at playing games. I guess my main concern is for all the alumni out there who are fighting deadly illnesses of their own who say, "what's so special about that chick?" The article does its best to answer that question, but, in my ever-expanding exposure to other people with illnesses, particularly leukemia, there's nothing we can do but fight. We have to advocate for the National Marrow Donor Program- our lives depend on it. Plus, an strong empathy for others looking for stem cell matches (I would assume) is unpreventable. Here are some of my favorite cancer rock stars out there:

Omg. The first link I wanted to post was to a young man named Vinay, who was a patient at Dana Farber in Boston, just like me, and has worked tirelessly to augment the bone marrow donor list. He too relapsed with leukemia at the beginning of this year and had a mismatched bone marrow transplant. His site gets countless hits per day and he has been featured in various media, including a documentary entitled "The Truth About Cancer" on PBS. When his page, www.helpvinay.org, opened, it said that he died on June 25.

I am lost. Devastated.
I'll finish this later.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Erica-
You are one special chick who WAY kicks ass! A strong fighting voice for those who have yet to find their own, and a powerful and inspiring example for ALL -- ill and healthy alike -- to aspire to. I admire you greatly.
My thoughts and love to you,
-Mabby

Abby Wood said...

E, I'm so sorry about Vinay. So so sorry. Hang in there-- I hope that you guys have fun tonight.

Big love for my girl,
Ab

Elyse Yu said...

Erica,

I've been following your story ever since I read about you on the A3M website. You are so courageous and I pray for your recovery.

Susan

Lindsay said...

Hi Erica,
My husband, Ting, was also class of 2001 at Oxy and though I did not know a lot of your classmates, I always read the Oxy magazine cover to cover to read about the incredible alums and what they're up to. When the issue arrived today with your picture and headline, I flipped immediately to your article, and read intently. You are a strong, beautiful, incredible woman who has to fight one heck of a crappy battle. I know you can do it -- with your own convictions and the strength of your family and friends around you. When I was a senior in college (Stanford 2002), I grew close to a professor and his wife who were the Resident Fellows (or "dorm parents") in my dorm and their beautiful baby girl, Chloe. At 18 months Chloe was diagnosed with AML and between then and age 3 she relapsed twice, was treated with heavy duty arsenic, and then had an autologous stem cell transplant followed by a cord blood transplant. Chloe is happa, like you, with a chinese-american dad and white mom. They too fought to get more multiracial people in the bone marrow registry. Unfortunately, even as each of you fights so hard, the road ahead is still long to get everyone registered and aware of these types of issues -- rather than just learning about them when they hit you smack in the face as they did for Chloe's family and for you. It was an honor and privilege to be one of the few to enter that double door isolation room at Packard Children's hospital at Stanford during those trying transplant days -- I will never forget the smell of the transplant, the lollypops we ate to counteract it, or the scrubbing soap in the front room, or the IV pole beeping noises, or that feeling from day 1 to about 14 when we just kept hoping and praying and wondering when there would be ANY blood counts, like even 0.1!!! Chloe's parents did an amazing job of getting her though those procedures and long stays in isolation without really any negative effects. Chloe seems to have been young enough that she only has a handful of discrete memories of her transplants -- and one of them is from when she was engrafting and her feet were HOT and ITCHY. The hydrocortisone creams weren't working, and we had OD'd on our limit for the day anyway -- so being a fairskinned redhead who sunburns easily, my first thought was -- aloe vera gel! I don't know if it would always work, but we rubbed it on her hot little feet and then blew on them and to this day Chloe talks about that "green lotion" I brought! LOL. It is hard for me to believe that we have now celebrated Chloe's 3rd transplant-a-versary. More than anything, for me as an observer to all of this, I realized I needed to live my life a new and different way. I had to come to grips with uncertainty, imperfection, and fear -- to learn to be happy and sad at the same time, joyful and scared, hopeful and uncertain somehow all at once -- and to live with no regrets for my sake and the sake of those I love dearly. Chloe and her family are one of my biggest blessings in life -- check out their story at www.caringbridge.org/ca/chloechang and you'll see what I mean :) I hope their journey is interesting and inspiring to read about. Please please let me know if there is ANYTHING that Ting and I can do to be of assistance -- bring dinner, send emails, point you to more hilarious and touching blogs, send you cards, help at a bone marrow drive, you name it!! We're pulling for you big time -- you are amazing!! In awe of your strength -- Lindsay Louie

Saba said...

Your post's title makes me think of the Ru Paul song 'Cover Girl.' I think the New Kids on the Block also had a song by the same title. Dude. All I have to say to you is that the cover story of those alumni magazines usually feature some really intelligent person who has accomplished all sorts of things in the face of adversity. You seem like the natural choice to me.

Michael G said...

Erica,

I have somewhat of a connection in Vinay as well. I was in the room next to his during my induction round at B&W and one of his waiting rounds last summer, long before he got his transplant. I mostly talked to his parents as I was out on my walkaround laps on the ward, as he was often too sick to come out much. But then I saw him this spring on the PBS special looking so good, and hoping he was going to do well. I do remember seeing the note at the end of the show indicating that he had later relapsed, so I guess, unfortunately, I was fearing this. Oh boy.

Michael (Tufts Biology)

Michael G said...

Erica,

I have somewhat of a connection in Vinay as well. I was in the room next to his during my induction round at B&W and one of his waiting rounds last summer, long before he got his transplant. I mostly talked to his parents as I was out on my walkaround laps on the ward, as he was often too sick to come out much. But then I saw him this spring on the PBS special looking so good, and hoping he was going to do well. I do remember seeing the note at the end of the show indicating that he had later relapsed, so I guess, unfortunately, I was fearing this. Oh boy.

Michael (Tufts Biology)

Anonymous said...

Erica-
You make so much sense when you talk about feeling embarrassed to see your face looming large out of a magazine for a cause you have so little control over. You do have some choices how you conduct yourself as a patient. To an outsider reading, it is unselfish to broadcast yourself for the same cause that helps some and not others. One could say your family isn't courageous because they have been held hostage on a devastatingly emotional roller coaster, but I doubt anyone would say that. They all seem so..wonderful. I get what you're saying with the embarrassed. We're not thinking it though.

(Also, my brother Andy wrote the article and I got to see many more pictures and the first draft. No bad pictures out of HUNDREDS)

mollie

artineh said...

I think this is the best Occidental yet! OK, I'm biased, but it's true too. The first thing Karineh said to me when she got it (she got it sooner than I did!!) was "Erica looks BEAUTIFUL". Don't be embarrassed. I think it's wonderful that you were featured because you were so important to Oxy, to those of us who went there with you, and because you're you.

I'm sorry about Vinay.

love,
art

Ms. Schrepfer said...

Erica-
Don't know if you remember me...played rugby with you early on in my oxy career. They called me Red Kate. You are incredible. Amazing. Fierce. The article in Oxy magazine took my by surprise but your spirit and fight are truly inspiring. Saying prayers for you...

Kate

Anonymous said...

Erica---
Read the article in the Oxy Magazine.. You're an incredible person.. And, your writing is so honest, open, and inspiring... (I volunteer at One Step at a time Camp (Wisconsin) for kids diagnosed with leukemia/cancer... Summer session begins on Saturday.. Being with them, I've come to understand the physical/social challenges of cancer.. Yet, your writing takes my awareness to an even higher level..I'll take that with me..) Thanks for sharing...
Best wishes,
Lance Friedman (Oxy '88)
Evanston, IL

PS: Wow... Tremendous pictures in the Oxy article!

Anna said...

Hi hon,
The spread in Occidental is beautiful and captivting. I am glad that the magazine opted to feature you on the cover and "widen the lens" to include an Oxy grad who is an inspiring model for reasons other than enterpreneurship.
I am so sorry about the loss of your friend and fellow crusader for bone marrow donors. It is devastating to hear the news. All my love and a big hug.

xoxoxoxxoxoxoxox

Anonymous said...

I wanted you to know how touching and inspiring your article in the Oxy magazine was (is). I joined the bone marrow registry during a drive on campus, but had never updated my contact information. Since reading your article I have done so, and am encouraging all my friends to get registered as well. I am in awe of your strength and beauty and wish you the best of luck with your recovery and future.

Molly Knapp '03

Corinne said...

I saw the PBS special and was really touched by Vinay. I was so sad to see his blog, but the posts by his friends where so touching, its clear they loved him very much. Hope you know that we love you too and are here to help you fight this and be that amazing cover girl.

Steve Braithwait said...

Erica: I read the article in Occidental with some interest, as I went through a BMT in February following chemo for a relapsed non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Fortunately for me, they were able to use my own bone marrow stem cells (autologous transplant), which were harvested prior to the chemo treatment. The first two months were pretty lousy--not feeling well, tired, food doesn't taste good... But by April I was back at work part time, and when our 100 inches of snow finally melted (we live in Madison, WI) and it warmed up, I got back on my bike. Now five months out, I feel almost normal much of the time (and I have 1/2 inch of hair!), though I still don't have my strength and endurance back, and I get sleepy by 9 p.m.

I wish you the best of luck. You sound like an amazing strong and vibrant young woman. I'm sure you'll make it back. Realize that recovery is a very slow process, and I'm sure yours is slower than mine, but it does get better. You will feel better, food will taste better, and your hair will grow back. Hang in there!

Steve Braithwait '69
steve@lrca.com

Anonymous said...

I hope that you had a good 4th of July....You are a true inspiration to me and my family! You are in my prayers and my church groups prayers!!!!

Anonymous said...

erica

I just finished reading the Occidental with your feature article in it and i must admit... i have never walked away more inspired before.. EVER! well, not true... the article on the taco trucks was kinda powerful and makes me want to go out and take a stand for leo. But i just wanted to compliment you on...i guess just being YOU. Your strength, honesty, modesty and just overall personality... it just leaves me in awe. i've met you a few times through my friends sal kuba and arman, so it's not like i'm making this judgement strictly off what i read. yes... i have had the honor of meeting "erica, the (wo)man, the myth, the legend" (as sal would always say!) Anyways, i just wanted to offer you words of encouragement (as if you needed anymore) to keep fighting the good fight. you're doing good and we're all wishing you a speedy recovery.

Vay Lu (Oxy 00')

Anonymous said...

You don't know me but I had to let you know that the article in the Occidental was insightful and inspirational. I wish you all the best and will absolutely register myself today. Your beauty shines through in every picture and every word of the article and this blog. Sincerely, Emily Kosakowski, Class of '92.

Anonymous said...

Hi Erica:

It's Gabrielle Foreman, one of your professors back in the day at Oxy. I just wanted to let you know that 1) I'm sending the best of what healing vibes I can muster and sending them your way and 2) that I am a bone marrow donor, one of those rare mixed types at that.

My best childhood friend, who was an older student at Oxy, is also facing a cancer that wouldn't stay put in remission. Just got word that another friend, not yet 40, has been diagnosed with breast cancer. I'm going to pass the article and your blog on to them in case they've missed them since they're also vibrant, beautiful women and writers.

Will you also send a hello to Jaimie and a really big hello to Uma?

Very best,

(Professor)Gabrielle Foreman

Samina said...

ai. shivers and chills. i can't bring myself to read vinay's site, but ... well, what can i say? pray for his family and hope that his future will be brighter wherever he is. you are always in my thoughts and i miss you.
love, samina

Lemeneh Tefera said...

Hi Erica,
I'm an alum from '95 and, having received the magazine for all these years, your feature was by far the most compelling and inspiring story I have read in our College's magazine. As a New Yorker, your self deprecating humor makes me smile. As a physician, your strength and courage in facing your illness inspires me to to remember how each patient has a unique capacity to face their disease and motivates me to try my best to provide the best and most compassionate medical care.
I wish you well, a speedy recovery, and would like to thank you for making the Oxy community proud with your efforts at promoting the bone marrow transplant list. More importantly, you are setting such a wonderful example of how to confront life's challenges and overcome them. You are quite an inspiration.
Many smiles,
Tef

Mari said...

Hi Erica,
I turned straight to your article the second I picked up the mag. After reading, I immediately updated my donor info. How often does one read an article and immediately take action? Just think of all the updated info and new donors you have added to the registry! Thank you for sharing your amazing story, and for being an inspiration.

Mari (02)