Life should be celebrated! Our lifelong experiences—both the highs and the lows—and how we handle and adapt to these experiences, shape who we are today and the person we will become as our lives move forward.
My best friend of 45 years, Mitzi Pate, is a person who has always celebrated life while meeting its many challenges, including her experience with CLL . Our friendship began when we met in high school, spending weekends with each other’s families and time together at church. As we grew into adults, we chose separate paths, but through 45 years our friendship has endured.
For the last 25 of these years, Mitzi has faced many health struggles. One diagnosis would lead to another, and then something else would create a new symptom or problem—I honestly couldn’t keep them straight, and I definitely could not name everything that her body has been through (she has had over 20 surgeries and been diagnosed with autoimmune disorders, hyperparathyroidism, and more, all leading up to her eight year battle with, not one, but two types of cancer.)
But what I can tell you is that through all of her health issues, Mitzi never just gave up or gave in to the negative aspects of her body. When she got a devastating diagnosis, she regrouped, and through her determination to beat it, or at least manage it, she would find a way through each catastrophe. In fact, she has been told many times that she should be a doctor! However, she will say she is just a proactive patient who has learned that knowledge is power.
A recent “thing” happened to my longtime friend regarding her CLL. After being diagnosed in 2014, her condition developed rapidly, especially over the past nine months. Ultimately, she became a candidate for CAR-T therapy (after failing three conventional therapies over five years due to being ultra high risk). During the course of the CAR-T clinical trial she was in the hospital for 15 days. She recently had her 30-day follow-up labs—she is in complete remission!
Mitzi is truly a walking miracle! She has an amazing life story, and the center of that story is God and her faith in Him. She knew that He was with her every step of every day. She absolutely had low days, she had very painful days, and she had to energize her body, mind, and soul so that through it all, her faith remained strong!
Mitzi has more to do in this life, and she can’t do everything she wants to do right away, but she will continue to live each day with God in her heart and mind. She is a blessing to every person she meets! From doctors to nurses to a fellow patron in a store, she brings sunshine and kind words!
All of this is to say, everybody has struggles and celebrations in life, but it is our individual reaction to our life experiences that makes the difference! It is easy to be miserable because you ran out of money between paychecks, you wrecked your car, you broke up with your partner, you failed a test (or didn’t make the grade you wanted or needed). Trust me, I have been through my own share of struggles, including being widowed at 42 and left to raise our two kids without my husband. Those dark days help us become stronger if we let them teach us. Pain and hurt may make you wish the struggle were over, but working through it makes you realize you CAN get through it.
Afterward, you won’t be the same, of course. You will be changed. And yeah, you might still have other struggles like anxiety or stress to work through. But you will learn and grow and keep looking ahead because looking back keeps you in pain! And in the end, you will be stronger.
Life is fluid, with good times and bad. You can choose to smile through the pain and laugh often. You can be your own sunshine. Mitzi and I each have our stories and can both tell you that life is worth the struggles, because LIFE IS GOOD!
Mitzi and Cathy met in high school and became best friends immediately spending weekends with each other’s families. As they grew into adults and married, they chose separate paths. Mitzi embraced being a stay at home mom and volunteered at church, school and in the communities. Cathy chose to have a career while raising her kids. Mitzi has been blessed with a strong prayer team and support while she has battled her health and remained as active as possible. Cathy, who is the President of a small property management company, became a single mom at 42 and having a career helped provide for her family. Throughout the last 44 years, their friendship has endured, and they pick up where they left off, regardless of the time between visits and talks.
Originally published in The CLL Society Tribune Q4 2019.