September 29, 2020
How I celebrated the end of leukemia treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic
BY Ciara Toth
When the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic reached Houston earlier this year, I was already expecting it to affect my leukemia treatment schedule. I knew my doctors would probably want to limit my in-person clinic visits, and maybe even conduct some of my check-ups virtually.
What I didn’t expect was the way the pandemic would affect my attitude about my end-of-treatment celebration plans. And that that shift, in turn, would color the way I saw everything else.
Friend’s gift prompts attitude adjustment about COVID-19 challenges
My husband and I had all sorts of plans for celebrating the end of my cancer treatment: a bell-ringing ceremony during my final clinic visit, a “No Mo Chemo” party with my family and friends, and best of all, a trip to Italy.
So, having to delay all those things — most of them, indefinitely — initially made everything feel a little anticlimactic. Yet another reminder that life doesn’t always go according to plan.
But a friend sent me a beautiful brass bell that helped to shift my thinking. It’s engraved with “FIGHT LIKE A GIRL: CIARA’S JOURNEY” and sits on our piano as a reminder of what an incredible support system I have. This bell also helped me realize that my celebration may have looked a little different than we’d originally planned, but it was still special.
Recognizing my cancer treatment milestone with creativity
One way I’m marking the end of my leukemia treatment is with a three-piece art panel that incorporates some of the patient wristbands I received during my acute lymphocytic leukemia treatment at MD Anderson. When I first started collecting them in 2017, I had no idea what I wanted to do with them. I just knew I wanted to use them for something creative.
The triptych is still very much a work in progress, but my plan is for each panel to commemorate one year of my cancer treatment. I’ve already begun layering the wristbands on top of the canvases. I’ve also been using some of the flowers I was sent during my “No Mo Chemo” week – the week I finished chemotherapy.
I’ve always really loved flowers — their beauty, their resilience, their resourcefulness — and how even in the roughest of circumstances (cracks on sidewalks, for example) they find what they need to grow and thrive. They inspired me even more during my cancer treatment.
A number of quotes about flowers have always spoken to me, too, especially one from Nikki Banas: “Bloom. Bloom where you are. Bloom despite the weeds and grow tall and beautiful anyways. Bloom where you are, even if you wish you were elsewhere. Take in all of the light when the sun is shining and know that the rain is necessary when it’s not.”
A beautiful way of closing the book on my leukemia treatment
I feel really lucky not to have experienced any major disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, either in my personal life or in my leukemia treatment schedule. Due to my cancer treatment, I was already familiar with — and quite good at — social distancing and self-isolation. So, those posed no major problems. And, because my chemotherapy comes in pill form, I was able to start my last round in May, on time and as expected.
I still got to celebrate the end of my treatment, too.
Unbeknownst to me, my mom and a few of my best friends arranged to have deliveries made to my home during the week of my last chemotherapy dose. I received loads of sweet cards, care packages and flowers.
It was a great reminder that while we may not have been able to celebrate together in person, I was far from alone.
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My celebration may have looked a little different, but it was still special.