Thursday, September 1, 2011

Amy has passed from this life to NEW life.

Amy Sockaci  - Obituary
Posted: Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A short life is not a wasted life, especially when that life was lived by Amy Beth Sockaci.

Born February 27, 1979, she was nicknamed 'Mighty Amy' because she was the tiniest baby in the nursery but screamed the loudest. Amy passed from this life to more life on Monday, August 29, 2011, at the tender age of 32. Mighty Amy always lived life to the fullest.

Amy graduated with highest honors from Riverside High School in 1997, where she was coached in Cross Country and Track by her dad, setting school records in the 1 and 2 mile relays. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Architecture from Kent State University, graduating Summa Cum Laude in 2001. For the last nine years, Amy was employed at Burt Hill in Butler, PA, achieving certification as a Registered Architect in 2009 in the midst of battling cancer.

Amy demonstrated time and again in her beautiful life that with God you can transform loss into gain. When first diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma four years ago, Amy repeatedly bounced back from radiation and chemotherapy with the most radiant smile, and she wore her unusually gorgeous bald head with pride. She was an inspiration to other patients, as well as hospital staff or others who encountered her, many of us realizing by her example how much we have to be thankful for and how much stronger we can be.

When relapse required a Donor Stem Cell transplant, she responded to its coming limitations by embarking on a six week adventure backpacking through Europe with her best friend Sherri and trying new things - such as paragliding over the Swiss Alps and hot air ballooning over the German countryside. This trip also achieved another item from her 'Life List', visiting the landmarks of her mother's childhood in Germany with her mother and sister Erika. Upon her return, her health had improved enough to cancel the scheduled procedure!

One year later, a Donor Stem Cell Transplant was required, and she again went on an adventure, realizing a dream of traveling to Alaska. She blogged about her experiences - sharing her faith, her hope and her joyful love of this life. At, she described herself in this way: 'I'm Amy a joyful, colorful, perennially hopeful lover-of-life! I believe that each day is truly a gift from God, and I strive to make each one count. Even when it doesn't quite go right, it is still an adventure to - hopefully - be enjoyed (or at the very least learned from).'

Amy recognized the Source of her vitality as the Spirit of Jesus Christ living in her. She could often be seen on Sunday mornings praising God down front at Victory Christian Center, her arms outstretched, her head lifted. She adored her church family and highly valued how much they supported her every step of the way. Her favorite activities included Victory Gardeners, the Happy Campers, and Friday Night River Services.

In mission trips to various places - Los Angeles, CA; Tijuana, Mexico; Coatepeque, El Salvador (twice); Post-Katrina Mississippi (twice); and Samaritan's Purse, NC - she applied the skills she learned from her father in building and construction. In her free time, Amy was always generous with her creativity, making gifts of her photography, sewing, and writing.

The last item on her life list is, 'To do something really memorable and special to impact the world and leave an amazing legacy.' Amy may not have realized that she did indeed accomplish this goal, touching everyone she encountered and leaving an amazing legacy - 'Every day is a Gift from God . . . every day is an adventure. Enjoy the journey!'

Amy is survived by her parents, John and Elizabeth Sockaci, of Ellwood City, PA; by her sister Erika Sockaci of Los Angeles, CA; her sister-in-law Jennifer Deaton, also of Los Angeles, CA; her grandfather Zachary Sockaci of Fombell, PA; and numerous aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. She was preceded in death by her grandparents Erna and William Bartley and Helen Sockaci, and her cousin Stephen Sockaci.
Services will be held Wednesday, August 31, at Victory Christian Center, 3899 McCartney Road, Lowellville, OH 44436 ( Calling Hours will be held at the church from 4 to 7 p.m., with a memorial service immediately following at 7 p.m.

Graveside services will be Thursday, September 1, at 11 a.m. at Lillyville Church of God cemetery, 408 Hickernell Road, Ellwood City, PA, 16117, with a luncheon to follow in the Lillyville Church fellowship hall.

Memorial contributions can be made in Amy's name to Family House Shadyside, Pittsburgh, PA ( and to The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Monkeying Around

I was just laying here on the couch, eating some kettle korn and surfing the internet – a pretty pleasant way to spend the evening after a long day at the Stem Cell Clinic receiving a drug infusion and a couple of units of blood – and the theme song from “The Monkees” began running through my brain. Now, I know that seems very random, and really it is, but earlier in the day I read something that referenced them. So naturally, it lodged in the gray matter somewhere, only to pop out again now.

The theme song conjured up memories of summers at my grandparent’s house. My sister and I grew up without a TV in our house until I was 12. To pass the time, we did crazy things like color, read, ride bikes or create with Legos. In the summers and on Saturdays during the school year, we would visit my grandparents, Oma and Opa, who had an enchanted spare room with a closet stocked with Oma’s old high heels and costume jewelry, a sofa-bed and (drum-roll, please) a cable TV – heaven for a TV-starved 10 year-old girl! At night, my sister Erika and I would plop ourselves on the sofa-bed and turn the TV to Nick-at-Nite to enjoy a line-up of “I Dream of Jeanie”, “Bewitched”, and of course “The Monkees”. I think we were both captivated by Davey Jones and his accent. But who wasn’t!? Our “official” bedtime was something like 10 o’clock when we were at Oma and Opa’s, but Erika and I always turned off the lights and turned the volume down really low, huddling close to the TV to sneak in an extra episode or two before we would hear one grandparent loudly proclaim to the other from outside our door, “I’m going to go check on the girls now,” and we would hurriedly turn off the TV and hop under the covers, knowing we’d gotten away with it yet again!

Playing dress up with the TV in the background.  1983

Vegging out to the TV.  Is there someone else in the room?
 Anyway, back from the reverie and back to the point…

As the lyrics from “The Monkees” theme song were absent-mindedly strumming through my head, I began to think about the words, which I’d never really done before.  (I added the underlines for emphasis, hint, hint...)

"Here we come
Walking down the street
We get the funniest looks from
Everyone we meet.

Hey, hey we're the Monkees,
and people say we monkey around.
But we're too busy singing,
to put anybody down.

We go wherever we want to,
Do what we like to do.
We don't have time to get restless,
There's always something new.

Hey, hey we're the Monkees,
and people say we monkey around.
But we're too busy singing,
to put anybody down.

We're just trying to be friendly,
Come watch us sing and play.
We're the young generation,
And we got something to say.

Hey, hey we're the Monkees,
You never know where we'll be found.
So you'd better get ready,
We may be comin to your town.

Hey, hey we're the Monkees,
and people say we monkey around.
But we're too busy singing,
to put anybody down.”

After I laughed at the first lines about getting funny looks from people, which I do so frequently these days with my swollen face and hospital mask, a few important questions and thoughts popped out at me.

Am I too busy singing, worshipping, and praising God to put anybody down?

• As my Pastor has often said, “If you’re bored with the Christian life, you aren’t doing it right”.  Am I wasting time being restless, or am I looking to that “something new”?

• Finally, am I sharing my testimony of God’s power and saving grace in my life, and the truth of Jesus with others in friendship and through the example of my life?  Or am I too focused on other things to think about it, and possibly missing opportunities to be a witness for Christ? Am I sharing what God has uniquely given me to say?

These are not easy questions that good ole Davey Jones poses to me. I’m going to have to think hard and answer myself truthfully. And the truth is that I'm not doing all I could be...but God's grace is greater.  So, my choice at this point is to either be content with that answer and continue as is, or choose to accept God's grace and commit to doing something about it. 
What about you, how would you answer Davey?

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Few Thoughts on Gratitude

Last night I was reading the private blog of a fellow Hodgkin's Lymphoma survivor who wrote, what I think, are some very provoking thoughts on positivity and gratitude.  After being in remission for some time, she just learned that she has relapsed.  Here is an excerpt from her blog...

"I don't want any other cancer warrior to think I am bubbly and optimistic twenty four seven even after receiving such disappointing news.  There is a huge difference between being 'happy' and being 'grateful.'  The gratefulness piece is always in me. Always.  However, it was tough to get out of bed the last few days and to look at the bright side of things when the reality is that more treatment will continue in the future.  I think it's important for those that are ill or receive hard news, that we are still gentle with ourselves.  In the beginning I used to repress these feelings and ignore them, realizing they would only come out later to bite me in the butt.  Now, if I feel down for a few days, I let myself.  Usually after a week or two, I find myself back on my feet again and moving.  I am no superwoman -- none of us are, so I believe its truly important to let yourself 'be' in these types of situations."

Now, I am generally a very grateful person - and 99% of the time a very optimistic person - but I have to admit that this girl is one step ahead of me because I've only just learned what she already has, that it is ok to let yourself feel down when you actually do...and to let yourself 'be' when you need to.  Sometimes it is necessary to experience those feelings, and then they pass and you move on.  Like she says, for me the gratitude and hope are ever present, but I've come to realize that it is not just ok - but healthy - to let myself experience the emotions of sadness or frustration.

Over the past few months of dealing with chronic Graft versus Host Disease (since my previous post), I've had a few of these moments as my strength has been sapped and my body has been changing in not-so-pleasant ways from two months of being on high-dose steroids.  It has been a frustrating two months, and Wednesday I was admitted to the hospital yet again, while the doctors try to figure out why my blood levels all tanked over the past week.

Yesterday they performed another bone-marrow biopsy on me...and afterwards I decided that I needed to reward myself, since it is such a painful procedure.  This is another good lesson learned - how to allow myself rewards - and so I walked across the street from the hospital to Starbucks and treated myself to an iced mocha caffe with extra whipped topping!  Yum!  Now, that is something to be grateful for!  Also, during the biopsy I just kept thinking, "yeah, this hurts, but at least I'm not cutting off my arm with a dull pen knife!  (Have you seen the movie, 127 Hours?)

So, in addition to those two, I'd like to share a few other random things that I'm grateful for (in no particular order):

- back porches and hammocks
- having a car that is paid off
- dental floss (i love that feeling of freshly flossed teeth!)
- Sunday breakfasts with Sherri and Pam
- spring flowers and a mom with a serious green thumb

- chubby babies - they're just too cute!
- being one of the few people of my generation who has actually benefited from Social Security, and not just paid into it
- today I'm not sore from yesterday's bone marrow biopsy
- being able to encourage people
- wash -n- wear hair
- best friends, birthdays, ice-cream pie from Handel's, and licking the plate clean!

- the independence of being single
- joyful memories
- finding those perfect shoes that aren't just cute, but make your feet feel awesome...and then buying them in two colors!
- friends with campers who invite you over and feed you yummy camp food (Peggy)
- kids who innocently ask why that girl is wearing a mask, and parents who aren't afraid to give a real answer instead of embarrassingly shushing them
- new home office furniture that I will soon be's like a big jigsaw puzzle and I love it!
- Jesus, who never changes and is the source of my gratitude, hope, strength and life
- my laptop, cell phone, ipod, Netflix, and HGTV
- living next door to my parents
- wonderfully supportive friends at work who check in on me and two years ago helped send me to Europe
- looking forward to traveling again
- my nurses at the stem cell clinic who always make me laugh and smile with their antics

It's certainly not a comprehensive list...I could keep going - fruit, indoor plumbing, clothing with elastic, eyesight - but I'll stop for now and just ask this...

What are you grateful for?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Woo Hoo!

This is short and sweet, and sans pictures...
But I have GREAT NEWS to share.  Today I received the results of the PET/CT that I had on Wednesday... and it is No Evidence of Malignancy!!!  See, didn't I tell you, great news!  :)  This is scan no. 2 since my allogenic stem cell transplant last July.

The only downside is that I have had a flare up of graft vs. host disease (GVHD) of the gut, which has unfortunately landed me in the hospital for the Easter weekend, so that I can receive some high-dose steroids to reign it in.  My doctor promises though that he will release me so that I can eat Easter dinner with my family on Sunday.  Bummer though that I am missing both Good Friday and Easter Morning services at my church.  That's ok...God's here too!

Happy Easter to YOU!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Power Outage

I came home around 7 yesterday evening after a full and fun day that included a wonderful church service, breakfast with Sherri, and shoe shopping (yay!).  I also arrived home with two new pairs of shoes (double yay!)!  Famished, I flipped on the light switch in the kitchen to begin making dinner, and nothing happened.  So I looked to the clock on the microwave and it was blank...looked at the VCR in the living room, blank also.  Ugh, the power is out.  I guess that will really limit my dinner options - no stove, no microwave...

But my first priority, while there was still some daylight, was assembling as many candles as were available and lighting them around the house.  I gathered 23 in all and had them strewn about the kitchen, living room and bathroom.  I dug out my camping gear where my headlamp was stashed, and set about making my tuna salad sandwich, the only thing I could come up with that did not require cooking of any sort.

Then I sat down to a very lovely candlelit dinner while the chimes on my back porch played wildly in the wind that was undoubtedly the culprit for the loss of electricity.  Aside from the chimes, everything was so sounds from the furnace or the refrigerator...those barely noticeable hums that our electronic appliances eminate that just blend in to the background unnoticed, that is until they aren't there.

It was quite a beautiful evening actually.  Peaceful and calming.  And I thought to myself, why don't I just turn out the lights and turn off the electronics and enjoy this same peacefulness more often?  Why do I only enjoy it when it is forced upon me?

I couldn't help myself, but had to grab my camera and begin taking pictures of all the candles and the glow and reflections that they were creating.  It was enchanting.

When the power did come back on around 10 o'clock, I decided that I would just leave the lights out and finish the evening by candlelight until bedtime.  I did however appreciate having the furnace back on, as the house was becoming a bit chilly...

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Rebirth of an Undershirt

Recently, I came into the possession of two new long-john undershirts (they were bought for my dad, but didn't fit).  First, I considered throwing them into the bag with the other clothing donations to be dropped off at the church nearby.  But then, I had an idea...a thrifty, creative part inspired by the purchase of a new sewing machine!  What if the undershirts were reborn as shoulder bags.  Slouchy, casual, fun shoulder bags made of waffle material.  What a grand idea!

I planned it all out.  The body of the shirt would make the bag, the neckline and chest would become pockets, and the sleeves could be the strap.  Even the cuffs could be put to good use as the button flap closure.  Fortunately, my mom had some scrap fabric that I was able to use for the lining, because the waffle fabric was much too stretchy to be adequate on its own.

I embelished the outside pocket with some leafy stitching in a few shades of green, topped off with colorful buttons like little flowers.  Here it is in the works...

...And here it is completed.  YAY!  I do love this little bag.  I would love to keep it for me, but I made it with Sherri in mind...with some of her favorite colors, too.  It was to be a Valentine's gift, but 4 weeks of the flu put me behind.  So it is a "here is something to cheer you up and take your mind off the gray weather" gift instead!!  :)

There is one pocket on the outside of the bag and one on the inside.  Isn't that checkered pink lining fabric fun?!

So now that Sherri's bag is complete, it's time to make one for me with the remaining shirt.  I'm nearly done with it, in fact, and will be happy to show it to you once it is complete...
And hopefully it will be done soon, especially since I see Sherri carrying her bag and really want one of my own!

Have a happy, creative day!  xxxxx

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today I turned 32!  Wow...  and what a fun birthday it was!  Blessings upon blessings...I am a much spoiled girl!  Breakfast with friends, fun painting pottery, a delicious dinner with family, and my Oma's famous birthday cake recipe, which my Mom has perfected (3 layer with this amazingly rich mocha icing...YUM!!).  Spoiled, spoiled...and very full!  (Afterall, most of what I did today was EAT!)

I may be 32, but never too old to sit on Mom's lap!!

Isn't that a great bag from Sherri...I can't wait to use it!

And my birthday cake all lit up...there were 8 candles.  I think Mom got confused and thought I was a leap year baby...  good thing...  I had a hard enough time blowing out 8, much less 32!  :)

Unfortunately, the cake suffered from a bit of an earthquake!  But it was still such a beautiful cake...and did I mention scrumptuously yummy too?!
I'm already looking forward to a slice for breakfast...
I'll be having sweet dreams tonight!  xxxxxx

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Faith [fayth] n.

1.  A strong belief.  2.  Loyalty, belief and complete trust in God's will.  3.  Devotion.  4.  The acceptance of what we cannot see but feel deep within our hearts.

I received this frame as a Christmas present this year and immediately knew that I could not just fill it with snapshots...random pictures that I would want to change every year or so when they became outdated.  No, I knew that this frame was special, and that the pictures in it would need to tell a special story.  And for me, one of the most powerful expressions of my faith journey has been that of living through the last four years of this uncertain adventure called Hodgkin's.  The story that needed to be conveyed in this Faith frame had to be one that reminded me of God's promises to me, the fulfillment of those promises, and how He carried me through it.  And so I chose four pictures, from four significant milestones, with four significant people who walked my faith journey with me.

The picture on top is the most recent, taken with my mom this past Christmas.  Now that my stem cell transplant has been completed, and I am in the follow-up phase of that, it is my mom who weekly (and sometimes semi-weekly) drives me to Hillman Cancer Center for my check-ups and bloodwork.

The bottom picture is from 2009, from my Europe back-packing trip.  Here, Sherri and I are standing on the Zugspitze, the highest peak in the Alps in Germany.  This is where I looked out over the railing to a view that was completely obscured in clouds.  I prayed a little prayer, asking God to show me the view...and the clouds parted to reveal an incredible blue lake far below.  I stood there, enjoying the view and listening to "You Raise Me Up" on a friend's ipod, while it seemed that noone else around me even noticed the parting of the clouds.  It was just a special time with God and me.  And, when the song ended, the clouds rolled back in.  The entire trip was really such a journey of faith for me...

The picture on the right is next, from 2008.  This is just before I went into the hospital for my Auto Stem Cell Transplant, and that is my sister Erika kissing my bald head.  :)

And the picture on the left is from nearly the beginning, 2007.  I was losing my hair from the chemo and decided to throw a "buzz-cut party" with my friends.  It was great fun!  Everyone took their turn with the clippers, and in the process of buzzing my hair gave me some pretty interesting hair styles!  Peggy, who is in the picture with me, has been such a wonderful friend and support through this journey.  She also is the one who gave me the neon pink wig!  (And this frame too!)

And there it is, all put together...

...and hanging on the wall!  Doesn't it look great hanging there.  I love the combination of the blue frame and the green wall.  I already had the metal "faith" word sitting on the windowsill of my window seat, so I think the two go well together.  And speaking of the windowseat, I just love the fabric on the cushion!  It's so bright and colorful and happy!  The blue fabric on the edge actually matches the frame nearly perfectly... yay for unplanned coordination!  I made the cushion this past spring - my first experiment with cushion making.  I still have yet to finish covers for all the pillows, but I'll get there, eventually!  :)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Valentine's Bliss

Last week I was blissfully engaged in creating crafty, colorful, love-filled joy to spread around...and I wanted to share it with you, since sadly, Valentine's day is behind us now.  (But at least I have my birthday to look forward to!!!)

The kitchen table was covered in colored paper galore, bits of scraps, markers and pens while my best friend / roommate, Sherri and I handcrafted cards for our friends.  For Sherri, I strung shapes together and hung them from the ceiling fan in her bedroom for a festive Valentine's inspired mobile!  I also scattered red swedish fish all over her bed.  :)

Now, I received some fun Vday surprises too!  Yummy and beautiful heart-shaped cookies from Pam.  Chocolates and other such treats from Mom.  And these fun flowers from Peggy.  What makes these flowers so special is that they are solar powered, and when the sun hits them, the flowers happily wave back and forth while the leaves bob up and down.  It's quite a cheerful little show that they put on, and they make me smile.  :)

The red one is Sherri's and it lives in the living room, and the pink one is (of course) mine and it lives at the window above the kitchen sink so that I can enjoy it while doing the dishes...which I need to be doing.  :(

And finally, the Valentine's treats shared between my friends at the Stem Cell Clinic and me.

Happy Friday my friends!  Have a wonderful, colorful weekend!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day = PINK!

I'm always looking for a reason to wear pink...afterall, it's my favorite - my signature - color!  And what better occassion to sport that happy color than on Valentine's Day.  Since the 14th just so happened to be on one of my days to visit the Stem Cell Clinic, I thought it would be a great excuse to sport not just pink, but the hot pink wig given to me by my hair-stylist friend Peggy waaaayyyy long ago when I first started chemo in 2007.  Even though I have about a half inch of hair growth now, I thought the wig would be the perfect antidote to the mid-winter blahs!

And it was a huge  H I T !    Now, I don't wear it often, because I don't like to attract such attention to myself.  But every once in a while, when I am feeling bold and brave, I will go pink.  Just walking into clinic, past the waiting rooms and other nurses, elicited quite the reactions!  What fun!

The nurse assistant Sandy and physician's assistant Zylphia were the first to see me.  From what I understand it had already been a crazy busy morning when I walked in at 8:30, and it was fun to watch them crack up and see the mood lighten a bit!

My nurse Linda, a cancer survivor herself, saw me next.  Her reaction was priceless..."pure sex" is what she called it!  She couldn't stop laughing about it and was excitedly anticipating my oncologist's reaction.  She always tells me that I'm his favorite patient, and knew that he would just love the wig.

When my doctor did come in for his rounds, everyone gathered around to catch his reaction.  It was great!  He laughed and laughed, and told me that it was a good omen because another patient of his was given a pink wig (not as neon of one, he was quick to add) and ever since she began wearing it she has been in remission.  That's wonderful, but for me the wig will get safely tucked back into it's storage spot until the next great occassion!  I already have my healing...

I also gave Dr. Agha a little Valentine's button to wear on his jacket lapel.  I told him he has to wear it all day today, and I think he was quite happy to do so!  I actually regifted it, as I just got it yesterday attached to the most beautifully decorated heart shaped sugar cookie from my lovely friend Pam.  Ohhh and it was so yummy too!  (The cookie, not the button!)  It didn't last till Valentine's day...not even close!  :)  Anyway, the button has a frog leaping over a bicycle and it says "I flip 4 you".  It is very, very cute!  I hated to give it up, but being that Dr. Agha is an avid bicyclist, I knew it was perfect and thought it would be more fun to make him wear it.  And it matched his tie too!

I got blessed by the Stem Cell folks too.  They had a little chinese take-out box decorated with candy hearts and full of sweet treats for each of the patients.  Sugar and chocolate always make me happy!  I had little surprises for each of them too...Valentine's inspired magnetic photo frames for the fridge, which I tied up in pink ribbon with pink nametags for each of the ladies.  Yay for spreading the love!

So, HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY to you!  Spread the love, because LOVE is the greatest afterall!!!  (1 Corinthians 13:13)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A little color...

The gray days of early February in Pennsylvania have me on the search for a little extra color.  So I looked back through my pictures, through folders of vacations and photo safaris, and found a few bright and cheerful ones.  I decided to make a collage of them...all blues and oranges...which makes me envision blue skies and bright sunshine.  Ahhh...  it makes me smile! you see the time?  Yes, it's accurate (and unfortunate)!  I've been having so much trouble sleeping lately.  I'm up most of the night and then a zombie during the day.  Ugh!  Hoping to fall asleep soon!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Learning to Leap

This is an essay that I submitted to "Real Simple" magazine last fall for their Life Lessons Essay Contest.  I waited to post this, as the judging only took place in January.  But, seeing that I didn't win, I thought I'd put it here for all to read.  Enjoy...   :)

“Make sure you jump far out, away from the rocks,” my German guide Lukie shouted over the roar of the waterfall. I trembled inside, my legs wobbling, and wondered if I could jump at all, but I smiled at Lukie, closed my eyes, and pushed off with all my might from the small ledge in the boulder. Seconds later, I plunged into a deep, swirling pool of frigid glacial-melt water thirty feet below.

I was never one to leap. I was practical, responsible, careful – a planner, a list-maker. I was the kind of person who made lists about the lists I needed to make. In college, my architecture curriculum included the opportunity to study in Florence, Italy, during the Spring semester of third year. At the time, I was strapped for cash and involved in a serious relationship with a guy at home. My school loans were already sizable, and I simply couldn’t envision the value that the study abroad program offered. Not wanting to add to my debt or leave my boyfriend behind – or to experience change of any kind – I decided to stay behind in the familiarity of snowy Ohio while my classmates gathered their passports and boarded a plane. Many evenings that following summer, I came home after work, opened the mailbox and greeted postcards of Big Ben, the Spanish Steps in Rome, or the blue waters of the Mediterranean from friends who remained in Europe for the summer backpacking. Swallowing my envy, I felt at that point that I had forever missed my opportunity.

By the age of thirty, I had passed my professional exams to become a registered architect and was well established in a stable job at a large architecture firm. I methodically saved a portion of each paycheck, sacrificing while others spent. Within five years, I had actually saved up a down payment for a modest starter home. Just as I had done all my life, I was doing the sensible, responsible thing. I was becoming independent. I was establishing equity. And then, I drastically changed direction.

A month earlier in May of 2009, my best friend Sherri and I daydreamed about all of the goals we wanted to achieve in life. We both dreamed of backpacking through Europe, traveling by train, staying in hostels, and going wherever a whim might take us. I also shared that I wanted to travel to Munich, Germany, with my mom and sister to see where my mom lived as a little girl. As Sherri scribbled our list in her journal, I privately wondered, would it ever really be possible for me to steal away from the responsibilities of life to take a trip like that?

A month later, I met with my oncologist to review the results of my most recent PET/CT scan. For the past two years, I had been receiving treatments for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. As I sat in the exam room, my doctor looked at me with concern showing in his kind eyes, to tell me that my most recent radiation and chemotherapy treatments weren’t effective. My only remaining option was an Allogenic (donor) Stem Cell Transplant. He told me that I would need to have my bloodwork compared to that of my sister to determine if she could be a match. If not, the hospital would search for a matching donor among the Bone Marrow Registry.

For hours on end, my doctor and his team thoroughly reviewed the overwhelming magnitude of what the transplant would entail. Flinching, I heard the nurse rattle off, “No travel – for years possibly,” because I would have a low immune system and an increased risk for contracting infections. Not hearing her next words, my mind flashed to the list Sherri and I wrote.

“How soon will the transplant take place?” I asked.

“If your sister isn’t a match, it could take six to eight weeks to find and schedule a donor.” Six weeks. The words resounded in my ears.

The surprising calm I felt in my heart shocked me as I knew I was about to do the first radically impulsive thing of my life – to give up the tangible security of a house for the intangible promise of an adventure. If not now, when?

The plan formed quickly over the next few days. I would be going on extended disability leave for the transplant anyway. Surely my office could spare me for six more weeks. Within two weeks, my faithful traveling companion Sherri and I had received the blessing of both of our employers. Our jobs would be held for us, and we were free to go.

The blessings continued to flow in as I shared with family, friends, and coworkers about the Europe trip I was about to take. Their generosity was overwhelming. My sister donated a travel stipend that she had received as a bonus at work, a gift that perfectly covered the cost of two Eurail passes. A benevolent coworker shared his unused frequent flier miles so that I could purchase our roundtrip tickets. Coworkers took up a collection, hosted a casual day, and put on a raffle to raise money for me. On my final day at work, my work family presented me with a generous check and told me that, in addition, many kind coworkers had willingly given their own vacation days to add to my own to cover the entire duration of my six weeks abroad. I could barely speak the words “thank you” through the lump in my throat, stunned at their extreme charity and selflessness.

That night, our brand new, carry-on sized backpacks sat open on my kitchen table as Sherri and I stuffed them with our six changes of clothes and an extra pair of shoes each, travel guides, maps, and an assortment of other gadgetry. Early the next morning, we caught the first of our series of flights to Greece. As the arrangements for our expedition had unfolded rapidly, we only knew that we were landing in Athens, the following day catching a ferry to the island of Santorini, nine days later flying from Athens to Barcelona, 26 days later meeting my family in Paris, and 42 days later flying home from Paris. These dates were the only fixed points in our nearly non-existent itinerary. We had reserved rooms for our first few nights in Athens, Santorini and Barcelona. The rest, we would make up as we went along! With my house savings transferred to my checking account, we skipped excitedly down the boarding ramp to our plane and the start of a life-defining adventure.

With each day, new sights, sounds, places, tastes, feelings, and experiences bombarded me. There was the unforgiving heat of Athens, the breathtaking grandeur of stained glass cathedrals, and the soulful, melancholy sounds of the accordion echoing off the stone buildings and cobble streets in the Bari Gotic. There was the thrill of stepping off the train in Reims and searching for a place to sleep, the hustle of the crowds on the nighttime streets in Venice, and the sticky, sweet taste of chocolate crepes eaten in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. I had never envisioned myself lunging over waterfalls, cliffs, and canyons in Switzerland, or racing off a mountain while air currents carried my parachute high above steep hillsides where sheep grazed. Certainly, I never imagined standing on a peak in the Alps, where I looked out over clouds below me and asked God to show me the view, and then watched the clouds part before my eyes to reveal a brilliantly blue lake far below.

And since we were living the dreams of our list, we were joined in Munich by my mom and sister. I had hoped – but never expected – to witness the unbridled joy on my mom’s face as she explored the familiar rooms of her childhood apartment or to hear the stories she told as we stood in front of her school.

More than any of those unforgettable experiences, though, I never anticipated learning the value of letting go, of simply being, and of not dictating the activities of my day based on responsibility, obligation, or the expectations of others. I was liberated, carefree, and living life fully and abundantly.

On a Friday in late August, Sherri and I flew home. I was to be admitted to the hospital on the following Wednesday, after another PET/CT scan. Tuesday, I met with my doctor before admission to review the results of the scan. He walked into the exam room, grinning. “What did you do in Europe?” he asked. And then, a smile playing in his twinkling blue eyes, I heard him say what I’d never dreamed of hearing: “The tumors are shrinking. You don’t have to come to the hospital tomorrow. Your transplant is cancelled.”