“ Just because someone doesn’t know how to give you the love you want, doesn’t mean they don’t love you enough.
Christine Pechera currently holds the title of “most resilient” mAss Kicker. She harnessed the power of the internet to find a bone marrow donor match halfway around the world. Minority participation in bone marrow registries is alarmingly low, reducing the possibility of a finding a life saving match for someone that desperately needs it. Christine is a graduate of the prestigious USC Cinema School, a published writer, director, blogger, and advocate for the National Marrow Donor Program. She was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule and answer a few questions for us.
mK: What/ when was your diagnosis?
CP: I was diagnosed with Large Diffuse Sclerosing B-Cell Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in June 2002. After six months of chemotherapy, the cancer was still advancing. In February of 2003, Valentines Day, I had an autologous transplant. In December 2005, my cancer relapsed. The following six months were a defining moment in my life. We searched the world for a suitable unrelated donor, and the campaign drew worldwide attention and resulted in thousands of people signing up to be marrow donors. In June of 2006, it was determined that Kent Wong, a telecommuncations officer from Hong Kong would be my marrow donor. He was not a perfect match, but he was all we had. The day after Independence Day, on July 5, I had my allogenic transplant.
mK: Who is your hero/heroes/ who do you look up to?
CP: My mother. Out of four children, she and my father have endured watching myself, my sister and brother fight cancer at a young age. Though my father was stoic and strong throughout, it was my mother who was in the hospital day after day and who stayed bedside with both my brother and myself for months on end during our bone-marrow transplants. Despite all this, today she is still able to laugh and dance and love life. Watching three of your children suffer from cancer and enduring the loss of your first-born son can embitter and weaken most anyone. But not my mother. She still prays and believes earnestly in God, in Jesus and Mother Mary. She remains the bright, optimistic, fun-loving person she always has been but because of her experience, with a wisdom and patience that transcends even motherly love. Her strength fuels my strength. And her love of life is contagious.
mK: When was the first time you felt like yourself?
CP: It took a long long time to recover from the transplant and there were days when I thought I had finally “reached the finish line” only to find out that it was only the finish of a single lap and I had a few more still to go before completing the race. I take that back. I shouldn’t use the analogy of a race because you can’t rush health. I guess the closest comparison I can make is like when you are hiking up a switchback. You think that around the next bend or just over the next hill will be the top of the mountain, but when you finally get to that spot, it isn’t. Yet in that same place of slight disappointment, there is a lovely view that you hadn’t seen before, or it’s the same view but because you are higher up, it is more spectacular and you can see so much further or there is a nice little waterfall to put your feet in or there are some flowers or berries next to the path. It’s not the top of the mountain but it’s still beautiful and sure better than getting stuck in quicksand or worse, slipping and falling down.
I spent a year in the hospital, 145 consecutive days in isolation, and another frustrating year shackled in achingly slow recovery.
That said, after many beautiful stops along the way, I finally felt like myself the first time I got on a bike. It was just a little over a year after the transplant and a friend of mine was letting me stay at his house on Martha’s Vineyard. One morning I hopped on an old rusted blue beach cruiser wearing a big straw hat, flip-flops, “Black Dog” T-shirt and smelling like sunblock lotion. The gears of the bicycle clicked underneath and the salt breeze brushed past my face as I made my way to the beach. As I pedaled, I breathed in deep and saw that the sun was shining and the sky seemed to reflect all the smiles of everyone around me. I broke down and cried because for the first time in a very very long time, I finally felt free.
mK: What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
CP: My friends make me laugh. They are a wild and creative bunch, all with a deep passion for life and living. I feel very blessed to have them in my life. I also cry when they cry and get angry if anyone tries to hurt them.
mK: What is your guilty pleasure?
CP: My guilty pleasure? Well I have lots of things I enjoy but I think the only one that gives me any guilt is… hmm… you know, after fighting so hard to get my life back, there is actually nothing I feel guilty about enjoying. We should never feel guilty for doing/having/eating/sharing things we enjoy.
mK: Yeah, that’s why we like the Backstreet Boys. Finish this sentence…
If I could have dinner with anyone, it would be____ because…
CP: It would be my brother Francis Rex. He passed away at the age of 16 after five years battling cancer. That was 18 years ago. I still miss him.
mK: We heard you like to frequent establishments with mechanical bulls. Any comments? Hahaha!
CP: Haha very funny. Actually I did that in honor of… … Or should I say memory of my friend Robin Groff who lost her battle to cancer a week after her 31st Birthday this past April. Robin loved life and we are very much alike when it comes to tenacity, creativity and passion. Standing in the rodeo bar, I asked myself, “If Robin had a chance to live one more day and was here, right now at this very moment, what would she do?” And next thing you know it was “YEEEEEeeeeaaaaaHHAAAaaaawwwwww!!!!!”
mK: What do you like to do in your spare time?
CP: I’m a writer so I do a lot of writing and reading. I like to be inspired whether it be street musicians, museum installations, plays, poetry, concerts or Mother Nature herself. I mostly find myself intrigued with the people around me. Everyone has an incredible life story… or at least a great story to share.
mK: What are you doing now?
CP: Currently I’m finishing work on a few film related projects and I’m writing my next big thing, which is all secret and what not, but I plan to write everything I have learned during this cancer journey woven between the lines.
mK: Advice for people that get daunting diagnoses?
CP: Don’t let the platitudes get you down. You know what I’m talking about:
“Everything is going to be alright.”
[How do YOU know?!]
“You have to be strong.”
[Have ever YOU tried chemotherapy and radiation?!]
“Well, you never know, any one of us can get hit by a bus tomorrow.”
[How about I do that for you?!]
But seriously, you’re going to hear platitudes a lot and you’re going to think “Screw you, you have no idea what I’m going through.” But know that these platitudes are being said by people who love and care for you so much that they are at a loss for words and they have no idea what to do or say to comfort you. So they will fall back on the “safe” Hallmark-card-proven clichés, desperately grabbing at something in an attempt to hold your hand with gentle talk.
It’ll annoy the crap out of you (probably because of the prednisone) but just keep reminding yourself that their intention is not to slather you in copy-cut platitudes but to be there for you and to love you and support you. Just because someone doesn’t know how to give you the love you want, doesn’t mean they don’t love you enough.
mK: Tell us something people probably didn’t know… anything.
CP: Some people think that if a doctor subscribes a medication for you, then that’s it. No questions asked. But if you don’t like how a certain medication makes you feel, (this usually pertains to pain meds, antibiotics, pre-meds, this-meds, that-meds) then tell your doctor or nurse. There is ALWAYS an alternative and doctors will try a different and possibly better medication only if you ask for it. Also, don’t be a hero. Mention every little ache, burn, itch, nausea fit and hallucination you have. This is the only way that nurses/doctors will know if and how much to alter your medications so that you are at your most comfortable.
mK: Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
CP: Write everything down. Having a journal helps you to mark your progress and gives you a private place to pour out your emotions. I had the honor of being a part of a writing group at City of Hope. A book sprung out of that group called “Writing for Wellness: A Prescription for Healing” by Julie Davey. The book is now being used in hospitals and support centers around the world. I recommend this book for any family suffering through cancer, trauma or loss. It is a great tool to get friends/family or any support group to share and heal together.
Thanks Christine for hanging out with us. Check out her blog, www.savechristine.com to see her videos and see what’s going on with her. We can’t wait to see what she’s up to.