On Ash Wednesday 2002, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer that weakens the immune system and eats the bones. The chaplain at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, put ashes on my head and said, "Remember you are dust..." Talk about the ring of truth. At forty-three, and six months postpartum, I had two broken ribs, two, possibly three crushed vertebrae, severe osteoporosis of the spine, and a pelvis so weak that I was losing my ability to walk. Sternum damage precluded lying flat in bed. I was swiftly returning unto dust.
Fortunately, treatment came even more swiftly. That Friday I had a bone-building infusion and the first of many other life-saving pills, injections, and chemotherapies. Though researchers have not yet found a cure for myeloma, it responds to an ever-increasing array of treatments. Still, I won’t kid you: people do die from multiple myeloma, everywhere, still.
It has taken a year to draft this notice of my illness, and to work out and announce my new roles at Commonweal. That’s testimony to how absorbing illness and healing are-and to how reticent I feel in light of the whole genre of illness writing. Affliction is all around us. Some forms, like mine, are recognized. Others are barely noticed. My getting sick increased my attention to the everyday heroism of refugees, the depressed, the arthritic, the mourning, the lonely, all those who know...
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About the Author
Daria Donnelly (1959-2004) was an associate editor of Commonweal from 2000 to 2004. In 2002, after having been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, she became associate editor (at large) and co-editor of the poetry section.