Michelle Lawrence has been an employee of The Moore Center for several years, yet many people don’t know her story or the courage she demonstrates each day to do her job. Now, on top of all the adversity she faces, she’s taking on an exciting challenge to raise money for our organization. I had the honor to meet with her and hear her story first-hand, and to share it with all of you. We hope you’ll join us in supporting her!
I’m Jumping Off a Building
Ten years ago I was given five years to live. I’m still here, and that’s cause to celebrate, so I’m jumping off a building… literally.
Yes, I’m deathly afraid of heights, but as you read my story you’ll see that fear has never stopped me. So I’m doing it. I’m participating in “Over the Edge”, a fundraiser that requires participants to rappel down the 24 story Brady Sullivan building in Manchester, NH. And I need your help. I need to raise $1,500 be able to participate and I hope my story inspires you to offer your support. If you just read my story, that’s enough too, because I’m also telling it to inspire support for others like me who deal with an invisible illness every day.
I was diagnosed at the age of 31 with a rare form of chronic Leukemia, called LGL Leukemia. There is no cure. It is, for the most part, an invisible disability. As you can imagine, it has affected my life in profound ways – both good and bad.
My diagnosis came just after I got my master’s degree. I was married and looking forward to having children as I entered the next phase of my life. Because of the diagnosis, its treatment, and other complications, I wasn’t able to have children. I eventually found the best way to cope with this devastating disappointment and I became the best aunt ever… and I have a t-shirt to prove it! I also became a rescue kitty mom, including one with special needs.
Because of my diagnosis, several people who were very close to me left my life; unable to cope with my chronic illness. As each one departed I both felt weaker and grew stronger. Weaker from losing some of the support I thought I needed from those close to me, but stronger from learning that I can face this on my own if I have to.
I started chemo, which, as anyone who’s been through it knows, kicks your butt. I have fatigue, chronic pain, and nausea. My chemo treatments vary in length from three months to a year, depending on how the cancer reacts to it. The cancer itself kicks your butt, but the effects of dealing with it are especially prevalent during chemo. I have good days and bad days, and I never know until I know, just what kind of day I’m going to have. That’s what chronic illness does to you.
I want to share a couple of personal stories about what it’s like for someone with an invisible disability to be out in the world.
One day I needed groceries. My energy level was very low and I was tired so I needed food to boost my metabolism. The walk from my car to the door of the grocery store was difficult so when I reached it I decided to use one of the electric carts. As I shopped, I was approached by an individual who looked at me and said, “You don’t need a cart! You’re just too fat!” My condition causes many things, and although I may be slightly over-weight, I’m not “too fat”, but regardless, the words stung. Sometimes the looks sting too, but I have to push through them and keep moving forward to take care of myself.
In another instance my immune system was very compromised so I had to wear a mask while out in public. Someone chastised me and said, “Why are you out in public spreading your germs?”
I don’t think these are intentionally mean people, but maybe they just don’t understand people like me. That’s why I’m sharing my story. There are many others just like me whose stories you may never know, yet they deal with similar issues every day. I want to encourage you to have a little empathy, compassion and understanding for them. You never know when it could be your turn.
I have many stories like these, but I want you to know that there are good stories too. For instance, the people I work with at The Moore Center, the organization that will benefit from my participation in this event, have been great. They know my situation and they don’t chastise me or treat me like a baby. They let me make my own decisions about what I can and can not do. They’re very supportive of me, as they are of the many clients with developmental disabilities we serve. Together we give a voice to those who have none. That’s why I want them to be my beneficiary.
Here’s another good story. My sister, knowing I was having an especially bad day, made a cake and left it for me to find when I got home. It said, “Cancer Sucks, but you don’t!” As someone who faces adversity every day, I want you to know that it’s amazing how much these small gestures mean. If you’re ever presented with the opportunity to offer one, I encourage you to take it.
My cancer has taught me to appreciate the little things too. Like the time I was able to go grocery shopping by myself for the first time in a year. I live on the 3rd floor, so getting this done for myself was pretty rewarding, even thought most people just do it in the normal course of their day. Cancer has also taught me that whenever I get knocked down, I need to get right back up again and never give up. That’s the only kind of adversary it respects.
I’m not on chemo right now, so I’m feeling strong. Strong enough to jump off a building as a big $#%& U. to cancer! I’ve wanted to do this for a while; not just to face my genuine fear of heights, but because I want to do it before I can’t, and I know that time will come. I’m also doing it to raise awareness for those who deal with invisible disabilities, like me.
There are many people in the world who suffer from all kinds of chronic illness. And whether you know it or not, you see them every day. You react to them every day. You probably even judge them every day. Being on the receiving end of those things isn’t easy, never mind dealing with the illness itself, so here’s my advice and mantra: Open Heart, Open Mind, Be Kind.
So, as I said… ten years ago I was given five years to live. I’m still here, and that’s cause to celebrate, so I’m going to go jump off a building! Will you help me? If you’re open to supporting my effort I, and those who will benefit from it, would sincerely appreciate your financial support. Every little bit helps, even just $5 or $10. You can donate here:
Written by Dave Bastien as told by Michelle Lawrence.