Happy Anniversary, Cancer! Musings on My Weirdest Year So Far
by on December 3, 2014 in Blog

Holy crap. I can’t believe it’s been exactly one year since I got “the news” that I have cancer. The most accurate, and unfortunately, least descriptive, word for my experience in this past year is just WEIRD — weird, weird, weird, weird, weird…

What follows is a bit of musing I’ve been doing in the days leading up to this one year “anniversary” of sorts, including how I’m doing now and how I’m approaching the future. Thank you so much for your support of me personally AND musically. Your kind thoughts, emails, gifts, and presence at my shows this year have continually reminded me of just how fortunate I am. Thank you for making this past year far better than I could have ever expected.

xoxo
~Ali

SO…

There’s nothing like cancer to make you contemplate life.

In the weeks leading up to today, the one-year anniversary of my Lymphoma diagnosis (Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia to be exact — WM for short), I’ve been doing a LOT of thinking. Thinking about everything I’ve experienced since that afternoon – the fear and pain that came with my diagnosis & subsequent treatments, the joy of feeling my family and friends rally by my side, loving and supporting me in so many ways, and how I’ve been fundamentally changed.

It’s SUCH a cliché to say that cancer was a gift, and as a songwriter I can’t stand clichés, but it’s true: my journey with cancer has enabled me to become a much happier, more peaceful person. I enjoy the moments of my life so much more than before, and I’m no longer in a hurry to get to the future (a miracle in and of itself). I’m able to feel just how lucky I am in the present moment, enjoying the friends and family (and cats!) that I get to spend my time with. So that’s the good part.

The hardest thing for me to wrap my mind around has been this new identity as someone living with cancer. Until doctors find a cure for WM, I’ll need to get blood tests every few months and keep an eye on my numbers. If — some say “when” — the numbers get bad again, I’ll need to get back into treatment. Though this could happen at any time, I have a feeling it won’t be for many years, since I’m in great health (I mean, other than the whole cancer thing…hehe).

By the way, “remission” is not a word used for WM, as it’s very rare to see a disappearance of cancer markers in a slow-moving Lymphoma like mine. Thankfully, though, the number of cancer cells currently in my blood has been greatly reduced by the chemotherapy I had, so I’m considered to have had a very good “partial response” (not quite as awesome sounding as “in remission,” but for practical purposes, pretty much the same thing).

Now that I’m seven months past my last treatment, I’m physically feeling fantastic — back to the Ali I knew before WM — Hooray!! However, mentally, I’m quite aware that I still have cancer cells roaming around throughout my blood.

So how can I have “incurable cancer,” yet feel – and look to the outside world – like nothing’s wrong?

It’s a strange dichotomy to reconcile in my own mind, and I haven’t gotten used to it. But rather than be freaked out, I’m kind of fascinated with the strangeness of it all. And, most importantly, I’m supremely grateful to be feeling healthy today, and that’s ultimately all any of us have. So that’s been the weird part.

In addition to contemplating health, family, friends and life in general, I’ve been taking time to consider what to do next musically. This past year, despite (or because of??) my illness, I’ve written the best songs of my career. Many sassy songs (humor has DEFINITELY been the best medicine, btw) — about smoking pot, birth control, my pussycat and other topics just begging for videos. This year, I’ve been fortunate to write and record with many talented friends: Eric Schwartz, Mark Bryan, Gooding, Michael Silversher, Matthias Montgomery, Jamie Green and Bob Stein, to name just a few.

I’ve continued making it a priority to connect with my tribe of singer-songwriters at wonderful gatherings like Folk Alliance’s FAR-West, Michele Clark’s Sunset Sessions, Planet Bluegrass’ Song School, the ASCAP Expo and Rob Seal’s Songwriting School of Los Angeles. Hanging and creating with my fellow musicians has always been one of the joys of my life, and it’s been healing in every way for me this year.

In 2015, I plan on continuing all of the above, and remaining open to the myriad possibilities available to a badass lady-type musician lucky enough to be living in Los Angeles, surrounded by supremely talented friends.

Thank YOU for reading this little (or not so little) status update, and for continuing to be an important part of my life. I feel the love and support you send when you reply to my emails, when you “like” my FB posts and tweet about my music. THANK YOU for being here. xoxo

~Ali

@copy 2016 Ali Handal