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  • Writer's pictureDon Rearden

Joy, Relief, and Gratitude…

Photo By Marc Lester / ADN

I write this letter of thanks as I curled up next to my sleeping daughter. For the longest time I have just laid here and stared at her soon to be five-year-old face, admiring every curve and feature, marveling at her smooth skin, her sense of peace and safety. I am thankful she cannot see me staring as I watch her chest rise and fall, rise and fall. If she saw my tears she would worry something was wrong again, fear that even a soon to be five year old can pick up upon on in an instant.

But if she were to wake at this point, I would have to remind her that my tears, which have been falling steady since last week Wednesday, are those of joy, relief, and gratitude.

Joy for being given a second chance.

Relief knowing my husband, children, family and friends do not have to worry.

Gratitude for the steady and overwhelming stream of love and support we have been blessed with this year.

This whole journey began with an intense lynx encounter that I am certain forewarned me of my unknown health condition at the time. This wild cat appeared and reappeared many times this past winter and spring, as did a cinnamon bear and our neighborhood Ravens throughout my treatment. I will start by then by thanking Mother Nature for keeping my feet grounded and spirit alive.

For my human friends, family, fellow survivors, and those in the waiting rooms whom

I don’t even know, thank you for believing in me when sometimes I didn’t, for showering us with gifts and affection, for finally flattening my driveway so it doesn’t feel like a roller coaster in the winter.

Every little prayer, word, note, text, thought, meal, walk, hike, ski, childcare, and gift lifted us, carrying me to the place I am now.

To the medical personnel and staff in Anchorage and Seattle, front line workers, cancer researchers and scientists worldwide, you all blow my mind.

You are the reason I can breathe deeply once again.

As a nurse of 20 some years I thought I had a decent grasp on what it meant to listen, sympathize with patients and their families. These last 10 months have taught me I really didn’t know sh*t. The lessons of being on the other side of the table has enriched my life in so many ways moving forward. I know now I will be an even more thoughtful, present, gentler nurse, educator, and human being.

As time passes and I put myself back together I am sure other newly gained strengths from this journey will surface. For now, all I know is I have been given a gift, the gift of time, that so many yearn for, and sadly (and unfairly) so many do not receive.

Over the years in my profession I have helped many people pass from one dimension to the next. Never once did I hear someone say, I wish I worked more, I wish I didn’t take that vacation, I wish I never watched that sunrise or sunset, I wish I was away from my family more and so on.

Instead they always asked for more time to do what they loved and be with those they loved, what brought them joy and peace, what made their communities a brighter place. Regret is an unanswered question. Having faced my own mortality, I hear now more than ever their message, loud and clear; seek to find the answer.

Thank you, each and every one of you, for being you. I look forward to the rest of this journey, especially knowing you are all by our side. We are stronger, together. And if Don or I can ever help any one of you along, please reach out.

While we may not have the answer, but we will always make the time.

Happy Thanksgiving!



[The photo above was taken by the one and only Marc Lester from Anchorage Daily News, the photo and a holiday news story he wrote about how thankful came out in today's edition: }

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Nov 26, 2020

Awww so Happy for you guys!! Annette you have been such a trooper thru this crazy year of covid.. so blessed to have you in this family💕hugs and prayers to you all! Happy Thanksgiving🦃🍁🦃🍁🦃love MaryJo and crew with these new corona grandsons this year☘️


Nov 26, 2020

Hi Don & Annette, although I have never met you, I have been following your journey. I am your dad‘s cousin, I loved spending time with your grandparents, my aunt Betty and uncle Don. I am so happy for your good news! My wife and I went through the same journey. She is a leukemia survivor thanks to a stem cell transplant. Cherish every moment! You now know how fragile life can be! We are now 5 1/2 years cancer free.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Dan Coolidge

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