By Kiara Kharpertian
The fall season is sort of strange for me. Over the past few years, a number of important things happened during this season. In early October 2010, I was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer at the age of 25. Though I was rediagnosed stage IV in March 2013, by October 2013, exactly three years to the day that I found that original lump, my scans came back clean – no evidence of disease.
But six weeks later, in November 2013, an MRI revealed about a dozen small, scattered brain tumors.
Fast forward another year: October 3, 2014 – one day off my original discovery and clean scan date of October 4 – and I’m walking down the aisle to marry my best friend, a man who I only started dating a year earlier, when my roommates and I threw a “clean scan” party.
My husband, Kai, and I deliberately decided on a fall wedding when, late last spring, we found out my brain tumors were growing back following whole brain radiation. We didn’t want to wait, in part because brain metastases are so unpredictable, but also because seeing that uncertain road ahead made us all the more determined to walk it together. Kai had already told me – not asked, but told – that I should marry him. It happened just days before we found my brain tumors. New diagnoses, new treatments, new protocols wouldn’t change anything. We made a loving, supportive team. And so I found myself embarking on a clinical trial and wedding planning in the same week.
You wouldn’t think that sitting in an infusion room at Dana-Farber’s Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers would lend itself to addressing hurried save-the-date envelops or sketching centerpiece designs, but that is exactly what I did over the next three months. I took my chemotherapy pills at home, but every three weeks I had an appointment with my oncologist and every six weeks I received an infused bone strengthener for some holes in my spine left by old tumors. The third floor dining pavilion in Dana-Farber’s Yawkey Center became my new workspace; between appointments one afternoon I designed my program, and went home that night and printed it. Planning everything during treatment seemed incredibly normal.
And I suppose that’s been one of my guiding mantras throughout this experience, from my first stage III diagnosis four years ago to the current war we’re waging against my brain tumors: be normal. I took one short medical leave after I was initially diagnosed, but since then I have remained enrolled full time as a doctoral student in the English Department at Boston College. I’ve made steady progress on my exams and, now, my dissertation. My professors and the administration at BC have been extremely accommodating and understanding and I feel I have a responsibility to honor that generosity with my own determination. And I try to approach the rest of my life’s pursuits – horseback riding, rock climbing, writing, being a wife, a friend, a sister, a daughter – with the same hard work. Just like anyone else would do.
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So, in the end, planning a wedding during cancer treatment was extraordinarily, well, ordinary. I did what any other bride would do, albeit in a bit of a different setting. The extraordinary part was walking down the aisle (or grass, in my case) to see my husband smiling back at me and recognizing the amazing declaration we were about to make with the support of our family and friends.
The extraordinary part is also waking up each fall morning knowing that, despite what’s around this day’s leaf-bronzed, pumpkin-clad corner, I can make it to winter.