leukemia

The Decision to Make a Difference

I have five blogs in draft form. I could publish them today, but for the past week I’ve wrestled with which direction I want to take my blog. When I originally sought to step out and maintain my own website (in 2003), my intention was to capture anomalies such as the horror of finding a plain M&M in a bag full of peanut M&M’s (which has since faded away into eternal obscurity). I loved the creativity of capturing funny or observational humor for posterity without having to get on stage and tell jokes in front of actual living, breathing people staring back at me.

Although many of my friends enjoyed reading my posts, I didn’t harbor any ambition to pursue writing as a career. Historically, I was a sloppy writer. I didn’t read many books throughout high school or college. English was the only subject in which I didn’t have the courage to sign up for advanced placement classes. The truth was I didn’t have the attention span to sit through writing a paper or reading a book. I had other things on my mind like sports, a social life, and video games. To date, my book shelf is littered with books marked three quarters of the way through because I couldn’t stay focused enough to finish them.

And then there was CML.

When I was diagnosed with CML in January of 2006, I made a conscious decision to move forward with my life. I wanted to do what I had to do to overcome cancer and get back to my prior reality. As I’ve documented, I struggled with seeing my treatment to completion, which was awfully consistent with the other avenues of my own disinterest.

When I began writing about my journey, I did so because I knew it would bring out the natural curiosity of those who may have struggled with many other of life’s difficulties. I wanted to be honest, open, truthful about the path God had placed me on while similarly communicating an illness many others, including myself, didn’t fully understand. I set out to encourage, provide hope, and bring to life a four-dimensional world few people ever get to see.

Throughout the process, I started paying attention. I noticed the things around me, processed feelings more clearly, and became more mindful of what I was writing down. If it took me hours to finish a single post, I finished it. And then I read it over and over again (despite loathing the proofreading process). I became a better writer and communicator, but I was still eagerly anticipating a return to a life I once knew.

The Crossroads

The response has been overwhelming. I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from those who’ve taken the time to read my blog. Many people have written and encouraged me to continue telling my story, while others have written to tell their own. It’s been a blessing to hear friends share with Katie or me the impact my story has had on their lives or the lives of someone they know. On a very small level, my goal of expressing the most vulnerable time of my life has been accomplished. I set out to be an encourager and people returned encouraged.

Now that the dust of a tumultuous season has settled, I’ve struggled with what to write about. If you don’t know me well, then it may be hard to imagine that I’m an introvert at heart. Writing about things I haven’t freshly experienced isn’t easy for me. Talking about myself or being the center of attention isn’t what I enjoy doing. Stepping away from the climax of cancer treatment has allowed for ample time to second guess my intent to keep talking about a world which has brought indirect, and direct, attention to me. I’m sensitive to the possible misinterpretation one might have of thinking my blog is self-indulgent, or that I want this to be about me. It’s not, and it never has been.

One of the only questions I ask when people tell me they read my blog is whether or not it’s translating the way I want it to. It’s difficult to write about the struggles of things I can’t control while simultaneously feeling stronger, more encouraged and hopeful than I’ve ever been. There’s a fine line between an attempt to communicate the life I’m living and throwing together a novel of self-pity. I’ve always thought the minute it sounds like the latter, I’m not communicating effectively enough to keep writing about it.

Outside of my blog, I’m at a point where I need to start thinking of ways for life to get back to normal. I’ve been blessed with the time-off of work I’ve needed for appointments, trips to Houston, and to manage the ups and downs of life within a clinical trial. I’ll go back to work and school soon, and will need to carve out an unknown path littered with doctor’s appointments and lab visits. I’ve had to make a decision about whether it would beneficial for me to continue to think, read, and write about cancer or if I should focus on a life outside of it all.

Living a New Reality

For six years, I’ve walked the thin line of leukemia. There have been some ups, downs, but most of my experience has resided somewhere in the middle. I’ve fought for six years against a “new reality”. I wanted to return to a life free of cancer, far from the unpredictable, safe in the arms of an all-forgiving youth. Like Babe Ruth in the fifth inning of game 3 of the 1932 World Series, I wanted to point to center field and call my shot; I wanted to be somebody who merely talked about having overcome cancer instead of living it.

For the first time, two months ago, when I learned the minor vision impairment in my right eye was likely permanent, I realized I wasn’t Babe Ruth. The effects of fighting a physical battle within my body had produced its first casualty, and all I had to do was open my eyes to understand a new reality. Even if I wanted to return to a carefree world, the affliction of a protocol called DCC-2036 has left its mark.

I’ve shared all of this with Katie. I’ve told her of my fleeting desire to get involved with the world of cancer one minute, while fighting the reservation and fear of embracing a new reality the next. Much like a student walking onto an intimidating, exclusive college campus for the second or third time, I’ve been reluctant to stay long enough to find my voice. She reminded me of the natural tools and abilities I’ve been given to make a difference in the world of somebody who’s experiencing an equally challenging period of their lives. She identified one of my strengths as humbleness, but stated that because of it, I rarely give myself enough credit.

She’s right.

Then it hit me: If I stop what I’m doing, the greatest fear I have will come true. It will be about me. If I allow myself the opportunity to use my story, mishaps, strengths, and gifts God has given me for the cause of cancer, then I may impact, or even save, at least one person’s life. To care about other people is to press on and press in, to get involved and impact lives. The best thing I can do is embrace a movement to empower, encourage, and give hope to those living with cancer or any other of life’s ailments. Instead of using my energy to outrun my circumstances, I want to embrace all of which has led me here. So that’s what I will do. I’ve realized the books marked three quarters of the way to the end are ones I still have to finish. My story just so happens to be one of them.

I’m going to continue to write about all kinds of things, but cancer will still be one of them. I never intended for this to be a cancer blog, I just wanted to share my personal experiences. Now, my vision is to make it a blog of hope, humor, and inspiration. If my story happens to be a part of making that happen, then it was never really about me to begin with.

“2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.” (James 1:2-4 MSG)

  • Bina

    Buna- I need to subscribe to this. Ever since I met you in 5th grade you had somethig special about you and I love reading your thoughts. Still the same shy, yet hilarious kid. Thanks.

    • Justin Ozuna

      Thank you, Bina. That’s so nice of you to say. I enjoy reading your writing as well. It’s really engaging and funny. Having said that, write more!

  • Julia Romanow

    Justin- I think writing and inspiring others with your story IS on your path! Keep going, you are doing a great job!

    • Justin Ozuna

      Thank you so much, Julia. Your continued support and encouragement has meant the world to me.

  • Lou Ozuna

    Please don’t stop writing, I know that most folks that relate to your wiritings are people that have cancer or somebody in their family has the disease, but let me tell you what it has done for us. Even though, we lost our son to another disease, you have touched us with your words. It is as if we hear our son in your words. God has given you a gifts that is touching so many people. We love you. And our prayers are with you.

    • Justin Ozuna

      Thank you so much for sharing those words of encouragement, Aunt Lou. It’s truly inspiring and quite humbling to hear that my words and story help people on any level. I’m honored to do my part as an encourager, and I’ll continue moving forward, writing, sharing, living.

  • http://www.carriesrandommusings2.blogspot.com Carrie Marie

    Happy to hear you’re going to continue in the bloggy world. Reading what you’re writing makes me smile! : )

    • Justin Ozuna

      Thank you, Carrie. As a blogger, I know you can appreciate how enjoyable it can be to write every once in a while. :)