A little over two years ago, I was diagnosed with Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia (WM for short). Since then, I’ve been doing a LOT of thinking. Thinking about everything I’ve experienced since that strange day – the fear and pain that came with my diagnosis and 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 pets!) 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 will get blood tests every few months and keep an eye on my numbers. If – some say “when” – my numbers get bad again and my symptoms return, 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…lol).
Now that I’m two years 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 quite 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 creating lots of music. These past two years, 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!), as well as serious songs about life, death, and never giving up on your dreams. And I finally completed my first song about my cancer experience, which I had the pleasure of sharing with the WM community at the 2016 IWMF Ed Forum.
As I move forward into this next phase of my life of living with incurable – yet hardly noticeable (at least for now!) cancer – I am so grateful to be able to pursue my passions and surround myself with family and friends. May you be able to do the same.
Ali Handal holds her own among the ranks of fierce female performing singer-songwriters. She sets the stage ablaze with soulful lyrics delivered by her powerhouse voice. Music Connection magazine describes her as “earthy, natural, real and loaded with talent…a gifted artist who brings insight and intelligence to her art.”
Ali’s songs have been featured in numerous films and hit shows like Sex in the City and Dawson’s Creek. She’s toured Australia, Japan and beyond, provided backing vocals for Neil Young, and shared the stage with songwriting legend Paul Williams as his featured vocalist. Also a published author, Ali penned Guitar For Girls, an exceptional guitar method book and CD, brimming with advice for aspiring musicians worldwide.
On December 3, 2013, Ali was diagnosed with Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia. Three weeks later she began a four-month regimen of Bendamustine + Rituxan. Now, two years out from treatment, Ali is thriving and doing her best to make every moment count.
Download a free song from Ali at: www.AliHandalMusic.com
Written by Ali Handal
Los Angeles, California