by Leah J. Yeo, former Precious Blood Volunteer
Getting on the plane in Albuquerque, New Mexico to come back to Chicago, I felt a roller coaster of emotions. I felt thrilled to come back home to my family and friends, but simultaneously felt I was saying goodbye to a journey of a lifetime. In the past, the effect of volunteer trips became a distant past—like vacations are to many people—a happy place that only exists in memory. I wanted this summer to be different. I wanted the effect of Crownpoint to last a lifetime because I learned so much about the world and myself.
After I came home from Crownpoint, I was flung into the full swing of normal life. I had two weeks of summer break before I went back to campus for my last year of college. My to-do list for these two weeks left me no time to relax. While life was moving fast, I kept in mind I needed to consciously make the effect of Crownpoint appear in normal life.
The big lesson that I learned throughout my time in Crownpoint was that it’s okay to live life without a schedule. While this may seem like a small lesson to many, it was a learning moment for me. I always had short-term and long-term plans, and while there were minor bumps along the way, life went according to plan for the most part. Part of why life events went so smoothly on a macroscopic level was because I planned day-to-day events by the hour to get things done. My school planner was the most important thing to me since I got one in first grade. It’s still thrilling to cross things off my to-do lists (it’s the little things in life, right?) and the few and far-fetched days I get everything completed according to plan are the nights I reward myself with 8 hours of shuteye. Otherwise, I’m lucky to get 6 hours of sleep. There really aren’t enough hours in a day.
I still kept my to-do lists after Crownpoint and my school planner was still very valuable, but I learned how to relax. I couldn’t continue to be a superhuman because I would end up living life without thinking. I become a zombie throughout the school year and I promised myself this semester would be different. And it was. My fall semester was busy, but I didn’t commit myself to a million activities and when I was physically present somewhere, I was also mentally present. This made a huge difference in my life and something I learned in Crownpoint. On the reservation, I kept reminding myself to be mentally present to get the full experience, and it went hand-in-hand with learning how to relax and avoiding an overbooked planner. This need to always be busy and use every second of the day to my advantage came from watching my mother. All moms are superheroes, but this superhero of mine is seriously impressive and there is no one in this world I would rather grow up to be than my mother.
So fall semester went really well after learning to relax and breathe. The grass on the quad seemed a
little greener, the sky seemed bluer, and the sun seemed to shine brighter on Champaign-Urbana than
After I came home for winter break, my superhero sat me down and told me that she was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma. My heart immediately felt like it was sinking to the bottom of my stomach, a lump formed in my throat leaving me with no words, and tears rushed down my face without end. I had no idea how to react except to hold my mom and use her shoulder to collect all of my tears. Over the next 24 hours, I subconsciously shut down physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Cancer was a term that existed only in textbooks, because luckily I had no personal experience of this illness up until this point. My mom had no health issues and the gene pool she came from is impeccably healthy, so this news shocked everyone she knew. This was definitely not a part of anyone’s plans. For the first time in my life, my plans were put on hold and all roads led helping mom heal.
At first, it was hard not to blow this up to catastrophic proportions. Tears filled my eyes every time I looked at my hurting superhero. The oncologist’s advice to my family was to take this day by day—which is something I remember hearing on the Navajo reservation. I always needed to know what’s next, but Crownpoint reminded me to stop and smell the roses. Almost every night, Kara and I walked over to the vast open land in Crownpoint to enjoy the New Mexican sunset. Daily life in Crownpoint was embracing a new day. There was no schedule and I learned to adjust to that. The oncologist’s advice was a reminder to live in the present, and I had no option but to take my mom’s condition day by day.
Over the next five months—to this day—so many people prayed for her and sent positive thoughts. Many people talk about post-traumatic stress, but we rarely hear about post-traumatic growth. While this was the worst time in our lives, so many good things came out of it. My mom finally took a break after working non-stop for the past four decades; she had to time to relax and love harder—if that was even possible.
We just received news that there is no sign of cancer cell activity! While it’s still five years until the doctors can say she is cured, this is a huge milestone. My mom said each experience will prepare us for the next and this always plays true. Crownpoint taught me that things don’t go according to plan and that’s 100% okay. What matters is how one bounces back from a bump along the road. The effect of Crownpoint will last a lifetime and I can confidently say this because it helped me through the toughest time of my life.