How a Rare Blood Disease Saved My Life

“We think you may have Leukemia.”

Not something you expect to hear as a presumably healthy 26-year-old.

Three years ago I was admitted to the hospital with unexplainable bruising all over my body. I had shortness of breath walking up a simple flight of stairs. I was as pale as a corpse. Within five minutes of arriving, I was on my stomach with a drill in my hip bone. I spent the next five days in the hospital awaiting a diagnosis.

It felt like being a patient on the TV show “House.” The doctors even had a whiteboard where they crossed off everything it couldn’t be. Consensus? Aplastic Anemia. A rare autoimmune disease that attacks the body’s stem cells, with the symptoms being very similar to that of leukemia and lymphoma.

I was in denial and didn’t want any help; or worse, sympathy. I thought I could do it all on my own. I was seriously wrong. I needed more help than I could have ever imagined, and people wanted to help. I had to learn to let them in. I made the decision to reframe my circumstances and began to look at my diagnosis as a way to help others. I was one of the few people who could bring awareness to Aplastic Anemia and other autoimmune diseases. I could encourage people to go get a check up – especially those that hadn’t in years. I could ask people to join the Be the Match foundation. I could be the personal reminder you needed to tell of those close to you that you love them. Because if my diagnosis taught me anything, it was that you never know how much time you or those you love have left.

This ultimately lead to the creation of my campaign, Collect Moments Not Things. I had seen this slogan on a poster in college and it stuck with me. At the time, it was exactly what I was trying to cultivate. That life is not about what we have, but who we share it with. 

Today, I’m one of the lucky ones that gets to use the words “remission” and “healthy” in the same sentence. There are many who don’t. I’m incredibly grateful for this gift I’ve been given at the age of 30; the gift of perspective. It’s now my responsibility to share what I’ve learned so others can benefit.

Below is a list of ‘perspectives’ I gained from my battle with Aplastic Anemia. I wrote them at the end of 2015 and it may be the best thing I’ve ever written. They were born from year of tremendous obstacles & growth. I originally shared them on my Facebook page in hopes of inspiring others to question their current mindset and take action on their health and/or life. It will forever be worth sharing. Enjoy.

1. Health is not about having a six-pack, eating paleo or living without disease. Health is living optimally given your circumstances, genetics, environment and financial state.

2. It’s OK to put your pride aside and admit you need help. People WANT to help. Let them. It’s how they cope, and how you connect. Be cognizant not to fall into the trap of playing/coddling a victim.

3. There is no shame in seeing a therapist. I hired two when I got to California. One was a business/life coach the other a psychologist. They were the neutral party I needed at the time. They both helped me step back and observe my situation from afar. I love my family and friends, but they’re all personally biased.

4. Crying is a human emotion. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or soft. Society and the media had me convinced that crying decreased my self-worth as a male. I cried every day for almost six months. I realized feelings are what make us human, and feelings are how we connect with others. For years, I suppressed my emotions to appear ‘strong’. What BS. So if crying is cool, consider me Miles Davis!

5. Love and take care of yourself first. Then, and only then, will you have enough to give others. For years, I gave and gave and gave, totally forgetting about myself. I was burnt out. I can see now that people were only getting 30% of my best.

6. To me, spirituality is about taking responsibility for yourself and ownership of every choice you make. 

7. Vulnerability to me is telling the truth, even when you know it will hurt.

8. Life is one big insecurity; yet we spend most of our day trying to map everything out to convince ourselves we have control. I’ve come to realize the only thing we have control over is ourselves. “There’s my business, there’s your business, and there’s God’s/Universe/Divine/Nature’s business.” – Byron Katie. I laugh now when people ask what my 5- year plan is. I no longer invest in goal-setting or material things. Your house, your car, your job, your family; they could all be gone today. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. Instead, I have visions, ideas, and I collect moments. This does not mean I just pray and avoid taking action. No, it means I take care of today and focus on being present. The rest always takes care of itself.

9. “Nothing is good nor bad, but thinking makes it so.” – Shakespeare. We love to label things as good or bad. What if we chose to look at everything as positive, or as a learning opportunity? Yes, you’ll still encounter pain, sadness, hurt, and anger. Those emotions are human. But now, instead of dwelling on them and labeling them as bad, I reflect on them and move on.

10. Technology is amazing, and it’s here to stay. Embrace it. To be able to video chat, share my story, and connect with people who ten years ago I would have never met is mind boggling to me.

11. Life is not a competition. What I have going on isn’t any worse, or better (see #9), than what you have going on. It is my burden to bear. You’ll drive yourself mad comparing your circumstances to someone else’s. You’ll also go mad trying to save the world of its problems. Take care of yourself and lead by example.

12. Meditation is an inquiry into your thoughts. I used to think it was about sitting with your legs crossed, counting breaths, and trying NOT to think. Maybe this works for some, but it’s torture for me. Writing, reading, and sharing has become my meditation. Maybe meditation is really about being in a state of ‘flow’….

Thank you for reading, sharing, and caring. 

And as always Collect Moments, Not Thingz! – Brendon

Brendon Rearick is a father, strength coach, public speaker, teacher, business owner, ice cream lover, bookworm, bearded commoner, plaid-wearing gentleman. Beyond the labels, his purpose for living is: to make exercise the number one prescribed drug in the world, to spread the positive by-products of movement & coaching as far as he can, and to Collect Moments, Not Things. Any decision he faces is put up against these values; and if it doesn’t align, he doesn’t do it.