I met Alicia in April in Las Vegas. We were sitting in a Cancer as Chronic session at the OMG 2014 conference for young people with cancer. When the facilitators asked if there are any questions I had stood up and asked them to address their experiences with clinical trials. Unfortunately, they never got around to addressing my concerns about clinical trials but Alicia did.
As I was getting up to leave when the session ended Alicia approached me and introduced herself. Alicia was close in age to me and from Toronto, Canada. She told me that she had advanced stage Ovarian Cancer and has done a number of different clinical trials between Canada and the US. She shared the ups and downs of many of the experimental treatments that she had undergone over the past months. This was around the time I had to make the decision to pursue the Pimasertib/SAR trial (the one that I am currently on). When I told her the decision I was faced with and what I knew she assured me that she had great results but unfortunately had to go off of the trial due to unrelated complications.
By the end of our conversation I felt comfortable with the decision to pursue this trial. It was as if she was divinely placed there to give me a sign that this was the right decision. It was reassurance, and warmth that gave me the courage to ultimately say yes to this opportunity that I so feared. I was leaning toward doing the trial on my way to Vegas but when I left there I was confident that I was making the right choice for my health.
In the months following the conference Alicia and I corresponded through Facebook. I could tell that her health was declining. She was in and out of the hospital with bowel obstructions amongst other issues. At the beginning of October she had kidney failure and her doctor gave her six months to live. Last month she moved into hospice care. I remember saying to my mom bluntly “I think Alicia is ready to die”. It was such a grim thought, but more grim was her reality. Her quality of life had deteriorated. Constant pain, not eating, being unable to take care of yourself? That is not how anyone should have to exist. That is sure as hell not how Alicia wanted to live from what I had gathered over the few months I corresponded with her.
Yesterday I hopped onto Facebook to see if her family had posted any updates on her progress, as I do periodically. My heart sank as I read that she had passed away. She passed peacefully in her sleep surrounded by family, which is all one could ask for in that situation.
There are no winners and losers in chronic illness. You do everything you can physically, mentally and spiritually and that is all. Alicia was a remarkable woman and though our friendship was brief, the impact she had on me and my recovery was significant. It was jarring to learn of her passing, but I am relieved that she has found peace beyond the physical world.
Alicia Merchant- your influence, poise, and kindness will not be forgotten.