Recap: On the night of December 17, I was airlifted off the island by helicopter. First, an unusually low oxygen level was detected during the usual blood draw. A CT scan at the Friday Harbor hospital indicated evidence of pneumonia and a fluid effusion around my heart prompted a whole lot of consultation between ER docs from Friday Harbor, the Oncologist from Bellingham, and the Oncology team from UW Medical in Seattle, who decided collectively that I was not, in fact, “peachy keen” and within an hour after the decision was made, I was wheeled out on a gurney to the helicopter looking up at Orion and Sirius and that was the last time I was outside for 8 days. A run on sentence, yes, but I kind of like it. It fits the tempo of spending my birthday, Winter Solstice and Christmas in the hospital.
I am still “suppressed”. They call it immuno-supressed, but what I experience is suppression of my activities. Social time has shrunk dramatically, so has creative energy. When I emerged from the last hospital stay, I had lost weight again, due to suppression of appetite. Dipping below a 100 lbs (97.2) scared me and got my attention. It is hard to eat in the hospital. Now back home, the combination of friends, walking, eating and sleeping are healing. I am back over 100 again (barely) and gaining weight is my goal. I am shaking my head as I notice that for the last 4 years I “Lose 10 lbs” in the top 3 of my New Year’s Resolutions. Well, nothing was lost until this last year, where I got my wish all at once and lost 40 lbs. in 2013.
I just read the heart effusion report from the hospital and it is rather frightening, from what little I can understand. Like most other people, I thought the transplant statistics of leukemia and transplant to be a straightforward event. You survived the event or not. I never really understood the serious effect of injured organs or infections (like the one I had) that could overwhelm an immature immune system. I took the drugs that were metered out and now I meet the shadow that followed them. The transplant mortality statics, I now understand, include dying from things like pericardial effusion and pneumonia.
What to do with such epiphanies? Nothing. It just is what it is. You meet hard things as they come up and what comes next is luck or attitude and support group or modern medicine, and some of it is your constitution and genetics. 2013 was the year where I let go of illusions and met time without a sense of entitlement about how much I could “cheat” death or illness. Bottom-line, we are all on the same bus. Going to the same destination. There is something freeing about this awareness. Leading a long life is not my goal. Leading a full life, leaving some king of legacy—is. Steve and I agree without much discussion that leukemia and its treatments have likely shortened my life expectancy and that cancer will always be part of our awareness. Having said that, we quickly arrive back to appreciation and gratitude and Grace and we choose to stay most of the time (sometime it overwhelms us). Sharing the cancer experience with others allowed us to see how much courage is all around us.
The Dali Llama says it is important to be happy in our lives. But I believe he means to LEARN to be happy, and it doesn’t come from a comfortable perfect life. Learning to be happy for me has been a combination of surrendering to the circumstance and slowing down. Laying down the mantle of being healthy and strong and being vulnerable has been difficult. But now, I am more able to see my own body tenderly, a physical being assaulted by illness and the harsh cure, and this, in turn helps me see others that way, with others who are fighting for their life and health, not to mention financial pressure, fear and instability. There is a joy inside that empathy, and it is better than just trying to be the best and healthiest around.
January is a spare interior month. The gaudy, gregarious nature of December passes swiftly and we often don’t really absorb energy of winter until after New Yew Year’s. Even when we are delighted by the joyful proclamation of Winter Solstice, our animal bodies are met with long darkness and fleeting daylight during most of the month. Hang in there, I say to myself and to you. The light is truly returning and gathering minutes like a rolling snowball gathers bulk. The earth is pregnant but not showing yet. Here, the tree frogs are invisibly croaking, just enough to remind us of their presence and the sturdy and beautiful LBB’s (little brown birds—the chickadees, nuthatches, sparrow, robins, towhees, finches and juncos…) are busily making a living. The eagles are beginning their mating flights. The blue sky IS there, I am sure of it, above the clouds. Happy winter. Spring is on its way.