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.
You bring me to tears of appreciation and love every time! Indeed you are creating a legacy that none of us will forget. I can’t imagine what it would be like to HAVE to gain weight. 8~). Sending you lots of love.
Good to hear you are back on the recovery road! Hoping your New Year (and your health) keep getting better and better! I’m celebrating the New Year (and my vow to celebrate neglected parts of myself) by playing the Nurse in a local production of Romeo and Juliet! Takes me back to my English literature major college days. ( I DO love the Bard even though he is a far ways from Wildlife Biology…) Sending you best wishes…
Thank you for sharing your epiphanies….they always make me stop and look at my day differently, which is a good thing. So glad you are back among us, and I look forward to seeing you out “on the trail” somewhere…
Welcome home ! ☔️
Sent from my T-Mobile 4G LTE Device. Deborah
Thank you for who you are and how you share. Sending love and prayers,
You are amazing. Thank you for sharing your journey and deepest emotions. Sending best wishes and healing energy your way.
Dear Shann — I haven’t posted a reply in so long but I always read your updates. Every time I do the same response rushes through me: “Yes, Yes, Yes — I KNOW!” I share that with you not to overshadow your story with my own but merely because I wish you could know how truly I understand the thoughts, sentiments, perspectives, and feelings you have shared — how grateful I am to you for articulating so much that I have not been able to. Perhaps what I really want to say to you is not just that I understand what you are experiencing but that I am so deeply grateful that you, in all that you have been living, so well understand ME and my experience like no one else has.
Hi Shann and Steve, I just read your latest email. It was discouraging, and depressing. As I read on, I marveled to myself, Shann, what an exceptional human being you are. I felt heartened, and educated, for the day when my time will come. As you say, ‘we are all on the same bus.’ Your power of inspiration and wisdom is a gift to us all. I can see how there can be other more preferable things for you, than living a long life. But I sure hope you do – live a long life. My life would be sorely diminished without your presence on this planet. Love, Steve
Dear Shann & Steve, Thank you for taking the time to write about your recent life and times! How else can we be with you? I wonder how you can so poignantly and eloquently write of your experiences. Thank you again for letting us into your private space. Randy and I think about you, Steve and the girls frequently. We so hope to see you at our home or yours now that we are living in “the valley.” Sending our love and good energy to you. Randy and Leeann
Oh Shann Darlin
What you have been through! And so exquisitely articulated your experience for me to breathe in. Thanks for this and the many little reminders of the grace in gratitude. And who knows, maybe the surrender into ‘what is’ ..is actually the ‘healthiest and best’! I’m loving the winter. Hope to come up in February.
Love, Sarah K
You and your family are often in my thoughts and prayers, Shann. Thank you so much for sharing this harrowing journey with all of us. Your strength and spiritual grounding is very inspiring. Sending you all love and hugs! Meredith
Oh my mama (and papa!),
I am sitting in a littler internet cafe in Mexico with tears of gratitude streaming down my sweaty cheeks. I think that being this existentially inspired by your parents is a gift. In fact, I know it is. Thank you for writing, for putting such a graceful, emphatic spin on something so horrible. By doing so, you educate us, you confirm your own purpose and you build a beautiful, positive, ever-growing legacy. I am so grateful and honored to be your kid.
Hi Shann, For some reason, my Kindle decided it was important for me to see posts from you from 2013 and 14 again and, as I sit in Hawaii, enjoying the warmth and sunshine, I am reminded of your struggle and grateful for your recovery, however slow that may be. You are a miracle, my chimeric friend, and I am as grateful as can be for your continued presence on this our precious, only world. Happy returning of the light (a little previous, I know) and much joy in the coming year. Marnie