There really is nothing funny about Big Life Challenges: divorce, cheating, illness, depression. The more I talk to people whose lives seem perfect and happy, healthy and successful, the more I realize that it is often a ruse. There are so many people in deep pain and emotional distress that it tears my heart out. How could seemingly perfect people not have perfect lives?
Case in point: I just got out of the hospital yesterday morning where I spent five “glorious” days hooked to a 24-hour chemo bag. I have multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, and I had three great years of remission. I relapsed last year and it is time for some major treatments to get my numbers back in check. They will be, no doubt, but these treatments are time consuming and they really disrupt your life. Little things– like I was planning on doing a product review wearing really fun costume jewelry and getting dressed up and taking pictures. Nope! To the hospital for you instead.
So during my hospital stint, I developed chemo cough. To be cautious, we scheduled a chest Xray to ensure that i wasn’t developing anything more serious, like a lung infection. When I arrived at Xray, the tech, bless her heart, said, “Wow, you do not look like a chemo patient. You are beautiful and radiant.” Her words perked me up. We never know what small word of encouragement at just the right time can have enormous impact on someone.
On Day 1 of my hospital stay, I gathered with my husband, parents, and a fellow cancer warrior. We wheeled our IV carts to a beautiful restaurant at Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City. Since it was just day one, I was feeling rather healthy, optimistic and even stylish. I wore wide legged yoga pants and a big white shirt and, chemo and aside, I was good. We ordered loads of yummy food and were “enjoying” good conversation. A woman came up to me and said, “I love seeing patients like you. You give me so much hope,” she said. Wow– just sitting in a restaurant, eating and laughing helped her. Who knew something so simple could do that?
On Day 3 of my hospital stay, I had to get out of my room and take a walk. It was late in the evening, I put my shoes on went up and down the halls. A woman kept staring at me and finally started walking next to me. “Can I help you?” she asked. I declined but we started talking. Her son, just 27 years old, got married and just within weeks of nuptials got the bad news– a very rare form of cancer. All those plans of new wife, finishing up college, starting a family– vanished, in favor of doctor appointments, uncertainty, and fear.
“I want him to walk around like you. He’s supposed to be discharged on Friday,” she said with tears in her eyes.
“He will,” I said. “People beat illness all the time and come back stronger.”
And the same can be said with divorce. Or abuse. Or just about most any trauma.
When I was diagnosed, I was at the bottom, emotionally and physically. I walked away from everything– a husband, career, animals, home, town… I had no choice but to craft a new life. How would that look like? Even during my sickest days, wearing a wig and feeling buzzed from all the medications I was taking, at a glance, I was the picture of health. I looked healthy, I drove a nice car, and I smiled a lot. Who would have thought that behind that facade was something very, very different.
Anyway, back to the present. I was discharged from the hospital yesterday morning. Getting out of there, getting into the sunshine (though it was cold) and fresh air was a huge emotional pick-me-up. Relief, I felt buzzed. My dad picked me up and dropped me off at home. No one was home yet– my dad was gathering up my children, my husband was at a meeting, and it was totally quiet. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do first. Unpack? Sit? Think? What? I sipped my coffee and pulled out a pickle jar. Yes, I ate pickles and coffee together. I don’t recommend it. And then I called a friend. And then I gave many thanks to my God for giving me the strength I have had so far to endure life challenges, and even greater thanks to inspire someone somehow on some level. Because that is what really counts in life.
Last night as I fell asleep, I admit that I had horrible dreams of being back in the hospital. I woke up a few times in a cold sweat, heart pounding, feeling totally isolated and afraid, even though I was not alone. My husband was sleeping next to me. Feeling that confounding feeling is horrible. Was it PTSD, or totally normal for what I should experience? It wasn’t fun or settling.
But today is a new day. Let the recovery begin.