Now that I'm removed from the setting and feeling much more at peace in my body and my mind I can reflect and express with more freedom from the "other side."
There were a couple of nights in the hospital that I thought it was the end. I've never, ever during this entire year-long battle thought that I wasn't going to make it. If I did think about dying it was for a fleeting moment and I was always able to push it away quickly and violently. However, after several days of unending fevers and unsatisfied sleep, my mind got the best of me. My biggest fear going into the stem cell transplant process was that I would acquire an infection that my body would not be able to fight. There are two people that I know of that did not make it through to the other side and it was because of an infection – not the cancer, not the chemo, but something that overtook them while their immune system was down and they could not recover.
When my fevers started getting up to 103, I feared that this was also my fate. The buzz of hospital bells and IV alarms, as well as the every-four-hours vital checks, kept me awake in the hospital, but so did this fear. I was afraid that if I fell asleep that I would not wake up and that no one would find me until the next round with the vitals machine. A couple of times when I would doze off I'd wake up with a jolt, screaming on the inside, gasping for breath and trying to understand where I was.
As the feverish days and nights continued I found myself praying. I did not know who I was praying to. I begged he/she/it to save me. I promised that if they did I would do so much good in the world. That if I was spared, if I was chosen to make it through this that I would be forever grateful and that I would dedicate my life to making the lives of others better. I'd find myself crying as I begged for my life as I spoke – in whispers – to this ominous being telling them that I was not done, that I was not ready to go. My tears were different tears than I'd ever felt before. They spilled and trickled out in such a natural and sincere way. They weren't violent or stinging. They were cleansing, involuntary tears.
I had fought so hard and made it through so much that the idea of something as simple as a cold virus killing me was just not acceptable. I could tell in the eyes of all the doctors that they were very concerned as much as they played it cool and kept ordering a strong arsenal of antibiotics ... nothing was working.
It's funny the things that you do and the things that go through your mind at a time of such vulnerable desperation. I thought about my funeral, about who would be there, about who would speak and what they would say. I thought about Craig and Sammy and cried as I thought of them alone in our house. I thought about my life and what I've done with it up to this point and I tried to come to terms with the fact that I had lived a fantastic life and done so many things and had the privilege to truly love and to truly feel loved by my family, my friends, complete strangers. I felt comforted that if whatever the source of these fevers was was going to take me that at least I had no regrets and that at least I felt I had lived my life as fully as I could. But at the same time, I knew that I had so much more fight left in me and that I had so much more that I wanted to do. But I became very, very scared and started to lose hope.
I wrote an e-mail to my close friends and in my head it was in a way a goodbye e-mail though I didn't say that in so many words. In my head I wanted them to know what I was feeling and I wanted them to know how much I cared about them. Then I thought about the hundreds of people that I had behind me, that I knew were also praying for me to all of their different gods and I kept thinking 'I can't let them down.'
Of all music, I chose to play Vivaldi on my iPod to try to relax myself. It brought back memories of Sunday mornings at my grandparents, waking up to classical music playing and the smell of Red Rose tea and buttery toast. It took me into a deep, distant place that I'd never been before. I was so, so scared. I kept thinking of the "fight or flight" lessons in psychology and thought that if I conceded to the fear, that if I relaxed into it and accepted that I was going to die, that I would be sending my body the message that I was ready, that I was done fighting, that it was okay to give up.
So each morning I would push away the fears and the tears of the night before and get out of bed, shower, do yoga stretches, work out with my exercise bands, watch funny movies and laugh like a normal 27-year-old. I was strong for my parents, for my husband and I never told them how I truly thought that I was going to die. I thought that if I said it out loud that it would happen and I didn't want to take that chance. I had to make sure that my mind stayed strong so that my body would follow suit. Then by the grace of all the Gods it did.
The doctors told me that my white blood cell counts had recovered and that this was likely what I needed. I distinctly remember Dr. Cooper saying that there is no better medicine than my own immune system. Like the little engine that could, my bone marrow started pumping out a white blood cell army that narrowed in on whatever it was knocking me down and took it out with a wallop of healing power. The power to fight the infection was inside me all along. When they held that thermometer under my tongue for the umpteenth time and my temperature registered at a cool 98.6 degrees I knew in that moment that I was going to live. I was chosen to be saved.
I am so forever grateful that I was spared and am so humbled and proud of my body and of my mind and my heart for getting me through. Now I have a great urgency to do so much with my life, but at this moment I am so very, very tired and am working on reintroducing myself to the world in baby steps ... baby steps.