What it Means to be Strong

The past few days have been humbling. I spiked a fever of 103 on Friday and was admitted to the hospital for 3 nights. I had just arrived upstate with my mom and son, where I was meeting my husband and planning to have an idyllic Autumn weekend picking apples and relaxing with friends. 

But on the drive up I could tell that I was beginning to get a fever. By the time I arrived three hours later it was 102 and I knew that this was an emergency. 

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Within 30 minutes, I was at the ER in a tiny, 25 bed hospital in Great Barrington, MA. By then, my fever rose to 103.  I was admitted and when my labs came back I was shocked to find out I had .4 white blood cells, 0 neutrophils, low platelets and low hemoglobin, etc. The reality of this was very scary.  Even though I have felt so STRONG and like a rock star enduring these chemo treatments every three weeks, the reality of what is happening inside my body made me feel out of control and scared. I knew that Neutropenia happens during chemo treatment, and it can be dangerous if I get an infection and a high fever. I just didn't realize what a vulnerable state I was in, until it happened.  

Thank goodness my parents were with me. They stayed with my 3 year old son, Garrison at our house and my husband, Jeff, who was at our home in Boston, drove down to be with me at the hospital. I was given IV antibiotics, Tylenol, fluids, potassium and magnesium. I was also given an injection called Neulasta, to boost my white blood cell count. But, overnight the nurses came in to take my blood and then came back 20 minutes later saying "The doctor said you might need a blood transfusion, we need to take more blood and re-test to see if this is an accurate hemoglobin level." It was alarming to be woken up to that news at 4:00AM and it made me feel like my body was failing. I was at the hospital, so why wasn't I getting better?

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Around this same time, our Gestational Surrogate, Britany, sent me a pic of herself...22 weeks along with our baby, who is the size of a spaghetti squash. I have been in the hospital 3 times since June and without fail, and without knowing, Britany reached out. Upon my first hospital stay and before we knew what was going on, she sent me a video of the first time we heard our baby's heartbeat, officially confirming our pregnancy. She called me the day of my biopsy in July which is not our normal method of communication. I am convinced that she and our baby know that I need this reminder as a means to stay focused and hopeful. To me it is proof that although I may not have that baby in my belly, we are connected in a profound way. 

24 hours later my white blood cells started to regenerate and it looked like I was able to avoid the blood transfusion. I had to be 48 hours without a fever, and although my platelets and hemoglobin were still low, I was discharged Monday afternoon with the caveat that if I started feeling worse that I had to go straight to the ER. ( I did have to return to the ER two days later and had a blood transfusion of platelets.)

When we were finally on the drive home, I had a major double rainbow moment. I was suddenly and completely overwhelmed with emotion at the beauty of the sunset. I  didn't cry once when I was in the hospital, not even when I was told about the transfusion, but the beauty in front of me made me sob uncontrollably. I turned to Jeff and through my tears said, "It's just so incredibly beautiful. I want to be able to see this for a long, long time." And he said, "You will. You will probably get to see more sunsets than me."

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In that light I felt God's presence so intensely. It moved through me and in a way like never before. And it made me wonder "if I didn't feel that fear, would I have felt such wonder? Such a strong universal presence in that moment? Would I have noticed the beauty that was right in front of me?"

And that reminds me of something I heard Mona Anand share in yoga class one time:

 

"Strength is not the ability not to feel, but the ability to allow yourself to feel everything and to be with all of your emotions."

I'll have good days and bad days. Strong days and weak days. Fearful days and hopeful days. I won't deny any of it. This is a difficult time but it is also an opportunity...for self reflection and to explore why I am here...it's an opportunity to wholly and truly embrace this life I am so lucky to be living-diagnosis and all. Allowing myself to feel it all, and to be with it all, the fear, anger, sadness, frustration, the hope, joy, love...to me, that is true strength and it makes me more appreciative of every moment I have.