Life Changes in an Instant

1/22/14
Life changes in an instant. I, of all people should know that, but my medical problems were a slow slide into hell. But what about when something unexpected and out of the blue hits home. Here’s the story of my friend’s ordeal that she is still going through.

Back in August 2013–just 5 short months ago–my best friend since I’ve been 6, calls me and wants to go out for dinner. OK, it was my birthday she was travelling in Europe somewhere (can’t keep track of their travels) for my July birthday and we traditionally take each other out for dinner. So, when she called and wanted to go to the Mexican restaurant that weekend, it really didn’t seem that odd at all. Never mind that I’m usually the one who arranges things, but still I was happy to see her since she had been gone for about a month. I was totally unprepared to hear what I did.

We had a great dinner, catching up on our lives, specifically my issues. As we usually do, after dinner we sat outside on the benches and continued the conversation. So, after telling her my tale of woe, I looked at my watch and saw that it was getting late, so I said I would get going. She then said to me, “Wait a minute, sit back down, I have something to tell you.” Right away alarm bells started going off in my head. I said, “Please don’t tell me something bad. Tell me it is not something bad.” She had this really serene look about her and she assured me it was nothing that terrible. I was like a kid who didn’t want to hear; I just wanted to put my hands on my ears and not listen, but I knew I had to. She proceeded to tell me she had been diagnosed with something called MDS (Myelodysplastic Syndrome). I knew I had heard that term before and then remembered that the news anchor, Robin Roberts, had a very public battle with that very same disease. Still I did not know much about it. Apparently Janet had been feeling “rundown” for quite some time, attributing it to anemia, since she had had that before. She figured she’d bring it up to the doctor eventually. On her many excursions to foreign countries, she had not really paid attention to the huffing and puffing she encountered while walking up stairs, and doing routine things. So, who knows how long this was going on—it could’ve been for years. But when she got home from her extended stay overseas, she made a routine blood work appointment to get her thyroid medication checked. When she came back in for the results, her doctor noticed certain blood levels seemed very abnormal, unrelated to the thyroid. He kept looking at the lab results and Janet began to wonder what was going on. He tried to play it off, but told her some levels were abnormal and he was sending her immediately to a hematologist.
That was very alarming to say the least. At that point, she knew something dire was suspected and she tried to get some answers out of him but he just told her he was referring her to the hematologist that very day. It was not his job to guess.

Adversity Teaches Empathy

It is amazing that so many people take for granted being well and feeling well. There is nothing more humbling than having a debilitating illness or injury to bring you back to earth. I have been one of those athletic people who would look at someone struggling in the gym or out just walking slowly, without trying to understand that each person has a story. I have been struggling for many months with debilitating back pain and severe degenerated right knee. My back and knee pain was so bad that I would have to hobble from bed into the bathroom each morning, walking like I was 85. The constant, unrelenting pain and soreness also affected my state of mind, causing depression. It is so hard to look at the bright side of things when you are hurting over and over and life looks so bleak. It was so humbling and embarrassing on my trip to Guatemala. On the plane I would start to get anxious when we were about to land knowing that my back and knee would be so stiff that it would take a while for me to unbend. Getting up and carrying my luggage out of the plane was torture. I always thought of myself as this physically fit specimen and now I felt like a cripple, limping down the aisle. Things that I used to take for granted, like climbing down the steps of the airplane (in Augusta for some reason you have to climb down these stupid steep steps to get off the plane) caused me so much anxiety—being so afraid that I would fall or need assistance. When you are physically well, things like that don’t even occur to you. Now things that were never issues were now major concerns. Once in Guatemala, I was in constant pain, living on Ibuprofen. It prevented me from going on walking tours and, coupled with me being lonely, I was miserable. When I went on a tour to Panajachel I had to constantly climb in and out of the boat that ferried us from village to village on Lake Atitlan and that was pure torture. Once if it had not been for two guys holding me, I would have collapsed, due to my knee totally buckling under me. Back in the States, it did not get any better and I have since had knee surgery (much more extensive than I thought it would be) and have also had epidural steroid injections to my back. I want to travel now, but I was unable to plan for anything due to the constant uncertainty of my physical condition. Whenever there is a life altering event, whether it be a loss of a job, illness, death, divorce, you always look for a reason. The thing is that I feel there are no coincidences in God’s world and it may not be revealed until years later or weeks, you do not know. I am slowly starting to feel better but being so debilitated gave me real empathy for others. When I see people hobbling slowly across the street I know that there is a story behind it. I have a friend who suffers from MS and is on disability. She is estranged from her family who is totally unsupportive, yet she still perseveres. Another woman I went to school with just finished battling stage 4 uterine cancer, having gone through hell with chemotherapy, major surgery, colostomy, and having to rely on others since she lives alone. Then I look at myself and realize that maybe it is not that bad. Of course, when you are feeling better it is easy to look back and say it was not so bad. I am still having problems with numbness in my body, but maybe this is God’s lesson for me; be grateful for each day that you feel well and don’t take it for granted. It has given me a better understanding of other’s problems and pain, physically and mentally. Nobody has a perfect life, although sometimes it seems that some people do on the outside. It has also given me more of an incentive to change my life because I can appreciate that there are no guarantees that you will be around tomorrow or even later in the day. We take for granted that we have an infinite amount of time to achieve that elusive happiness and that is not true. My friend Janet is now in France with her husband, one among many trips they take. They are living now, not putting off what may never happen if they waited. Being so ill has put a time frame to my plans. I know that I absolutely cannot continue to live a life doing what I don’t want to do. I ask myself sometimes, “when are you most happy.” The answer always comes back, “when I am not at work.” It is time for me to move on to the next phase of my life. I am so consumed with making money due to my upbringing (compulsive gambler dad) when money went flying out the window and life was insecure, that now it is my main focus. Yes, money does buy things I like, but continuing doing what I don’t want to do is killing me over and over. One day I will wake up and it will be my last day on earth and I will die never having taken the big risks and living a life of my dreams and how sad is that?