Friday, December 9, 2011

Accept the gift and pay it forward. In that order.

It's that season again:  Thanksgiving, Christmas and other religious holidays, New Year's.  They're clustered together to make us all run around desperately clutching our charge cards, pumpkin pies and directions to the next family gathering or party.  It's an emotional time.  Everyone has a different combination of feelings to choke back (or not) while indulging in eggnog and snickerdoodles.  Although I have a jump on what I call the Five Stages of Christmas Stress (decorating the house, cards, shopping, wrapping and shipping -- I gave up baking years ago), I am only now processing the enormity of my Thanksgiving.

On a physical level, I was grateful to be well enough to drive up to Carmel, NY to spend the holiday with the Segers, my mother's side of my family.  Aunt Pat puts out an amazing spread and I look forward to it all year long.  Last year Thanksgiving was about a week after my transplant, and I was so sick, my diet consisted of narcotics and anti-nausea meds.  The year before I was in a different hospital being treated for leukemia before the 2010 relapse.  The doctors insisted that I have an abdominal CT scan on Thanksgiving, so I had a meal of chalky barium smoothies as part of the prep for the test.  This year, I was really ready for turkey, gravy, stuffing, all the sides and Pat's famous deviled eggs and apple pie.

Once I was stuffed with yummy food, I focused on the spiritual level of Thanksgiving.  It was overwhelming.  My gratitude list included the following:  eleven years of cancer survival, plain and simple, especially this last year when my odds were so scary (more on that later); my donor, without whom I would not be alive today; my doctors, who are amazing; everyone at my law firm, who have supported me in ways I never could have imagined; my friends, family and the loving people at my church, all of whom kept me sane; Mary, who comes to my rescue every time there's an unexpected emergency and in times in between; my first transplant birthday, which was a huge medical milestone; my visit with Mark last month, which was postponed several times (see a few pictures at the end of this post); Sadie, who keeps me in the present....  Oh the list goes on, and it's at this point that I become overwhelmed.  I work myself into a stress ball wondering how I can say thank you or somehow express my gratitude for helping me get through these unthinkable two years.

Then I take it a step further:  I've been diagnosed and treated for two separate cancers, one of which metastasized to my lungs, and the other recurred to the point where my doctors had to almost kill me in order to give me my only chance to live.  I've had doctors tell me numerous times since1999 either that my chances were terrible, or that I was out of options completely.  And here I am.  I keep stumbling past these land mines, and it looks like I might actually be on this Earth for a while longer.  How do I express my thanks for that?  Some of my conversations with God go like this:  "Come on, give me something here.  What am I supposed to do with all these gifts?  How am I supposed to pay it forward?  Specifically, a little help please."  Then, in church last week (thanks Pastor Rick), I realized that I'm skipping a step.  I have so much anxiety over how to show my thanks, I haven't fully accepted the gifts in the first place.  No wonder Thanksgiving makes me feel a little guilty for not doing more.

So I've decided to focus on just getting better so that I'm strong and alert enough to recognize the signs for ways to give back when they appear.  Just because I'm beating unimaginable odds doesn't mean I have to beat myself up over it, right?  First things first -- feel well enough to get back to work.  I'm going absolutely bonkers, now that I don't have any emergent medical crises.  I'm still at the tipping point when bad things can still happen as I ease off my most intense drugs.  I still have strange, annoying symptoms possibly from drug side effects, chemo side effects, lung surgery side effects, radiation side effects, or just seasonal allergies.  But with physical therapy, chiropractic visits, massages and lots of running around, I'm almost strong enough to take the plunge and return to work.  Once I've mastered assimilation back to professional life, we'll see what's next in terms of year round Thanksgiving.  Sometimes I have to remind myself that, with most things in life, I'm just not in control.

Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and I thank you all for everything you've done for me!  Enjoy the rest of your Holidays, and don't forget to count your blessings, all of them, and when you're finished, do it again.

With love and gratitude,