This entry did not come easily, Dear Readers.
I thought—because today, September 21st, 2020, is the third anniversary of my bone marrow transplant—that I could simply write something quick about survivorship and gratitude.
Turns out, I was wrong.
In general, I utilize avoidance to cope with my medical history. I tune it out. Shove it down deep within where I can’t see it, can’t feel it, until days like today draw it up out of the water, chain link by chain link. My medical history is an anchor, holding me in place, preventing forward motion, stunting my growth.
It’s also quite possible that this coping mechanism is the reason why I resented the term “re-birthday” when I first read it. Until recently, I referred to the anniversary of my transplant as my “birthday”. I had heard other recipients in my area use the expression, but, then, after joining a national bone marrow transplant group on Facebook, I realized that the term most often used was, “re-birthday”.
My dislike for the term was so intense, in fact, that it prodded me to do some digging, some self-reflection regarding my own survivorship—things I don’t do often because of the trauma they could unearth. Still, I needed to know why I was having such a reaction. Why couldn’t I swap ‘birthday’ with ‘re-birthday’? What, honestly, was the big deal?
Finally, after days of self-investigation, I realized that I had a problem with ‘re-birthday’ because it requires the acknowledgement of a ‘re-birth’.
The image that comes to my mind when I hear that word is that of a golden phoenix. Not the character from X-Men or even Dumbledore’s pet phoenix in the Harry Potter series. A phoenix, as I have always understood the myth, is a bird-like creature that rises from its own ashes.
It has to die to be reborn.
On September 21st, 2017, Laura Perras died.
Her faulty immune system—and her blood—was replaced. Gone forever. What she had been, simply disappeared.
It was in this moment, when my donor’s graft took hold that I should have risen from the ashes. I should have found a way to live, daily, with positivity and gratitude. I should have had the courage to build a new, fulfilling life.
Instead, Dear Readers, I cowered.
I cowered to the immensity of it all—to the pain of transplant, to the long-term side-effects that continually pop up, to the fear of being something other than complacent.
As one of my former therapists once said to me, ‘you can’t be the only one struggling to come back’.
It feels that way, though—lonely—when I’m online and I see fellow transplant recipients at their re-birthday parties. They’re all smiles. Laughing. Seemingly happy.
In writing this entry, Dear Readers, I have been forced to confront some of my demons—the fears, the feelings, the pain that I’m really good at ignoring. The result? I don’t want to live like this anymore.
I’m tired of worrying. I’m tired of being tired. I’m tired of shrinking away from what I could be.
In my quest for truth, for the definition of ‘rebirth’ even, I visited Thesaurus.com (https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/rebirth). There, I found more than synonyms; I found a roadmap to my own overdue rebirth.
Comeback – For me, this word conjures scenes from the movie, The Mighty Ducks, wherein Gordon Bombay (an attorney sentenced to do community service as a result of a DWI) rediscovers his love for hockey, for the ice, through teaching a group of kids how to play the sport.
Comeback. Come back home…to yourself.
Recovery – Upon hearing this word, I can’t help but envision the cover of a workbook that I was given during cancer experience #1. Carrots. Greens. You know, a rainbow of foods on your plate. Proper nutrition, while a significant component of healing, is not the only aspect that needs to be addressed. Mental Health. Physical Health. Emotional Health. Rest. Self-care. It is these last two building blocks that I seem to trip over on a regular basis. As such, that’s where my focus needs to be.
Rehabilitation – There are so many kinds of rehabilitation therapies! Occupational therapy, when I was in it, was a gift. I am forever grateful for the therapist that worked with me. She restored some of my confidence. Even though my brain had been to Hell and back, she showed me that not only could I learn new information, I could retain and apply it, too.
Physical therapy, well, I’m still working on this one. I can say, though, that I am loving my new rehabilitation plan—a personal, modified yoga practice! I’m stretching and balancing in ways that the tumor of 2017 stole from me. Every session is one step closer to feeling comfortable in my body, to feeling at home, to trusting it.
Then, there’s wildlife rehabilitation. You may question, what in the world are you talking about, Laura? I ask you, Dear Readers, to imagine a phoenix with a wounded wing. The joy of flight, of sailing across the sky, has been taken from her. She must patiently wait for her wing to heal before she can regain her joie de vivre.
I am not a phoenix; yet, in my own waiting, I have lost sight of the sky. There are so many days wherein joy itself seems like a distant memory, a distant goal. Thus, when I recognize it in the photographs of fellow transplant recipients celebrating their re-birthdays, it’s foreign to me. I grow jealous. This, then, is a challenge to rise up to. I will find joy, I will feel it every day, and I will share it.
Revival – As I have shared in previous blog entries, I am undergoing a spiritual revival. I have been reading the Word of God and praying on a daily basis. Revival, though, is prompting me to go deeper. I need to connect with a faith community. To volunteer. To spend more time doing what I’ve been called to do—write Christian fiction.
Reawakening – Now, let’s say that our phoenix has put the work and time in. She’s gone through all of the rehabilitation programs that she possibly can. She’s rediscovered joy. She’s pursuing her life’s calling. What then? Does she unfold her wings, feeling the wind playfully ruffle her feathers? Does she take to the skies? What does she do with this newfound freedom?
This is a reawakening, after all.
Our phoenix remembers what it feels like to soar, to be independent, functional. As a healed and happy being, our phoenix decides to embrace the term, ‘re-birthday’. She decides to thank God for being alive, instead of falling into despair, whenever another long-term side-effect of cancer treatment and/or transplant surfaces. She reaches out to her donor, checking in to see how life is treating her. She uses the words, ‘I love you’ in nearly every encounter with friends and family. She recommits herself to the (temporarily abandoned) art of gratitude journaling.
Our phoenix chooses this new life.
Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. This truly was a difficult post to write…but, in the end, it has been enlightening. Choose self-care. Joy. Try to trust your wings. I am sending prayers, love and light your way.
With Love & Gratitude,