Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Lessons We Learn From Major Life Events

My approach to chemotherapy was very much the same as my approach to being pregnant with my son.  The moment I got the news I was expecting, I read up on everything, made a plan, asked lots of questions.  I got myself educated and prepared, and went into it with a total "I Got This" attitude.  I won't call it arrogance.  I'm enough of a realist to know that things never go smoothly, that every major life event brings challenges, but I felt I was at least braced and ready to be a new mom. 

And then the baby came.  And I found out fast that--for me, at least--there really was no such thing as being ready for parenthood, much less controlling the outcome.

There's a connotation to the phrase "I Got This" that speaks to empowerment. That speaks to control.  But just as I learned when my son was born, some things won't be controlled.  And there are some things you can never fully prepare for.  My chemotherapy experience has been very much the same, just without all the cuteness and fun stuff that you get with a kid.

In this journey, I was not prepared for the loss of almost all my white blood cells after my first infusion.  The medical term is Neutropenia.  That opened the door for infection and what ended up being five very sick and horrible days in an isolation room at the hospital.  I've never been hospitalized before.  I hope I never am again.  All of it is bad.  All of it.

They told me the odds of developing Neutropenia were relatively small, and I felt my odds were even smaller in my case because--of course--I was the well-informed, model, sit-in-front-of-the-class chemo patient.  I did everything by the book, followed all doctors orders.  I was supposed to get something for that.  But just as I discovered after having my son, there's no guarantees no matter what you do, no matter how many books you read, or how many people you've gleaned experience from.  These are times in our lives when all bets are off and our only choice is to give it up and go with what life hands out.

I remember when my son started school and the teachers started wanting to talk about my very chatty child.  I eagerly jumped in with that "I got this!" champion team spirit.  Together with my husband and the teacher, we were going to nip this thing in the bud. Then over the years, the calls kept coming.  I'd given birth to a lovable-but-annoying class clown, and there was nothing anyone could do to fully change his personality.  Somewhere along that journey, my sparkly "I got this!" attitude converted to a sigh and an "Okay, just bring it" way of getting through it. 

After a week in the hospital, I'm now at that, "Okay, just bring it" stage of chemotherapy.

And really, this is not a bad thing.  Surrender does not always equal defeat, especially in this case.  I'm no less determined to see this though and come out strong.  But just like the days of getting my son through public school, I no longer think I have a majority stake in controlling how this will go.  And it's not a bad life lesson for someone like me.

My husband and I are control freaks.  It's 100% the reason our son is an only child.  We like everything in order.  We like a tidy house and clean cars.  We make plans.  We map out dinners days in advance and we expect time to ourselves to pursue our own personal hobbies. And because of that, we've never handled the unexpected very well.  We are the types who could use a little surrender in our lives.  Having a child forced us to adjust to life with a certain amount of chaos, and as a result, we became more laid back and less prone to sweating the small stuff.  This chemotherapy experience is taking that personal development and kicking it up a notch.

So thanks to this, I'm done spending energy fretting about what's to come.  Right now, my mind is in the present, where I intend to keep it.  I spent the bulk of the last 24 hours feeling pretty damn good.  Great even.  It's a gift I'll take, thankyouverymuch.  If tomorrow brings a set back, well...."Okay, just bring it".  Al and I will handle it and come out the other end.  And when this whole experience is past us, I hope to have developed an even stronger sense of what is important and what isn't.  Those are the gifts that will stay with us.

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