Today, March 25, 2007, is my ninth BMT birthday.
On this day in 1998, I lay in a hospital bed wearing a new pinkish purple Easter dress as my brother’s bone marrow dripped from an IV into the groshong catheter implanted in my chest.
It was actually kind of anticlimactic, after the six months of chemotherapy and surgery and pain and vomiting and frustration at not being allowed to go outside. I laid around in bed for two hours and that was it.
They call it a birthday because you’re replacing your bone marrow–essentially starting your body over, being “reborn”. I had to have all my baby vaccinations again, and it’s possible that other things changed. But the procedure was overwhelmingly successful. My body didn’t reject the bone marrow, and my immune system had built itself up again in 21 days. I went home and never again set foot in Markey Cancer Center’s bone marrow inpatient area.
It’s possible that my leukemia was gone before the bone marrow transplant took place. I suspect that the second round of chemotherapy got it, since my tests after that were clean. But we did another round and then did a BMT just to be sure. My particular cancer was rare and my treatment was experimental.
I’d say my doctors made pretty good choices, overall.
It has been a strange nine years, readjusting to normalcy. Some days I forget I ever had cancer. Some days I’m thrilled to be here to experience the world.
Some days I’m still a little angry that the treatments that saved my life took away the one dream I’ve held constant since childhood.
A large struggle since leaving the hospital has been against the desire to foster my own victim status. Being a victim is very empowering. People have to listen to you. You feel a sense of entitlement. Back in the beginning, I’d manipulate conversations so that I could casually remark about how I’d been in the hospital. I’d downplay it, of course–even then I realized that my experience was far easier than that of many, perhaps most, cancer patients. But usually there was no need to mention it at all. Somehow, I’d always find a reason to.
This was of course a part of my healing process. I’m not saying I should have somehow bounced back immediately. I did need to talk about it. My point is simply that there comes a point when you’re saying the same things over and over and not getting anywhere. I’ve seen that happen plenty of times in my life, but I absolutely refuse to allow it to mire me in victimhood.
No matter how good it feels to be a victim, it ultimately keeps you unhappy. You need the euphoria you feel when someone takes an interest in you, and as time passes and the immediacy of whatever made you think like a victim fades, so does other people’s interest. You sense that, and it makes you feel worthless. And you have a few choices. You can continue to desperately milk the original situation; you can come up with a new situation to victimize yourself; or you can get the hell over it and find a proactive way to get noticed.
It’s possible that without Sean’s influence on me early in my recovery, I would have wallowed in my victim status for years. I will always be thankful that he came into my life when he did.
I now have one thing that still makes me feel like a victim. It was especially bad towards the beginning of my marriage to Sean. That is, of course, infertility–the damage done to my ovaries by chemotherapy. I have for the most part come to terms with the possibility that I may never give birth to my own child. But it does still hurt me when people ask if I’m planning on kids, or when I don’t have a period or when my period is strange and I decide to take a pregnancy test. I’m obviously not completely over it.
But I won’t be a victim of this, either. I am the one who decides how my life is going to be, and I have decided that I am going to do the best I can to learn and grow and experience the world and people around me. If children someday factor into that, adopted or otherwise, then great…but I’ve decided that my life paradigm needs to shift. So I probably won’t be a stay-at-home mom who gardens and cooks healthy dinners every night and takes the kids out on fun trips…so what? I can choose to do any number of things that make me happy. Just because one door closes doesn’t mean there aren’t others to choose from.
I can also make the conscious choice every day to think about all the good that has come into my life.
So it’s my bone marrow birthday. The anniversary of my rebirth. A day I will always remember, and a day on which I typically find myself looking back and evaluating and ultimately looking forward.
I hope I’ve grown.
I don’t want to go so far as to say that someday I will stop observing this day, but I am committed at least to not letting this day, and the history behind it, define me.