An academic friend of mine and of other Duck folks, Patricia Weitsman, has gone through hell over the past two years. Today is the the anniversary of her “re-birth” as last year on May 3rd she had a bone marrow transplant. This was to fight Myelodysplastic Syndrome, a precursor to Leukemia.
Just in the past year, she has gone through:
treatment, transplant, broken ankle, multiple pulmonary embolisms in both lungs, residual host cells in the marrow 100 days post transplant, osteoporosis, chemo induced ovarian failure (pre to post menopause and XX to XY virtually overnight), Graft versus Host Disease, elevated glucose levels from 8 months of steroids. It has also brought new DNA, a new blood cell system, a fledgling immune system, a new identity, new hair, new hair color.
I found out about her struggle pretty late in the process, but have sought to help out through the only way I can at a distance: sending her silly pictures to make her laugh. Which is a good thing given her list of lessons learned through this process, which I post below with her permission:
1. Your strongest and closest allies will see you through your most difficult moments. But they can only do so if you let them.
2. Who you are is not what you look like.
3. There is no such thing as a bad hair day: only a bad no hair day.
4. The people who mean the most will always know who you are and will think you are beautiful no matter the circumstances.
5. Going through a process of this kind gives you unambiguous information about the substance and quality of the people around you. This is very valuable information to have.
6. Never let a day go by that you don’t express gratitude for the myriad blessings in your life.
7. When there is choice, opt to streamline negativity out of your life.
8. People are cured from disease every day—it requires a commitment to being one of them. Never deviate from this goal. And when fluff starts obscuring your vision, remove it; do not tolerate it.
9. Make your survival meaningful; make your life truly matter.
10. Spend time the way you want to spend your time. With the people you love doing things that are important to you. Your family. Your close friends. Exercise. Strong mind, strong body, strong heart.
11. Know your boundaries, your barriers, what is acceptable, what is unacceptable. Demand what you need for survival. Only you are accountable for your life. You know best. Trust yourself. Never apologize for demanding what you need to survive. It is non-negotiable.
12. Never worry about how inconvenient or difficult your health issue is for others, especially those who remind you that it is. Never worry about the people who tell you they are far too busy to help, or that they don’t deal well with illness. (Who does, I wonder? Alas, some do not have the luxury of choice. Those who truly love you will deal with it anyway.) Worrying about these things is a waste of time and energy. And they are irrelevant. Focus on your sources of joy. There are so many.
13. Know your body, listen to your body, honor your body.
14. Appreciate the beauty of your strength and the miracle of what your body does every second of every day.
15. Strive to be kind, open minded, mindful, and tolerant. Not only of others, but of yourself.
16. Avail yourself of any and all resources. Survival is always paramount.
17. Caring for your body, eating well, being committed to fitness cannot always keep you from getting sick, but it can help you triumph over the terminal.
18. Sometimes french fries are a healthier choice than salad; sometimes high fiber low fat diets need to be replaced by high fat low fiber ones. What is healthy is not absolute, but rather a product of what your circumstances are and what your body needs.
19. Giving up grapefruit can be harder than giving up wine.
20. There are 4g of carbs in the juice of a lemon!
21. Surviving the recovery is harder than surviving the disease and treatment. Once you fight for your life, you have to fight to get your life back.
22. While most will be ecstatic at your resurrection, accept the fact that there are casualties in a process of this kind. There will be people who fail you; there will be people who have benefitted from your absence. Enjoying every moment of life is the best antidote.
23. It is uncomfortable to see people who dropped out of your life for the duration of your most perilous moments. But it sure beats the alternative!
24. It is hard for others to understand what the journey to the precipice of death and back is like, or the ongoing challenges you confront. Accept this fact and move on.
25. Even the most sensitive people will say exceptionally insensitive things. These comments are very painful and extremely difficult to manage with diminished emotional reserves. Do yoga and breathe it out. Let it go. Focus on what serves your higher interest. Always.
26. Laugh every day. It is the best core workout of all.
27. Growing older is a privilege not a curse. This doesn’t mean you have to act your age. Channel your inner 8 year old, it is much more fun the second time round. See #26.
28. Truly revel in and appreciate the extreme depth of love the people in your life have for you and you have for them.
29. Recovery is not linear; transplant is a process.
30. There is no medical procedure more dangerous, more invasive, or more miraculous than a bone marrow transplant. Understand the scope of this and accept the changes it brings in your life.
31. One year is only the beginning of the recovery, the physical, emotional, and psychological components will take years to process. It changes you forever.
32. Control what you can control and let everything else go.
33. Strive for balance. Health, work, family, friends, exercise, recreation. Don’t say you don’t have time. You do. You make the time. Period.
34. Never underestimate the power of Providence.
35. You can do anything for 30 seconds. Oh! But I already knew that ;-)
Patty says she is in awe of the people who have been with her in this, and I am awestruck by those folks as well. But I am even more awed by Patty. Clearly, she is winning this fight mostly due to her own courage and perseverance, with some assistance from the doctors, nurses, relatives and friends. I often use the word awesome, but here I really mean it–I am just awed by Patty’s spirit in all of this. I will probably not follow all of these lessons (I think I do #26-27 pretty well and am bad at #7) consistently, but I will try a bit harder. Patty has inspired all those around her. I appreciate her letting me share her lessons as it is better to learn from her than to have to learn these things through experience.