Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What I've Learned (So Far)

Alright, so when we last left off I believe I was on IVs for pseduo and aspergillus, and they had recently discovered mycobacteria in my lungs as well. Of course, a lot has happened in the weeks since then, most of which is far too boring to repeat here -- a fact for which I am eternally grateful. So I'll just stick to the highlights (and lowlights, as the case may be):

-The mycobacteria was identified. I had a CT scan which did, in fact, show a few nodules in my lungs. However, nothing too concerning, so we decided that at this point, it's probably better not to treat the pesky stuff. We're hoping the nodules will disappear on their own (I know many people who have had this happen, so I'm pretty optimistic). My theory is that I will walk through fire, if need be, to keep these lungs healthy, but I also trust my doctors and know that sometimes a nodule is just...well, a nodule. And it's gonna take more than a nodule to bring me down, I promise you all that.

- Unfortunately, the very clinic visit that brought news of the apparently benign nodules, also brought a nasal swab due to a cough/runny nose combo. The nasal swab itself was comical, mostly because my poor doctor clearly doesn't enjoy inflicting discomfort, whereas I have CF and kind of just wanted to take him by the hand and explain that I've had about 600,000 of these things in my nearly 29 years on this earth and really just don't care. Luckily we got through it together (classic doctor/patient teamwork on that one), but unluckily the result showed parainfluenza -- a pretty common virus that tends to cause the common cold, but in transplant patients can be far more complicated. So I got to add an oral antiviral to my 3 oral antibiotics, 1 oral antifungal, 2 nebulized antibiotic/antifungal meds, and three IVs.

-On the plus side, even that didn't stop me from sharing a fantastic weekend with my beautiful cousin Gloria, who came to visit and enjoy everything from Dylan's Candy Bar here in NYC t0 a Broadway show. Really, is there anything better than family? On top of that, Gloria and her husband and 4 beautiful kids have participated in TONS of CF fundraising and activities this year. They have been an incredible support for me and the members of my immediate family (as have all my extended family members) and they deserve special recognition for the kindness and love they spread like wildfire everywhere they go. I am blessed beyond measure by my family, and I can't say it enough.

-I eventually came off theses drugs, and one-by-one they started dropping like flies. Seriously, is there any better feeling than tossing that empty prescription bottle? Or pulling that IV needle out of your port and jumping in a hot shower? Answer: yes. The better feeling is getting your energy back, feeling on top of the world again, and being able to eat everything in sight. That, my friends, is pretty indescribable.

-But sometimes even hard-won victories are short-lived. Which is why, today, I had a repeat bronch to make sure all the bacteria were gone. And unfortunately, they are not. There is a LOT less of them, which is awesome, but in the world of pseudomonas and new lungs, better is rarely good enough. All of which means that I will be restarting IVs this week, though hopefully on a much smaller scale. I'm just waiting to hear from the doctor about what drugs we're going to use and for how long. The silver lining is that we're on the right track, and the nodules (while still there) have yet to cause any issues.

My doctor did say that this sort of infection cycle is not uncommon in CFers immediately post-transplant. He isn't concerned, which gives me a lot of confidence, and he thinks that we just have to get over these humps to get to the other side. I may have mentioned before that I think I have a fantastic transplant team, and I trust them wholeheartedly to wipe out whatever is growing in there. Plus I'm pretty sure this psuedo wasn't counting on my total determination to kick its butt when it decided to attack my lungs. Bad move, bacteria. Better luck next time.

But the most important event of these past few weeks can't really be captured in a bullet point. Basically, this whole roller coaster of up and down and infection and meds and viruses and life and everything in between forced me to somehow reexamine what I thought transplant would be like. I know it sounds weird that I'm almost 5 months post-transplant and talking about my expectations for life after surgery (guess I'm a bit of a slow learner!), but the truth is I think it's taken me this long to even wrap my head around what has happened to my body. Around all that I've won and all that I've lost. Around all the blessings and all the challenges. Around the partnership between me and the wonderful Donor Bob.

The fact of the matter is that transplant isn't perfect. There, I said it. And I mean it. More and more I'm learning that transplant is a mixed bag -- a lot of very wonderful things and a lot of annoying, sad, or downright scary things. Which is okay, really, because what thing in life doesn't come with a few kinks in the line? What experience worth having has ever been super easy? So while sometimes (like now, when I've been fighting pseudo for over a month), I still feel more or less like I did when I had CF lungs, there are other days when I feel like I could literally climb Everest if I had a warm enough jacket. And somehow that works for me. That balance, imperfect as it might be, is really all I need. I'm pretty sure perfection wouldn't suit me very well anyway. That said, I'm willing to try it if I get the chance (hint, hint, right God?).

The thing about where my life is now, in my opinion, is that it's really...well...normal. It's pretty run of the mill in a lot of ways. True, most people aren't immuno-suppressed. They can order raw fish in restaurants and they can go to crowded concerts without a thought. They also probably didn't have a bronch today, just as they probably won't have one ever, and they aren't breathing with someone else's lungs. They might have never been on IV antibiotics and they don't spend much time in hospitals if they're lucky. So when I say my life is "normal", rest assured that I don't mean that my life is the same as your typical 28-year-old's. It's not.

But it is similar to other people's lives in the sense that everyone faces this kind of thing, albeit on varying scales. Everyone goes through highs and lows, and everyone has disappointments and struggles. The more I live with these new lungs, the more blessed I feel to know that my story, in many ways, is pretty much what we call life. It's comforting to know that although our stories are uniquely ours, they are also, in many ways, one and the same. I'm not going to claim that I'm perfect at remembering that all the time, but I am getting better, and that's one lesson I'm insanely grateful to have had these extra 5 months to learn.

None of which is to say it's not frustrating to have to restart IVs, or go to a last-minute bronch, or deal with scheduling snafus or waiting rooms or whatever other challenges life decides to throw at you. These things are annoying, and frankly I think it's okay to react to them -- up to a point. But in the end I might venture to say that maybe these challenges help keep life interesting, and even more importantly: maybe they're not any better or any worse than what anyone else is going through. Maybe we can learn how to feel our own pain and summit our own mountains without comparing them to the hurt or the obstacles faced by others, and while still supporting others in their climbs. And maybe the best thing we can all do to honor our collective struggle is to trust that together, we'll probably make it through. Or at the very least, have a whole lot of fun trying.

And at the end of the day, there is in fact an "I" in "community", but it's only one letter out of many.

With love and light.


  1. You said a mouthful there, my dear. Your ability to speak openly about the ups and downs of transplant is great to read.

    Pre or post-TX, it seems that there will always been another obstacle. Why? I dunno. Are we gluttons for punishment? I dunno. I'd like to think that(insert religious/non-religious belief system here) hand picked us because we seemed tough enough to deal with this life we lead. Or I could be talking out of my puppet. ;-)

    I see grand things for your future, Piper. Like many of the strong CF women I've connected with over the past year, you remind me of my sister. Your passion to succeed, your ability to rise to the occasion with poise along with wit and humor, and your compassion for others has gotten you and will continue to get you very far in this crazy, mixed up world. Thank goodness for amazing women like you. Angie is proud.

    Much love and respect to you, my distant friend. You've earned every ounce of both.

  2. Yes post transplant is exactly as they told trade one set of problems for another. The fact that the new problems are unknown is what bothers control freaks like me (and dare I say you ). Most of my anxiety in the begining was around this, but it gets easier and easier every month. Now I may sing a different tune after my bronch next Friday and the surprise CMV test they want me to take this week since my white cells are low and I have been getting tired. I countered with I'm blowing my best numbers since transplant at 4.08L, so hopefully its nothing but too muh meds.

    Keep up all the good work and enjoying the new windbags we have. I always remind myself had I not chose transplant I may not even be alive now. My last 5 months have been a gift that I owe the donor for and I am making the best of it as you are.

  3. You're amazing Piper. You never fail to show a different perspective on life!

  4. Loved your post. The ups and downs of post TX are many but when all is said and done, at least you are breathing and still have the ability to touch so many. We all have a lot to be thankful for. gg