Thursday, December 22, 2011

Just Imagine

'Twas the holiday season
December was here
The streets filled with the bustle
Of holiday cheer

But like any good season
It also brought tears
Some are fighting new battles
And facing new fears

Some are launching new efforts
To make themselves heard
To change laws, to find justice,
Or just spread the word

Of the beautiful people
Who fight through it all
For whom life is a blessing
No gift is too small

For people like all of us
Like you and like me
Those who know there's no limits
To what we can be

Because we are the heart of
This whole crazy deal
All the money and new drugs
Affect how WE feel

So all I want for Christmas
For you and for me
Is a present that can't just
Fit under a tree

It won't come from the North Pole
Or deer who can fly
Or a break in at midnight
From some fat old guy

Just believe in your power
To make this thing right
You can help make a difference
And tell CF goodnight!

Dear friends, family, and loved ones:

Happy holidays!

I have to admit that I always struggle a bit about what to say in these sort of "milestone" messages. It's always tough to sum up an entire year in a few paragraphs, particularly when your life for the past few of them has been a constant roller coaster of thrilling highs and some serious drops. And this year, somehow, feels even more poignant to me for some reason -- more so than the years I spent trying to pretend that I wasn't getting sicker, or the near-year I spent on the transplant list updating you on my precarious health. It feels more poignant, even, than the last Christmas message I sent out into the world, announcing my first ever celebration of this beautiful season with my beloved Donor Bob. And to help you understand exactly what I mean by that, I'm going to have to ask you to come with me on a little holiday journey. So close your eyes and hold on tight, guys, 'cause I'm not sure this sleigh has seat belts.

It's because that this year was all about my friends.

Imagine sitting down to write Christmas cards and realizing that, at this time in 2009, yourself and nine of your closest CF friends in the city were all facing serious, potentially fatal health issues. Imagine that every single one of you was or would be in need, within the next two years, of a new organ. Imagine that for three of you, it would be your second transplant. Imagine that every single member of your group was either in their 20s or 30s, and all but one was under 35. Imagine that seven out of the nine of you (yourself included) spent most of your time connected to an oxygen tank. Imagine that in this group were two parents of young children, a nurse, a lawyer, a teacher, a social worker, two older sisters to brothers who also have CF, and one who had already lost a beloved sibling to this terrible disease. Imagine that all of you, from various walks of life and various backgrounds, had three things in common that bonded you forever: your disease, your hospital, and your collective decision to live your life the best you could despite it all.

Now imagine yourself today. Imagine looking out your window, past a glowing Christmas tree, and snuggling your puppy closer as you take a sip of tea and reach for your stack of Christmas cards. Imagine lifting up your pen, preparing to write, and taking a grateful, deep breath of delicious air. Imagine knowing that you could do that only because of an anonymous donor and his wonderful family's decision to give you his lungs.

Imagine how grateful you would feel toward the heroes (yes, it was a team effort) who saved your life.

And imagine that for your group of ten close friends, all sharing the same disease and the same hope for the future, there had been six such life saving transplants in the past two years. Twenty-four short months that brought with it six transplants. Imagine that two of your friends were leaving the hospital that very day, that they would be home for Christmas along with four of the rest of you who now were, collectively, the proud recipients of five sets of new lungs and one kidney. Imagine that one more of your friends would also be home and enjoying Christmas with his wife and two wonderful sons -- and his oxygen concentrator. And imagine that, come the new year, all six of you would make plans to go together to visit the other three, no longer in this world but still so very much a part of it.

Imagine they were heroes too.

Now imagine yourself back wherever you are this holiday season. Open your eyes and look around you at all that you have, all that this world is, and all the blessings that are out there every single day.

And imagine we could do better.

This holiday season, please take a moment to give a true gift to yourself and to the world. I honestly don't care HOW you do it, but I promised myself, my friends, and my donor that I would ask you to do SOMETHING. There are so many ways to get involved, so many problems to be solved, and so many answers that I know are out there -- we just have to stand up and let the world know we have them. And if you're looking for inspiration on this, you might want to start with the CFF (there's ways to get involved that don't require any money!), or with my friend Josh and his crazy puppet friend over at Welcome to Joshland and The Moganko Project, or maybe just in your own community and with the world right outside your front door. Because what my life, my family, my friends, and my donor have taught me again and again is that every single one us, no matter how sick or how wealthy or how old or how wise, can make a difference. Every single one of us can find some way, some tiny act or little gift, that can make us into the hero we've always wanted to be.

Imagine that.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a Blessed Season full of love and light to all of you, everywhere.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Man of Mystery

I remember the first time I heard anything about the man who saved my life. I was in the Cardio/Thoracic ICU in my hospital, recovering from my double-lung transplant and just generally acting like a crazy person. In my mind I was a radiant source of benevolent light who was, in no uncertain terms, a model patient through and through. As it turns out, I learned later, I was in fact a model patient -- providing the model you were seeking was a cautionary tale of how NOT to act after transplant. Whoops.

But a couple of things I do remember correctly. I remember, for example, that a fellow transplantee at my center who I knew from the CF community came into my room (how she got past the nurses I will NEVER know) and gave me a small stuffed dog, which I still keep on my desk to this day. I remember that my CF doctors and nurse came by and spoke with me, not over me or through me like so many of the other medical staff. They asked me questions and listened and told me they were happy to see me smile, which I did for them -- a genuine smile despite the pain. I remember that my wonderful transplant doctor came in to check on me with his son in tow, and that I wasn't listening to him because I was more intrigued by the fact that the child liked my ipad. I watched Erin playing with him and thought "wow, even in this house of horrors there is actual LIFE going on." And I remember when I took my own ipad back and wrote my first few post-tx sentences on this blog, which were in rhyme and read:

Not much to say.
I did my vest.
I got some rest.
I passed the test!
(From: "Live From New York, It's Sunday Night!")

(And yes, they did bring me a vest in the ICU. It was torture.)

I also remember very clearly that my sister came in and told me what she knew about my donor. She said that through a collection of conversations, my family had learned that the donor was mid-40s and that one doctor had explained that he was male and tall, which is why my new lungs were a bit too big for me. It wasn't a lot of information to go on -- not that we were planning on tracking down his family through detective work anyway -- but it was enough. I immediately proclaimed that my donor needed a (new) name as a part of my family, and with that short introduction and a whole lot of love, "Donor Bob" came into our lives.

Every so often people ask me what, if anything, I know about my donor. And I tell them precisely what I just told you: that he was male, that he was slightly larger than I was in terms of lung size, and that he was somewhere in his mid-40s. I am also quick to point out that this is just hearsay, and that I'm not positive about any of it. Because I just don't know. I don't know if he was married, or had children. I don't know where he lived, what he liked, who his friends were, or whether he played sports. If I get a plane, I have no idea whether my lungs have been to my destination before or not or, if they were there, what they saw, what they breathed, what they knew. I don't know if my lungs have ever climbed the mountains of my home state, or stood at the top of the Statue of Liberty looking out over the island I call home. They live in a lawyer now, but I don't know where they lived before, what skills they might know that I will never learn, what names they called out in joy, what sobs they might have let loose in grief, or what words they uttered with their final breath in their first home. I don't know any of that, really.

If my lips could form the words to say hello in another language, would the sounds be familiar music to my lungs? If I sit fumbling with the strings of a guitar, would my lungs be able to tell me how to strum it? When I reread my favorite books, muttering my favorite passages under my breath, do my lungs thrill to the sound of Keats and Marquez and Walker and Stoppard? Do they gasp just a little to stand on the shore of the Hudson and see the twinkle of a skyline they might otherwise never have experienced?

Does the experience of my body now -- the known and the unknown -- mean that I have done more than I will ever imagine? Does it mean that when someone asks me if I've ever been to Mongolia that I can now say, with a straight face and complete honesty, that I don't know, but I hope so?

Because I do hope. Not knowing what Donor Bob did in his life does not in any way take away the reality of what I wanted for him. I hope that he had a ton of fun. That he had people, lots of people, who loved him. I hope he was fiery, passionate about something, and that he liked to laugh. I hope he read books. I hope he felt, even every once and a while, the Earth beneath his feet and the stars about his head. I hope that if he saw Les Miserables at any point in his life that he thought it was beautiful. I hope he aimed to be kind, and that he succeeded just a little bit in that goal. I hope he liked animals, especially dogs or horses, and I hope he got to try really amazing bar-b-que at least once. I hope he liked music and that he tried dancing in public, even if he was terrible at it. I hope he got caught in the rain at some point in his life. I hope he was funny. I hope he had questions. I hope he had faith, though I don't care what kind. I hope he was, is, and will forever be happy. I hope someone he loved was with him when he died. I hope I can make him proud without losing myself.

I hope for a lot of things.

The other thing people ask is whether I've reached out to him, or rather, to his family. The answer to that question is kind of hazy. I have not written the typical donor letter. My center asks you to wait a bit before you do so anyway, but I spent the first year after transplant dealing with a lot of residual infection and hospitalizations. As a result, I decided to wait to write until I felt more at home with the gift that I know these lungs represent -- after I had lived and loved and laughed with these lungs for long enough to find my own voice again, to hopefully communicate the incommunicable and explain the inexplicable to the family whose son/father/husband/cousin/lover/friend or whatever gave to me the greatest gift that I will ever receive. I knew I wanted to wait until I could write a thank you not just from my heart, but from the collective body of heart, soul, and lungs that I am now: one part Bob, a lot of parts Piper, and one wholly grateful and beautiful human being.

But there is a wonder, no doubt, in not knowing everything. There is a joy and an excitement in allowing my Bob, as it were, to just be -- to be all he is and all he ever was, just himself, and independent of medical hearsay, of other people's opinions, or even of my own hopes. A true man of mystery in every sense. A truly unconditional, even unidentifiable, source of love, strength, and opportunity.

And the greatest friend, without a doubt, who I may never even know.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

This Post Brought to You by The Letter D

Vitamin D, that is. Not that I have any to spare.

So, like a Dummy I just realized that it's December and I haven't really given y'all any Details on my Disease Developments in, well, a Decidedly (in)Defensible Duration. Duh, Piper.

Okay, enough of that.

In all honesty, though, the letter D seems like an appropriate theme for what I guess is a long overdue health update. I get so excited by all the cool things going on in the CF world sometimes that I sort of forget the original purpose of this blog -- which was, I seem to remember, to share my own journey through CF and transplant and all the cool (and not-so-cool) stuff that goes right along with it. It's a journey, of course, that is far from over.

And as the CF community reels from the loss of yet more CFers (breathe easy, guys) and rejoices in the successful transplant and calls for transplant and other major and minor successes accomplished by so many of you out there, I'm reminded more and more of the value that sometimes comes simply from sharing our stories. These messy tales of hospitals and doctors and needles and pills and fears and triumphs and testing and even just of breathing are the things that bring us together and that set us apart. So with all that said, well, here goes something:


I went to a new doctor today. I think she's an endocrinologist by trade, though she's not my endo and she seems to specialize in bone disease. All I really know is that she works at my hospital and is incredibly nice, which made it a whole lot less painful than it should have been for me to drag myself all the way up to 168th street today even though I have to go up there again tomorrow (for those counting, I live somewhere below 14th -- you do the math). I jokingly noted that the last thing I wanted for Christmas this year was another doctor, but frankly I'm okay with it as long as all doctors from now on get to be like this one. I had a little bit of an ordeal when I first arrived at the hospital, but after that (which she had nothing to do with, by the way) and the inevitable waiting, she turned out to be pleasant, easy to talk to, knowledgeable about CF, and generally worth the extra effort.

Vitamin D

She also told me what I already knew, which is that my Vit D is low. I knew that because that's why my transplant doctor referred me to her in the first place. What I didn't really know, however, was that my level is apparently 3 (or was, as of my last bloodwork) -- nor did I know that "normal range" on that is 30-75. Yeah, as in 10-25 times my level. Nice.

My understanding is that low vitamin D is linked to all sorts of nasty problems, not the least of which is rejection of the lungs. I don't want that. So needless to say we're moving forward with a couple of treatment options, such as increasing my already high supplemental dose of oral vit D. That's just more pills, so I can handle that. We're also doing some extra lab tests, including blood tests and the less pleasant urine collection test. I would say yuck right now, except that's still a preferable option to rejection and/or bone density loss. Also rickets. Urine is definitely preferable to rickets. So yeah, that's all on tap for the upcoming holiday season, along with follow-up appts and all that jazz.

I'm scheduled for an appointment at my transplant clinic tomorrow as well. Between that visit, today's adventures, blood labs tomorrow, the less pleasant test, and whatever new hoops they can think of for me to jump through, I'm pretty sure I'll survive VitaGate 2011. Here's hoping, anyway.


The more exciting part of the appt came when she asked me to stand up, shut my eyes, and perform circus tricks. Well, sort of. I got to stand, shut my eyes, hop on one foot, and the like. Apparently this was to check my balance, but regardless of its possible diagnostic value it was by far the most challenged I've felt in a doctor's office for a while. And, while I thankfully remembered to point out a foot injury prior to my showstopping performance (that's its own story, believe me), I somehow failed to mention that I have minor balance issues left over from my tenure as a frequent IV drug junkie. So when she asked me to stand on one foot, I didn't think it was the right moment to make excuses, and I just decided to suck it up and stay silent. 30 years of tobra use says that's not a good idea, folks. Needless to say, I will not be quitting my day job for a career as a tightrope walker anytime soon.

Which is helpful, I guess, seeing as I have none to quit.


The best thing about today, though? Definitely the moment when I realized that Donor Bob and I have been together for exactly 1 1/2 years on the dot. Delightful. And let me be clear that coming to said realization was worth all the new doctors and low vitamin levels and weird acrobatics in the entire world. I'm so thrilled to be still living, still breathing, and still hopping (sort of) with these lungs that I sometimes feel like I could conquer the world if I had to.

Or, at the very least, the world that is mine -- Doctors, Vitamin D, Donors, and all.

Friday, December 2, 2011

**Blogger Challenge: Emily's Entourage**

You know how every so often you come across someone who is smart, kind, loving, beautiful, and 100% devoted to making a difference?

A few weeks ago one of my good friends and fellow CFers, Emily, contacted me with an idea and a vision. Apparently some of her close friends and family had recently participated in a stair climb for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and (as so often happens when we climb to new heights together for a cause we believe in) they had left the event feeling inspired, energized, and ready to do more. And that "more" in their case came in the form of a video, spearheaded by Emily's brother, that was designed to make something happen for people with cystic fibrosis.

When I first spoke with Em I was impressed by her commitment (she and her friends had already filmed the video and were working on a website) and by her drive to make a something happen in the CF world. "Wow," I remember thinking to myself, "this girl is talented and eager to fundraise. Awesome." Before she even had two words out of her mouth I was plotting ways to leverage her connections to bring us one step closer to that cure.

But when I sat down to actually view her video -- with her still patiently waiting on the other line, no less -- I found myself actually left speechless. Far from simply asking for donations from her viewers, I realized, this girl was asking for participation. She was asking for each person who saw the video and felt connected to her message to donate what they could and then to pass it on. To share the vision. To advocate for themselves, for their children, for their siblings, for their friends, and for everyone else with cystic fibrosis. She was asking, in other words, for more than money -- what she wanted was a movement.

And so, in the spirit of Emily's vision and the power of her devoted "entourage", I am asking each of you to take her challenge.

Please everyone, take a moment to view this video (and have a box of tissues ready when you do so, because you'll need them!). Take a second to contemplate all the love and energy that is reflected back on you from the screen. Remember, if you can, that this is a video put together not by workers in an office or by someone hired to do it, but by a wonderful and hugely inspiring woman, graduate student, employee, daughter, sister, friend, and activist who actually needs this cure. Then think about what it's asking for -- a couple dollars, a couple seconds of your time, a couple words for you to spread the message to your friends that this is a cause that can't wait any longer -- and see if you can really find in your heart a good excuse not to make that small request happen.

Yeah, I couldn't find one either.

So with all respect, love, and faith in the unbelievable power of this community, I'm officially declaring this to be the latest and possibly greatest "Matter of Life and Breath Blogger Challenge: Emily's Entourage Edition." Here are your official rules for participation:

1) View Emily's amazing video here, then consider making a donation of your own or "liking" her page on FB (neither is required, but both are encouraged!).
2) Create your own blog post, FB status update, or other form of social networking tool (letter, email, whatever). In the body of the message, place a small paragraph of why YOU fight for a cure for cystic fibrosis and why this cause matters to YOU. This can be your CF story, your wish for the holidays, your version of community -- whatever.
3) Link to Emily's Entourage Website and encourage your own readers to take up the challenge.
4) Comment back here with a link to your blog a message about how you shared this vision for an automatic entry into a drawing for a very special CF/transplant-awareness prize package, including gifts from, apparel, and other fun goodies!
5) Re-post these rules on your own page.

Drawing will be held on Dec. 16 (2 weeks from today!).

**As always, you do NOT need to link back to my blog on your site. However, only those whole leave a comment on this post will be entered into the drawing for the prize. Non-CFers and community members of all genders, ages, sizes, and disease status absolutely encouraged to participate.**