There’s an expression: If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans. I thought of that a lot this weekend, as I laid in bed sick. Yes, again.
For weeks my family and I have been planning a trip to Vermont to ski. Every Saturday and Sunday has been jam-packed with kids’ activities and we finally had a weekend with nothing to do. We ski every year and we could finally go. Well to be clear, THEY ski. I lodge (is that a verb?). We were traveling with friends and the dads and kids were going to hit the slopes and the moms were going to drink hot chocolate (or something a little stronger) by the fire at the lodge. It was going to be a great few days.
And then…I starting coughing. When you’re in my situation, living with Myeloma, a cough is rarely just a cough. A cough for me triggers a warning bell in my head. It means a call to my nurse to ask for antibiotics, stat. And unfortunately it almost always means I’ll be getting a one-way ticket to bed within 24 hours.
This cough was no exception. I felt it coming but still powered through, rushing around to make sure our family (and dog) were ready for the 5+-hour trek to Vermont, as well as being away for three days. As the day wore on, I started to feel worse but I had to keep going, as moms often have to do. By the time we picked up my husband at work, I happily handed the car keys over to him, plopped myself into the passenger seat and slept for the next two hours. When we arrived at the hotel, I had just about enough energy to crawl to our room and climb into bed – where I stayed. For the next 48 hours.
Around me, life went on. My husband got himself and three kids bundled up to brave the elements of Vermont in March. Our friends helped out by walking our dog and keeping the kids busy and distracted. And I laid in bed with body aches, chills and a temperature of 102. Not quite the weekend I had envisioned.
There are so many days I feel good. I have energy and I can (almost) forget that I am living with cancer. But then other days cancer seems to want to remind me who’s the boss – and it’s not me. And cancer also has a sick sense of humor because it usually rears it’s UGLY head when I least want it to (not that there is ever a good time). Call me a cynic, but it’s typically when our family is looking forward to something that the germs hit and I am out of commission. Multiple Myeloma can affect people in many ways (hence the “multiple”). Some experience bone pain, kidney issues, extreme fatigue and neuropathy, just to name a few.
For me, the most difficult is my compromised immune system. I get sick. A lot. And when it starts to come on, it quickly hits me like a ton of bricks. I can go from a slight cough to full-on pneumonia within 24 hours. And that’s the problem. There is no longer a “common cold” for me anymore – it almost always turns into pneumonia. And pneumonia is no joke. According to the CDC, last year alone over 50,000 people died from pneumonia. It was initially pneumonia that put my dad in the hospital – and he never came home. And especially concerning for me is knowing that the most common cause of death related to multiple myeloma is infection, with pneumonia being the most common fatal infection.
I have watched as several people with Myeloma – who are also in remission like me – have died from pneumonia. I know I am prone to the dramatics but I am being 100 % serious when I say that every single time I get sick, I am terrified. The idea that seemingly healthy people die from something I get a few times a year scares the CRAP out of me. And being sick provides me hours upon hours to lay in bed and worry about this very thing.
Being sick this week, being sick in general…none of this was part of the PLAN. The PLAN was for me to keep working at a job I loved, for a company I loved, progressing my career. I would show the world that woman COULD have it all – a great career, happy & well-adjusted children and a marriage marked by laugther and love.
The PLAN was to have my kids live a “normal” life – to not have to get used to seeing Mommy in bed so damn often. To have a mom who only missed their events because she couldn’t clone herself to be in three places at once to support her three amazing kids, NOT because she was getting sick, being sick or recovering from being sick.
The PLAN was not for my husband to be a caregiver at such a young age. You take vows and you mean them – every single word. You just don’t plan to make good on “in sickness and in health” within the first 10 years, when you’re in your early 40s. You don’t plan for your husband to have to oftentimes act like a single parent because you can’t lift your head off the pillow, knowing that in the deepest, darkest recesses of his brain he is wondering how he would ever do this if he had to permanently.
No one PLANS to get sick, and certainly not with cancer. No one plans for many of the crappy things that life puts in our path. If you’re familar with Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook), you may remember that her husband died suddenly and unexpectedly while they were on vaction, at the age of just 47. She has written about the raw pain she felt as she grieved, talking about how the rug can be pulled out from underneath any of us without warning and how life as we know it can change in an instant. This happened for me the day I learned I had cancer – an incurable cancer at that. This happened for me the day I got the call that my father had died, also suddenly and unexpectedly.
There is so much that is poignant and heart-wrenching in what she has written…and so much that hit home for me. But the line that struck me the most was when Sheryl talked about her husband not being there for a father-child activity. A friend suggested another plan and she resisted, saying she wanted her husband…she wanted Option A. Her friend told her “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.”
I have since loved this quote – it’s a great way to remind us that life doesn’t always go as planned. No one is immune to difficult times. Each of us will face our fair share of adversity – losing a job, ending a marriage or having a child with challenges. It could be financial setbacks, illnesses or abuse. Or sometimes life just pisses you off in big and small ways. Our true character is revealed by how we face these disappointments, these changes of plans if you will, and are able to find our strength, our ability to love and laugh through it all and the determination to kick the shit out of Option B.
Those of you who know me well, through real life or by following this blog, know that I am a pretty positive person. I search for the silver linings many of our experiences, because I truly believe you can find them (granted, sometimes we have to look harder than others…). While being stuck in bed and missing this trip certainly wasn’t part of the plan, I am grateful that I got sick when I did. It meant that we didn’t have to cancel our trip and, even if I couldn’t enjoy it, my husband and kids didn’t have to miss having fun (trust me, we have had to cancel many plans over these last few years because of my crappy immune system!). I felt an instant bond with our friends, who we had never traveled with before (and who, after this, may never travel with us again!). They were incredribly supportive and helpful, even hanging out in our room when I had the strength to sit up in bed, when there were probably many more exciting things to be doing. I can’t thank them enough for being so amazing. And my husband was a rock star as usual, keeping the kids happy, keeping the room (mostly) clean and keeping me from having to worry.
The good news is that I am feeling better now. Hopefully this bout with pneumonia is behind me, and all the fear it brings with it. And as always, it served as as a good reminder that life doesn’t always go according to plan, and that is actually okay. Option B isn’t quite what I thought my life would look like like, but I realize I am pretty damn lucky to be here. And I will continue working every day to stay positive, stay healthy and kick the shit out of Option B.
Until next time,#gameon….