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The Year to Remeber to Forget

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Looking down into the amber vial made me nervous. In theory, I would just fall asleep and die peacefully. I prayed that there were enough pills to accomplish the goal. Who would want to fail at killing themselves? There was still so much doubt but I knew my life couldn’t go on the way things were. I replaced the safety cap and put the bottle down defiantly. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want my children to be THOSE kids. Even though my husband and I had been discussing divorce, I didn’t want to leave him. So I closed the cabinet and sought him out. I let go of all the fear and frustration and began to cry. He calmed me down before deciding to call my psychiatrist, who sent us directly to the emergency room.
The next cold January morning, before the sun came up, I was discharged from the hospital and transported to the critical intervention unit at a psychiatric facility. I was in a gloomy, unfamiliar place with strangers. I had no idea what to expect and was terrified and alone. I was strip searched by someone whose name I didn’t even know and whose face I cannot remember. Any item that could be used to harm myself or others was taken from me, including ear phones, tie strings on sweatpants, my razor, and even my travel bag. I was left alone in my dark, empty room, unable to sleep. The doctor that I met with daily for the week that I was there did not agree with my psychiatrist’s diagnosis of an eating disorder. He saw me as a very fit and healthy individual suffering from severe depression. It took several visits with him and phone calls from my husband for him to take the possibility seriously. That was, after all, why I was sent to the hospital more than hour away from my home, instead of the one thirty minutes away.
When I was assessed by someone from the eating disorder unit, the suspicion was confirmed. My behavior could easily fall within the spectrum of eating disorders. My multiple weigh-ins each day were only a small part. There was also the one and a half to two hours of exercise every day and the calorie counting. I would compare calories eaten with calories burned. I desperately despised myself if I had not burned more than consumed. My overall happiness was based on the number on the bathroom scale. A decrease in weight was joy; an increase was a disaster. As a result, I would weigh myself several times a day to see if I was successful at my attempts to improve my self-esteem.
In February I started eight weeks of day treatment at an eating disorder center. Therapy included eating two provided meals that we had no say over. We had to consume everything put in front of us, whether we liked it or not. We attended group therapy that ranged from talk therapy to play acting to art therapy, and were required to attend regular individual nutrition and psychiatric counseling. Patients were strictly forbidden to exercise or had their exercise closely monitored. A meal plan was given and expectations were that it would be followed every day to the letter. After reaching the therapists’ goals in April, I graduated to an outpatient program that occupied three nights of my life for another six weeks. It included group therapy and a shared dinner. It was more casual and exercise was reinstituted, but on a very limited basis. I found exercise very difficult after an extended layoff. I couldn’t breathe during my cardiovascular sessions. In fact, I started to notice that it was difficult to breath during a lot of activities. In June I graduated from the eating disorder program. There was slight hesitation at my ability to carry on independently. I feared relapsing into my old ways now that there was no one to keep tabs on me. But I was renewed and happier than I had been for years. I had not realized how far back my problems really reached. I discovered indications of them during my early childhood. My moodiness and dissatisfaction in life had not been a personality quirk. Instead, I had some diagnosable disorders that could be and were remedied. I could now focus on more important things. I threw myself into my family and friends. I began to seriously study the Bible and decided to become baptized. I planned on doing it in the fall when the changing colorful foliage would provide a beautiful backdrop. I wanted just a little more time so everything would be perfect.
But there was no more time. The breathing difficulties that I had been experiencing during exertion over the last few months became problematic and more prevalent. In fact, now I couldn’t breathe when seated. In early August I had my husband take me to a walk-in clinic. They sent me directly to the hospital emergency room due to an abnormal x-ray. The emergency room doctor did not agree that there was an immediate problem. He sent me home with the recommendation that I visit my cardiologist to look into my breathing difficulties. The shortness of breath did not cease and an Echocardiogram and Stress Test revealed no significant abnormalities. A visit to my primary care doctor ended up resulting in the biggest health discovery of my life. I was given orders for a CT scan. It showed a 5cm mass in my chest in the area between my heart and lung. She advised me to schedule an appointment with a thoracic surgeon, which I set up for the following Tuesday morning. But I never made it.
On the appointed day, the family got up and started to get ready. I felt light headed and nauseous, so I sat on the couch with my head in my hands. When I stood up to get ready, I got a major wave of nausea and a pain in my chest that severely inhibited my breathing. I was taking weak, shallow breaths to avoid feeling the pain. I went to the bathroom to possibly vomit. I sat on the floor. Droplets of sweat began to drip from my arms and legs. I called my husband in to me. He saw my pale white wet skin and called 911. The paramedics arrived shortly thereafter to transport me once again to the hospital emergency room. The first person I saw when I was taken back to a room was the doctor who had practically dismissed my symptoms a month before. Now, with a confirmed mass in my chest, he was much more interested in my complaints. X-rays and scans were performed and showed that the mass had increased a centimeter. It was now 6cm in size and choking off blood flow to my left lung. It also damaged the nerve connected my left diaphragm, causing permanent paralysis on the muscle on that side. I was met by the thoracic surgeon I was supposed to have consulted that morning and I saw a pulmonologist and an oncologist. The doctors decided to admit me to the hospital. A biopsy gave me a diagnosis of Non-Hodkins lymphoma. And I was administered my first round of chemotherapy. This began my journey with cancer.
Nine months prior I almost took my own life. And now, I was fearful that it might be taken away from me. I saw this as a message from God. He was showing me how life was not to be taken lightly. You honestly need to praise every glorious day. Every precious moment. Every gift that God gives you. My faith grew stronger and in September I was baptized. It took four months for me to complete the minimal six chemo treatments. Blood work eventually showed my cells to be normalizing and a follow up scan showed no more evidence of cancer. The mass is finally gone and the struggle was worth it. I know that I am fortunate to have beaten this disease so quickly and with minimal complications. I know that things could have been so much worse. I am thankful that they weren’t and thankful to be here with my family and friends. 2011 left me a changed woman. The eating issues are no longer a concern. My body is fine the way it is. In fact, it is healthy. It is cancer free. It is weakened by the treatments and months of limited activity. But it is also stronger and so is my spirit. My relationships are remarkable- my family and friends are closer to me than ever before. I am glad to have gone through what I did. I don’t think I could have come to this peaceful place on my own.


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