I returned home today after a stay in the hospital where I received a stem cell transplant. I was there for exactly twenty-one days, it seems long, but the time went by faster than I anticipated. Of course, there were days that seemed to drag on, especially when my body had pain and discomfort. I am surprised though that overall, things were not that awful. I know that is easy to say as I look back on things; once physical discomfort is gone it’s natural for me to forget.
As I sit in my room at home again, it almost feels like the last three weeks didn’t happen, but there are reminders. I know that I have been absent from the outside world because the trees have exploded with green, a very different scene from the bare branches I saw the last time I looked out my window. I also still have the line in my chest, it will remain there for another week or so, just in case I need blood or fluids. The biggest reminder of all is my bald head; it’s still strange to look in the mirror, and it will be a reminder for quite some time.
Just as I had to adjust to being in the hospital, I will have to adjust to being at home again. I should sink into a lighter version of my old routine within a few days, and the “lighter” part is what I will have to remember. Although I am in better shape than I expected, my body has been damaged and needs time to repair. Now that things have settled from the procedure, I’ll work to clean up the debris and do what I need to help my body rebuild. I don’t know when I will be able to say I am fully recovered, I’m trying not to think about it because right now it’s the small feats that matter.
My oncologist will follow my blood counts to measure my recovery, and I will use things from my daily routine as markers of my progress. I will gauge how much I can walk in a day, or how many meals I can comfortably make for myself. I’ve had other periods during the course of this illness when doing the dishes every other day was something to be proud of. My condition right now is not nearly that severe, but I can’t expect myself to instantly go back to the level of functioning I had a month ago.
To be more motivated to work on my recovery I thought of setting a goal for myself, like signing up for a marathon or for the Ride to Conquer. But, it does not seem like the time to put that kind of pressure on myself. I’ve never been lazy, so I will naturally do what I can to be active again. This is a time for allowing and gently guiding myself, not pushing my limits. During my stay in the hospital I saw myself push too far, when just a few days in, I hopped into downward dog and sprung a leak where my Hickman Line was inserted in my chest. Even just yesterday I was allowed to wander outside the hospital because my white blood cell count was normal, but, I returned tired after taking a longer walk than perhaps I should have.
I’m promising myself to be more conscious with my recovery and to not get impatient. I’m grateful to have a stable foundation on which to build upon, but at this point, it is just a foundation. Brick by brick my structure will get built up again and I’ll keep in mind that it is a process; that taking shortcuts will only compromise my structural integrity. The more care I take to make sure I am solid, the less ongoing maintenance will be required in the long run.
In these first weeks, I know that every small addition to my day’s routine will be appreciated. I’ll enjoy the things that I will be able to do next week which I can’t do today. I wonder though, how soon it will all be taken for granted again. There will come a day when I will no longer be grateful to have cooked myself a meal. There will be weeks when a short hike is not enough. Once things become easy there is less joy in achieving them. It’s human nature to want to do better, and that is essential to move forward, but I don’t want to get caught up in the better and fail to see how good things are where I currently am.
I had a lot of resistance to everything that came along with having the procedure. I thought my entire life would take a standstill, but it seems things continue to develop and move as they need to. I’m starting to accept that taking things slowly for a few months won’t set me back because moving at a slower pace has allowed me to see things I would normally pass over without consideration. I know that the things I want to do are waiting for me when I am ready. But, for now, there is a lot to be present for right here.
Image: Mike Boening