Friday, September 19, 2008

They used to say it's my birthday

Picking hydrangeas took my mind off the birthday that isn't.

Yesterday would have been my fifth birthday. Instead, I was 100 days old.

To back up: Sept. 18 was the fifth anniversary of my first bone marrow transplant. It also happened to mark 100 days from my third. It was an odd coincidence that made me think.

If I had made it straight through without relapsing, I would have been at the five-year mark, a major post-transplant milestone, at which the chance of relapse is extremely slight. I celebrated my Sept. 18th birthday three times and was a month away from my fourth when I relapsed.

That date is kind of a like a wedding anniversary after a divorce. You look back at all of the hope and promise, and you wonder why everything unraveled.

Yesterday marked the 100th day after my third transplant, which I had on June 10. It’s good to get past 100 days; you’re out of the most critical post-transplant period. Still, you don’t get many restrictions lifted, except for being able to go into peoples’ houses and eat their food. (Is anyone listening? I’m ready to be fed!)

Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad for the progress I’ve made. But yesterday, I allowed myself to wallow. All of the literature advises us to get past the “why me?” question that we ask when we are diagnosed. We’re supposed to move on to “why not me?” And most of the time we do. Stuff happens. It might as well happen to me as to the next person. But, still, these dates sometimes cause a little regression. You can’t help but ask again, “This happened HOW?”

I figured I was allowed to feel what I felt. I took a long walk with the dog. We went through the woods and up to a field where I sat and let my breathing quiet my mind. The dog sat next to me, looking regal as her gaze followed a butterfly. The sun warmed both of us. I put my arm around her and forgave her for her misdeeds.

Today, with the sadness still lingering, I picked some hydrangeas from my garden and a neighbor’s. My mother used to like the hydrangea harvest when she and my father came for a late-summer visit from New York. She was particularly tickled that you could get the flowers for free here and dry them yourself, while back in the city, florists put big price tags on dried hydrangeas.

Our friend across the street used to hang them in her attic for us, so I never dried them myself. This year I felt inspired. I pulled the leaves off, put twine around the stems and hung them upside down on push-pins from the beams in my kitchen. I’ve raised three children in Western Massachusetts, but I still consider myself a New Yorker, and I chuckled at the thought that here I was, a former apartment dweller, standing on a chair hanging flowers from beams. I actually felt sort of adventurous, like I had stepped into “Little House on the Prairie.” (It doesn’t take much.)

I doubt you could really mess this up, but since I’m not normally artsy-crafty, it did take a little extra concentration.

This gave me an idea for a way to take your mind off of difficult stuff: Do something a little different. I guess it works the same way for me when I try to cook creatively, such as making my own tomato sauce for a change.

Now the hydrangeas are shades of green and pink. It will be interesting to see how they turn out when they dry.


PJ said...

Ronni, could you please stop writing about what I'm thinking! I'm reading your post thinking, I wrote that. Or thought that. Cue Twilight Zone music.

My hydrangeas are blue which means we have different soil ph's which means this is not some parallel universe I'm living in. I think.

Susan C said...

Ronni, So much to possibly comment on. Too bad PJ and I can't just come over and have a cup of tea with you.

The birthday thing is funny and confusing and sad all rolled into one. I know your first SCT was auto, followed by two allos. Do auto SCT patients also count new birthdays? And I think I read somewhere that you were born in August and just celebrated that birthday as well. I think I'm just a week older than you.

I LOVE hydrangeas, but they don't like my soil here and refuse to flower. I hope that your drying hydrangeas are not exposed to sunlight. I understand it's better to dry them in the dark.

Wishing you lots of happy birthdays for all of your rebirths and many, many more!

Brian Koffman said...

Bitter sweet. Of course the reality is that you are alive for that big 5th birthday. And still fighting the good fight. But doesn't it get tiring fighting when you thought that the monster finally had a stake through its heart, only to have it rise from the dead like in some Hitchcock thriller. Yeaach. But you are prepared for the battle. You are five years wiser and stronger. And the flowers help.
Be well

Anonymous said...

Milestones are important as we mark the passage of time, but so are the individual moments that make up a day or a week. I spent a lot of time feeling unsettled about a big birthday I had this year and the reality is that the anticipation was worse than the aftermath. I know it's not the same as these "birthdays" for you. I like that you are focusing on the flowers and the dog and your beautiful surroundings, your children, your friends. Perhaps staying present will make it easier to mark these passages.

Ronni Gordon said...

Actually my hydrangeas started out blue. They're the Endless Summer variety and they just grow that way. The people across the street have the pinkish ones. Don't know if they grew that way cuz of the soil or because they were purchased like that. I'm glad Susan told me to take the drying ones out of the sun. Also -- yes they give you a "new birthday" after an auto. I guess it's because your marrow is all cleaned out and then you're "reborn." My regular old birthday is Aug. 24, 1954.

Anonymous said...

I'd forgotten how talented a writer you are.
We just got a hydrangea bush; right now the flowers are blue and purple. We'll see how it takes next year.
Oh, by the way, watch the line.

Wendy S. Harpham, MD said...

Dear Ronni,
Grief hurts.
When the memory of an earlier loss resurfaces, we may grieve a little bit more. And, yes, this grief hurts, too.
You lost so much along with your remission following your first transplant (much the way I lost so much more than my remission with my first recurrence, such as my medical practice and my strong hope for cure).
You may take comfort in knowing it makes sense to feel pain now from remembering all the little and big losses associated with that anniversary. And in remembering that the grief is temporary and healing. It's a painful part of being human.

As Diane said, you also enjoyed all those wonderful moments between the anniversaries. Maybe take a moment to remember them, too, and smile.

Wishing you a happy unbirthday today. With hope, Wendy

Anonymous said...

Ronni, Thanks for clearing that up about autos and birthdays. In that case, I have two b-days coming up Nov. 14 and 15. I only had the minimum 2 million stem cells, but they had to infuse over two days.

And happy belated "regular" birthday. I'm 9 days older.

Anonymous said...

Miss Ronni,

You are so right, the only solution to almost anything is to live life one hydrangea at a time.


Anonymous said...

Hi Ronni

Those are especially nice with that neat pinkish hue. And they have a nice, familiar look about them. I am very curious how they'll keep their color. You'll have to keep us all posted. I never realized just how popular hydrangeas are until I read all those posts. Picked up some good tips too! (I think I need to check the ph of my soil...)

Keep smiling.

p.s. Is there an APB on those hydrangeas?

September 23, 2008 4:55 AM

Anonymous said...

I lived for nine years in Oregon and loved the flowers there, especially the "laced-cup hydrangeas." I admire your taste in blossoms and your way with words.