A friend sat with me above heaven, a sapphire ocean embracing two lush islands and the greater island beneath our butts — Oahu. On that mountaintop, I rambled about finding meaning in all things.
Most transplant patients I’ve met are spiritual in some way, injecting meaning where it doesn’t exist for others. We cultivate gratitude by recognizing symbolic victories. We breathe through the lungs of a stranger, hounded by a bittersweet realization: I should be dead right now. Spiritualization of this life is natural. Life is technicolor now, vibrantly saturated by moments ripe for metaphor.
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A man hiked past wearing a shirt that said: “Joy is the attitude of gratitude.” My neglected blog is called Adamantium Joy, so yes, I saw symbolism in that man walking past as I sat breathing heavily — but not too heavily — atop this mountain I’d tried and failed to climb on three other occasions before transplant, when I did breathe too heavily. I marinated in gratitude for my potential that has been liberated from CF’s oppression.
Let’s say the powerful waves are a metaphor for how emotionally powerful I feel. For the past month, I’ve been on Hawaii, where I lived half of my life before transplant forced me to move to California two years ago. My pastor announced to the church that people thought they’d never see me again. Later, I preached a sermon and spoke of all the signs and metaphors that made me certain of a supernatural hand in my survival. I then explored Hawaii to hunt for more meaningful moments; a symbolism addict in search of purpose for past pain, justification for the “taking” of another’s lungs. Such things are a potent anesthetic for survivor’s guilt that demands consistent redosing.
I stared in defiance at my old, pink hospital where septic shock nearly obliterated me. I tightly hugged friends I’d lost connection with while obsessing over imminent death. I bought lunch for people I’d held bitterness against because grudges are trivial, shadowed by all I’ve endured. I stood on mountains with views I’d never hiked to and realized I’d taken paradise for granted.
I spent too much money on the food I’d never enjoyed because of my nausea and appetite loss. I kicked every street corner I’d vomited on and smiled; I haven’t vomited in over a year. I swiftly selected new glasses at the shop I’d had a panic attack in two years ago when realizing I could die in the glasses I chose. I allowed myself to feel glee when old friends remarked I looked like a new man; I am a new man. I went to music venues and danced while friends laughed because, well, I don’t know how to dance — I never did it before transplant.
I looked at these things and did them with a strength I did not possess when I lived in Hawaii. I am empowered, bold, confident, but I once lived here ungrateful, afraid, anxious. My disease owned me, and now I own my disease. I harness CF to help others, to remind myself that I’m a survivor of the darkest things, to chisel my character. I’ve used my second chance to live fully and wildly.
A friend told me that looking at me used to make her sad. She mostly saw my sickness and didn’t think I’d make it through the transplant, much less back to Hawaii. We stood on a beach after a hike, and she struggled to catch her breath. Breath already caught, I stated simply, “I told you I’d make it.” She laughed and said, “That’s the most badass thing you’ve ever said to me.”
This has been my homecoming tour. I left Hawaii by air ambulance attached to feeding tubes and oxygen. I was the underdog that all transplant centers (except the University of California, San Francisco) rejected because they thought I wouldn’t survive. Jan. 15, 2019, is my second transplant anniversary and I’ve had a remarkably smooth two-year medical history.
The “symbol” of this trip is I left dying and returned thriving; I left without seeing meaning, and I now only see victory, even in the painful spots. Not many people believed I’d survive. Some said it outright and others spoke ambiguously to avoid revealing that belief. You might be in the same situation. Make 2019 your year. Prove everyone wrong. Charge into your trials and be confident that you will make it through — weaponize your determination. One day, people will say you look like a different person, a stronger person. And you can say, “I told you I’d make it.” And, oh man, you’re gonna look so badass.
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Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.