Experiencing Joy and Other Complex Emotions on My 5-year Transplant Anniversary
Life five years after a double-lung transplant brings both gratitude and grief
As I prepare to celebrate five years with my new lungs, I’m experiencing a wide range of emotions. My double-lung transplant has allowed me to do so many things I never dreamed I’d be able to do, which brings excitement, gratitude, and hope for the future. My five-year “lungversary” also comes with the heaviness of grief, trauma, and guilt. Managing the tension between these two ends of the spectrum is something I continue to navigate.
Five years ago, I was in the hospital. The medications had stopped working and I was getting sicker. I was so hyperfocused on surviving that I didn’t stop to think about what was actually happening. I was in respiratory failure but definitely didn’t act sick.
At the time, I had started running again. I ran around the hospital grounds once a day on six liters of oxygen, which was incredible airway clearance for me. It also strengthened me mentally, emotionally, and physically in preparation for transplant surgery.
Before and after
The vast contrast of my life before and after transplant is radical. Before transplant, my life was much slower paced. I often stayed at home because I was sick or preventing illness. Reading, writing, and music filled much of my days. I also frequently went to doctor appointments and was hospitalized regularly.
After transplant, it feels like I’ve been on the go constantly. My days are filled with traveling when I’m not working. I go hiking, kayaking, camping, or on any other type of outdoor adventure. I rarely have doctor appointments now, and when I do, they’re routine checkups. It’s so strange to feel like I’ve lived two completely different lives in one.
On this particular transplant anniversary, five years feels like a big deal. Half a decade of breathing strongly with new lungs is amazing. My body has gotten used to my lungs, so they feel like they’re mine. New medication regimens, treatments, and procedures I never had before transplant feel like they’re second nature now. I can make plans without wondering if I’ll get sick in the meantime and have to cancel. I’ve started to trust my body more. Sometimes I pinch myself to make sure this is really my life!
On the other hand, I experience guilt because of what my donor family has had to endure. It’s heavy knowing that others are grieving as my loved ones and I celebrate new life. I’ve always felt the weight of what my donor’s family carries, and knowing that this day means something entirely different to them breaks my heart.
I’ve learned that it’s possible to simultaneously feel both grief and gratitude.
Transplant anniversary reflections
On my transplant anniversary on Aug. 18, I usually spend the day reminiscing about what I’ve lived through. I remember how hard my life was before my transplant and how I persevered. I’m able to reflect on all of the things I’ve been able to do with new lungs and revel in the miracle of being alive. It’s bittersweet, but it reminds me of how precious and fragile life really is.
I’m so thankful to be here five years later, living my best life. Thank you, God, for my precious donor who said yes to donation. I’m grateful every day for the gift of new life.
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