I went for another intravenous iron therapy session today. I went by myself, and sat in a chemo suite from 8:45 am to 5:15 pm by myself—in the whole time I was there, only two other patients came for treatment and they left after only an hour or so. During what I dubbed “Phase Two”, which was sometime after the hour and a half it took them to find a real, working vein in which to run the IV, I was chipper and optimistic. The iron drip is a good thing and that is what I kept repeating to myself. The suite’s TV was on and I watched “Price is Right ,” snapped pictures and had nothing better to do than finally download the awesome new version 7 of the iPhone software, which took blessed forever. During Phase Three, in which came the Zantac, Tylenol, Benadryl and Decatron power combo, I was given the test drip of iron. Basically, it is a small dose to make sure I haven’t developed an allergy to iron. It takes about ten minutes to drip in and then they get to observe me and my dropping blood pressure for 45 minutes. It was during this. 45 minute observation period that more than my blood pressure sagged: my heart did too. Frankly, I was tired. Part of me wanted someone I knew to be in the room with me, just to talk and help keep my mind from wondering. Part of me wanted to be a petulant child and say, “You know, I think I’ll just take out this line and go home now.” Part of me was that child by pestering my Facebook wall with updates every other hour: they were optimistic but, nonetheless, they were updates about intravenous iron. I haven’t looked to see how many, if any, de-friended me for it.
Exhaustion like you have never felt coursed through my body. Physical, emotional and spiritual weariness. To keep from crying and to prove I could, I unplugged my machine and walked it with me, on legs that shook, to the bathroom. Peeing with an IV line in is unnerving, especially when you know that if anything happens to that line, it could mean another hour in that chair while they try to find it again. Finally, it was time for Phase Four: The Iron.
Usually, relief fills my body when I see the brown bag. It’s like I remember why I sit through this. It’s like I remember that that bag of iron means that, in three days, I will wake up and feel like a human being again. Today, I stared at it and I did not care. No relief from the sagging heart.
By this time, General Hospital had gone off and Bold and Beautiful was on. I stared at the show and played on my phone, ignoring the massive migraine all the medicine had produced.
From the corner of my mind, the character me whose story I am writing, Maelea, whispered: Are you strong?
I wanted to say yes. Except I sure didn’t feel strong. But then, that stupid vein blew in the middle of treatment. My nurse came in and, as she ripped the tape off my arm and started digging again in an effort to replace the line, I thought of that word: strength I took a deep, deep, calming breath and remembered…
I am strong because I smiled and was jovial with the nurse when she tried to flush saline in my arm even though she was not in a vein. When nurse number three slapped my hand repeatedly and stuck me for the sixth time, I smiled and assured her I wasn’t hurting. I was gracious when I did not feel well.
I am strong because, no matter what medical dramas I go through today nor how badly I may feel tomorrow, we will have school for my daughters and then enjoy the Beauty and the Beast performance tomorrow night. I will teach Wednesday night at church.
I am strong because after a very challenging day, and with shaky legs, I drove home. While every other patient had a companion with her, I soldiered through alone, just as I have for most of the difficult chapters of my life.
I am strong because I remained unflinchingly calm through a surgery that removed my entire thyroid and left me dependent on daily medicine for the rest of my life.
I am strong because I never blanched when I had heart surgery to correct a hole they found. They said it would take me a week or more to feel better but I was caring for my children within two days.
I am strong because crisis does not phase me.
I am strong because I am alone. I home-school two beautiful daughters but that is a second of three jobs: my first job is being their mom. Seven days a week, I bathe and read to them. I play and, even on my worst day, we go somewhere to play because I need the time—and so do they. When night falls, my third job consumes me: writing, promoting, securing speaking engagements. I love it but I do not have anyone to share the ups and downs with on a daily basis. Normally, this does not bother me. Every once in awhile, though, I dream of a protective hug.
I am strong because, as soon as I turned eighteen years old, I sought out Junior Achievement and began a lifelong commitment to volunteering. JA led me to other organizations in which I have my heart to helping others. Sometimes, I was misguided. Sometimes, I used volunteerism as a way of avoiding my own pain. But, underneath everything, I genuinely cared about the kids whose lives I was allowed to share in. I am strong because I tried to turn something terrible into a force for good, even when I was still hurting fiercely. Rather than succumbing to the idea that hope was dead, I clung to hope.
I am strong because I was violated in mind-numbing ways for about eleven years and kept it hidden, dealt with it alone, until I was 23 years old. During this time, I did things, I blindly obeyed directions that cost me my self-esteem and, quite possibly, a genuine chance to find lasting love. But I persevered and I did not resort to drugs, gangs, suicide or sleeping with men to fill the gaping hole in my heart: rather, I clung to God and His gift of creativity and I emerged stronger.
I am strong because on February 23, 2004 and 34 weeks pregnant, I went in for a regular checkup at my OBGY-N and ended up being rushed into an emergency C- Section, which broke my heart, to deliver a baby 2 ounces shy of 8 lbs and beautiful. I named her Breathe.
I am strong because 8 1/2 months after she was born, a doctor told us she was in danger and needed surgery on her skull. It was 1 week prior to Thanksgiving and he would not let me wait til after Christmas.
I am strong because my eight month old baby taught me what strength is when she went a week unable to be held and when she say up for the first time, wanting to play instead of cry.
I am strong because on January 15, 2007, I gave birth to a little girl after a traumatizing and extremely difficult pregnancy. There were twins… And then there was only one little girl. Doctors told us she might have Down Syndrome. Her heart rate and pre-eclampsia, in addition to constant contractions at 30 weeks, was a constant source of fear. But at 4:07 pm, a beautiful, 8 lb even baby girl was born. I named her Alight.
And I am strong because, while working for JA, I pumped breast milk every day for a year for her and walked miles around the house to quiet her at night. I am strong because I would do it all again tomorrow.
I am strong because I say out loud some of the most terrifying and shameful things a person can say to groups in an honest effort to reach others, raise awareness and yes, seeking further healing.
I am strong because I am more than my past. Every asteroid that has left a crater in my soul has only made me appreciate even more the mountains by which I am surrounded. Every piece of treasure reduced to ashes only makes me more grateful for the treasures that actually matter.
And I am strong because even though I occasionally long for a protective hug of warmth, I seek shelter in the blessings God has surrounded me with, like my daughters, writing and teaching. The legacy I will leave, hopefully, is one of hope. And this defines strength.
I made it through the therapy today. I made it back to my girls. Instead of playing volleyball or going down the zip line, we crawled into bed early. They colored and we made plans to help Breathe capture the boy she wants to marry. We laughed when my six year old said: “Breathe’s marrying him but he’s a little boy. I’m marrying the magician; he’s a real man.”
And I got my hugs.
Sleep found them early tonight, which means they’ll awake before dawn and we’ll start a day of school and celebration. And moment by moment, word by word, day by day, my heart will lift a little more until, one morning, I will leap out of bed amazed at my energy level and lack of physical or emotional pain. And, until then, I can be strong.