Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Life, Death, and the Smell of Jasmine in the Air...

While I've always been one to share my thoughts, they can often be disorganized, or at the very least, not well defined enough to make sense to others.  I'm hoping today that this is not the case.

Many of you who know me, know full well who I am talking about when I mention by best friend/surrogate sister and roommate "T."  She has been, and continues to be a shining example of selflessness (she wouldn't admit to this, I'm sure, but hey, that in itself is a mark of selflessness.)  I've learned from her, that it is possible, and even beneficial to sometimes sacrifice our own perceived comfort in order for someone else to flourish and grow.

When I came here to SoCal a few years ago.  I had been terribly sick with Hepatitis C, so much so that I'd really given up fighting it, as the healthcare (both mental health) and medical/physical care in San Antonio Texas under Medicare was horrible.  As she describes it, she thought I was coming here to get better, but after I arrived, it was apparent to her that if things hadn't changed I'd likely have "checked out."  

I know T from a fraternal organization we both belong to, we'd been talking for some time online, and by telephone, but truly didn't know each other all that well.  T herself, had, a few years earlier been diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer, went through treatment, and was getting the all clear.  I hadn't even realized myself until much later, she herself had just been off of chemo a short time when I came here and started my treatment with Interferon and Ribavirin. I look back on this now, and I am truly humbled.

Daily, I had to take the drug Ribavirin, and every Sunday night for approximately 13 months had to inject myself with a dose of Interferon.  Up until this point in my life, I can think of very few things, that I'd ever been able to sustain a commitment to...but I knew that if I hadn't I'd likely not survive the ordeal.  One of the issues with multiple drug therapy for Hep C is compliance.  Normally, even with perfect compliance the success rate is under 50%.  Largely through her continued support and encouragement, her uncanny ability to keep steering me back to the goal with subtle hints (the only thing that works with me, cause if you "tell" me to do X, I'll want to do Z instead!) I had great success. Within, I think about 12 weeks of treatment, not only was I antibody negative for Hep C, but also RNA negative (which means, it not only drove down the viral count but completely eliminated the virus from my body.)  Its over a year now, since I finished this chemo, and my blood tests still show both antibody and RNA negative.

I know, without any doubt, I could not have done this without T.  I might have lasted just weeks and quit.  Even halfway through the treatment, after showing all the successful signs, I grew hateful and tired of the horrible side effects of these medications, I thought about quiting, even then.  But T would have none of it.  Her subtle, yet constant encouragement helped me pave the way to a new life.

Furthermore, as I've experienced a plethora of neurological symptoms, largely unidentified throughout my life, my doctors at Kaiser did a full brain and brainstem MRI scan.  This is when I discovered that I was AgCC.  This was probably the singlemost life changing (physical and medical) discovery of my entire life.

I remember calling T from the hospital on my cell phone, in utter disbelief...I wasn't even sure how I was feeling about it, I was so overwhelmed, and yet immediately I began the process of shedding years of self inflicted shame, self hatred, doubt and suffering.  In that moment, I knew I was "normal" (my normal) and now, nobody could tell me different.

Even so, T was there for me in other ways.  While the above is true, and I began a journey anew, of self acceptance, I'd still been under the old "I am disabled" delusions.  Not that I didn't have a disability, such is incontrovertible...but how I related to that knowledge, was and is entirely up to me.  God gave me the package, but also gave me the freedom to express how I understood and dealt with it.

T helped me begin to see and experience that while true, I have deficits in areas that most people find common and easy task, that I also have talents and abilities that come innately, largely as resulting from the same disability...such talents that people work hard all their lives to achieve and sometimes don't. 

We never know why things occur in the time and place that they do, but I must believe that it all occurs, perfectly, in its time, and for a reason.  Again, as Byron Katie says "that's God's/Reality's  business, and everytime I mind someone elses or God's I suffer." (paraphrase)  And yet, simply the acknowledgement, that all things happen for a reason brings me great comfort, and yes, even joy, in the face of life and death. Fast forward to March of 2012, and the evidence for this (to me) is even more stark than ever.

T, as many of you know, has been fighting Ovarian Cancer for some time, and while she'd been healthy all the time she was being there for me in her illness, her CAT scans kept coming back clean, it wasn't too long after I finished my treatment that the scans revealed the recurrence of cancer.  There is a reason for everything...

Surely it breaks my heart that this person who has supported some of my most major life changes has to battle this ugly disease, yet I find a little comfort in knowing that for the first time in my life I am fully capable of putting myself aside in deference of an other.  I couldn't think of anything I would rather be doing than caring for someone who I love so much in the time that she needs it the most.

It is the beginning of Spring in Southern California, and our wildly growing creeping Jasmine is exploding in all its pungent glory in the back yard.  I consider, I wait every year for it to bloom, then I bitch and moan about how strong its scent (it can fill the entire two story house we live in.)  In winter, we crave summer and cry about the cold...and in summer cry of heat and pine for the winter...and we forget, the beautiful scent of jasmine in the air...it is here only for a short time, and then goes, never to be seen again (this year.)  God help us embrace the gifts we have before us, help us open our eyes to blessedness and fullness that is inescapable, and always and everywhere present...God thank you for T, this most special of friends, and thank you for the opportunity to serve, and to love.
~Just Joe

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