Friday, 30 December 2016

It's my birthday!!!

(As part of my attempt to become somewhat of a writer, I wrote the following short essay and pitched it to several websites but never got any response. Because I still like it, I'm posting it here even though I'm sure you already know all this information.)

I turn 30 today. I'm so happy, I had serious doubts that I would ever reach this point. When I turned 25, I wished to be able to make it to my 30th birthday. At times I wasn't sure if I would make it. Yet here I am, turning 30 and loving every second of it.

I was born with cystic fibrosis, a degenerative genetic lung and digestive disease and stayed relatively healthy until I hit my 20s. Then my lungs started to decline. I spent my early 20s in and out of the hospital getting IV antibiotics for infections and fighting off pneumonia.

Shortly after I turned 26, I was told that I was no longer healthy enough to work. That if I took my planned trip to Spain that I would, “return in a body bag.” My lungs were spent out and my only chance of living much longer was to have a double lung transplant. Lung transplants are considered 'end of life treatment' for people with cystic fibrosis as they can extend the life but are such a high risk surgery that are only done when there are no other options.

I spent a lot of the earlier part of the year being scanned, probed, and interviewed. Then waited for doctors to decide if I would be eligible for the chance at a new set of lungs, for a transplant that could extend my life.

I was deemed eligible as the rest of my body was relatively healthy, so I moved to Toronto with my partner, Isaiah (as no one does lung transplants in Eastern Canada) and spent my 27th birthday in our tiny one bedroom apartment waiting for the call that lungs were ready for me. Waiting and wondering if anyone who was an organ donor, my blood type, and body size would die that month. Then feeling bad for pondering people dying but yet wishing I could get some new lungs soon as the cold Toronto wind gave me a coughing attack every time I stepped outside.

My lungs help up okay for most of 2014 as I hung out in Toronto and went to Blue Jays games and attended pottery classes at the Gardiner museum. However, in November 2014, after many hospitalizations and being on almost every antibiotic known to science, they were done. I got a blood clot in my right lung and struggled to walk to the bathroom. I was hospitalized and was told that if I didn't get my transplant within that week, I would be put on a ventilator as my lungs were barely holding on. On November 26, I got a set of beautiful new lungs.

As a result of the transplant and subsequent incision infection, I spent my 28th birthday recovering from a sternum removal surgery. My parents, living in NB but visiting as often as their jobs would allow, sent me balloons. The hospital gave me a catheter for my birthday as the anesthetic from the surgery made it so my bladder refused to pee. Isaiah snuck cheesecake into the hospital for me.

I slowly recovered and made it back home to the Maritimes. I spent the rest of the year getting stronger until I started getting dizzy when I exercised. After many tests, I was diagnosed with post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorder (a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma) in November 2015 and as a result, spent most of that winter in and out of the hospital. My 29th birthday was spent in the hospital with a shaved head and a fever after receiving my second dose of chemotherapy. Isaiah once again snuck cheesecake into the hospital. I spent the day sleeping and taking as much Tylenol as the nurses would allow.

And now, after a lung transplant, serious complications, and cancer, I've finally reached my golden birthday (or champagne birthday, as apparently some people call it). Turning 30 on the 30th. I couldn't be more thrilled and relieved. I seriously doubted many times that I would be alive at this point. I had my funeral planned.

Reaching 30 for me means survival. I made it. I survived. When I was born, the life expectancy of someone with CF was 40. Statistically, I should get another ten years. But seeing how hard the last 10 were, I'm not particularly confident I have another ten in my future. Only 50% of people post-transplant live for ten years. And only 50% of people who get PTLD are alive after five years. So the odds are not in my favour.

But that's okay, I'm taking life one day at time and getting everything I can out of it. I may have had some hard years getting to this point but have also had some amazing moments. I've been fortunate enough to have lived in Ireland for a summer, get two university degrees, travel all around Europe. I cycled across Canada and I have the most amazing friends and family who support me unconditionally.

I don't know what to expect after 30. I'm feeling healthier than I have in years but my life is not on the same track as what I imagined when I was 20. I'm not sure how long this healthy period will last so I'm going to enjoy it while it's here.

I don't know how many years I have left. I could die so easily from pneumonia, or transplant rejection, or the cancer could return. But it's not like any of us have a written guarantee of a long and healthy life.

So today on my birthday I'm going to celebrate and party and eat cheesecake because I'm so damn happy to be alive. I'll probably also be a bit of an emotional mess and may spend the day bawling over how lucky I am. And I hope everyone hitting a milestone birthday this upcoming year can celebrate with me. Embrace life. All of it. The struggle, the fun, and the boring parts. It doesn't matter what you've been through, turning older is a gift every time.


Dave said...

Getting old can be a curse but it's better than the alternative. You've been through so much - pain, major surgeries, disappointment, setbacks, cancer and chemo, boredom, and the list goes on. Those of us who have never experienced any of this, even in small measure, can hardly appreciate what the last few years have been like for you. Continue to embrace what comes your way and may all of it be on the plus side.

LittleM said...

i think the upside to our situation is that healthy people have a trend downward in bodily function as they age. we have already had some reverse going from CF symptoms to transplant symptoms. I feel younger than a year ago, even though I have lots of annoying side affects. And for you, certainly I bet you feel younger than even a year or two ago after shedding the cancer. It's cool not to necessarily KNOW that we'll be worse the next year bc we started so bad in life.

Happy Champagne birthday!! Let this whole day be totally stress free, healthy, energetic.. That's what i wish for you since Christmas was kind of a bummer!

Anonymous said...

Allison, first of all, Happy champagne birthday and welcome to your 30's, you've certainly earned it! As always, a fantastic read and also educational. Happy for you...Kaye Birnie

Audrey said...

You are a gem. Life is so precious. Every minute, every hour, every day. Live like you are dying because with every second we all are 1 second closer to death. Have a glorious birthday and a wonderful new year.