May 27, 2013

The Sights & Sounds of Rock Bottom

Sometimes things spiral downwards until we find ourselves at rock bottom. And sometimes it’s at rock bottom that we really find ourselves.

I haven’t shared this story with many people so figured it was about time...

It was a month into my six-months of chemotherapy—my spirits were already low given the surgeries, finding out the cancer had spread, and having to start chemo—when things got even worse. 

I’d completed treatment for the day and was back at home, but the usual nausea I’d been dealing with just kept escalating to the point where I’d become the sickest I’ve ever been in my life. I was delirious from the fever and my body felt like it was fighting a losing battle against gravity. I could barely move, even to throw up. And there were more than a few times when I thought “this is it, I’m going to die.”

At some point in the early evening I found myself in the hospital emergency room. They weren’t sure what was happening and wanted to keep me there for monitoring. But there wasn’t a room available so I had to wait. And I did. For several hours I just sat there, slumped over in a wheel chair, because I was too weak to stand, in a hallway off to the side. A large blanket was draped over my body and I was sporting a surgical mask, lest my compromised immune system catch any hospital germs. All that were visible were my eyes, and I can’t help but wonder what they were saying to the outside world. I know what I felt on the inside...

It was one of the lowest points of my life. I was only 36 years old. I’d been an athlete most of my life. I’d never been sick before cancer... and look at me now. This could be it. I might not make it out of here.

My brain wasn’t necessarily in the most rational state, and some of the day is still a blur, but I distinctly remember (amid the delirium, pity-party and anger) two little words starting to form in the back of my mind. They told me to “rise up.” At first it was only a background thought, but they just kept getting louder and more convincing, until eventually I had no choice but to listen.

The next time the nurse came over to check on me, I told her was going home. A few nurses and a doctor later, trying to convince me to stay, I was signing a waiver form so I could be released. And as I struggled to my feet, shuffled the hell out of there as fast as I could, I heard those words again.

It took a few days, but the fever broke and I started to get better. Now I only had five more months of chemo to endure. Something I knew I could handle no problem if I just kept listening to my new mantra.
What I’d realized, sitting in that wheelchair, was that I’d been doing things on cancer’s terms. It was about freaking time I started doing them on my own. Leaving the hospital might not have been the smartest choice, and I’m not suggesting anyone else should do it, but in that moment it was the right choice for me. I needed to let cancer know that I’d fight it with the most powerful weapon I had—my thoughts. I needed to... rise up.

There’s still not a day that goes by where I don’t tell myself those two words.