It was on February 14, five years ago today, that my doctors gave me melphalan, a high-dose chemotherapy drug to kill the remaining myeloma cells in my bone marrow. In layman terms, this chemo was like a “CTRL-ALT-DEL” function on the computer. It rebooted the system and killed all cells – good and bad.
The next day, February 15, 2013, I received a stem cell transplant and my system was upgraded to Version 2.0. I have so many memories of the next three weeks I was in hospital post-transplant:
My neighbour was this beautiful woman from England who moved to Canada many years ago for love. I used to watch mesmerized as every day she would put full make up on her porcelain skin; first the foundation, then a heavy dose of mascara, lipstick. This would take her about 30 minutes. Following that she would put on a stylish covering on her head. We introduced our families to each other and promised to always stay in touch. Sadly we did not keep in touch and I often wonder how she’s doing.
The second week of the transplant was the worst, when all blood levels go to zero and you are kept alive by transfusions and medicines. There were a couple of days when I just sat in the corner of the room. Literally. It was my way, I think, of expressing that I wanted to be alone and disengaged from the world. Then there were happier days in week three when I befriended my IV pole and used it as my dancing partner. Another time I got other patients to bring their poles and dance with me to the hokey pokey.
You put your right foot in,
You put your right foot out…
…and you shake it all about.
That was fun!
Another memory I have during Week 3 (as my blood levels were rising and I was feeling stronger) was when I wanted to watch a movie and had to convince Dr. Franke to allow me to leave the hospital for a few hours. I threatened to break out if he would not let me go. With a smile, he said I could go provided I was back by a designated time. Nagib and Shayne took me to Les Miserables, where I clapped periodically during the movie to their utter embarrassment. We stopped to have dinner at a Chinese restaurant where I was able to take a few bites of food.
Five years later, here I am living happily with my new stem cells. At some point, the stem cells will choose to misbehave and I will need another transplant. It is inevitable. But right now everything is in alignment and pretty awesome!
I remember these moments, especially on Valentines Day every year. On that particular Valentines Day in 2013, at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Nagib brought me flowers with a flourish. They could not be real flowers because of hospital policy and Nagib had to repeatedly convince the nurses who entered the room that the flowers were indeed, fake. We spent Valentines Day in the hospital, holding hands. Each year we continue to celebrate Valentines Day and say thanks for the advancement of science and the miracle of life.
Today, I taught a course at a client’s office on “Conflict Management”. Oh what irony on this day of love. Then I met Nagib at his office and we shared chocolated covered strawberries and a decaf Americano.
And I whisper a quiet thank you to the universe for bringing Nagib into my world because he is my home, my adventure, my love, my friend, my teacher, my privilege, my heart, my connection, my prayer.
Happy Valentines Day, my love!