In Her Own Words: Astrid’s Journey to Gratitude

Posted November 1st, 2012 by Be The Match and filed in Patient Stories
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 “At some point, I just said to myself ‘This is my journey, this is my life,’ and decided to open my heart, and heal myself.”

Prior to being sick and having a transplant, I lived each day, each minute, each hour with intention and gratitude. I never took being alive for granted. When I was diagnosed with leukemia, I was shocked. I was told that I only had two weeks to live unless I had a BMT. I was told about the difficulties, the GVHD, and the side effects. I was very concerned about what the quality of my life would be after transplant. To me, being alive is much more than just breathing and existing; it is being able to be active and to enjoy all this world has to offer.

I definitely had some dark times during transplant. For me, the worst part of the whole experience was feeling that no one could possibly understand what I was feeling. I struggled with my physical pain and no one could stop the anguish.  But I’m not a victim to the transplant or the disease that led me here.  I’m a survivor and a warrior. I held onto the gratitude for my life that I’ve always had, even when it wasn’t easy.

More recently, I’ve been dealing with GVHD of the gut, liver, and feet, and was put on steroids. After going through so much, now this? Sometimes I am sad that this is my life and that’s okay. I was only given a week or two to live when I ended up in the hospital initially, and here I am. Is this a good thing? Most days, yes. Are there days when it’s not? Yup. And that’s okay, too. My emotions are all over the place because of the steroids, but I have no control over that. The only thing I can control is what I do with my day, what I do with my heart, and how I see the world.  So, I make the most of each day and do what I can to help me feel grateful about my life.

It has been a good practice for me to say, “Today is where I am at and this is what it is.” I have the tendency to push myself and to judge myself for not doing enough or more, so it has been helpful to learn to be grateful for small things each day. At first, it meant lying in bed and watching movies. Other days, it meant writing to friends, eating ice cream all day, or just doing nothing. But as the days turned into months, I found I could do more and more, and that was exciting. I had to learn how to walk again; I had to learn how to smile again; I had to learn how to feel good again (I’m still working on that one). Now, sometimes I go for a long swim, sometimes I grab my walking poles and go for a short walk, or I just breathe in the air and sit in the shade. I say to myself, “Am I going to be negative or positive about this? I’m choosing positive.”

Now, I don’t believe in this “happy rainbow land” of positivity. A BMT is one of the most difficult things a human being can go through in life and so many feelings go along with the process and journey. But at some point, I just said to myself “This is my journey, this is my life,” and decided to open my heart, and heal myself.

I take a deep breath every day and find the best thing I can. Beautiful smells in the air, a smile on a friends face, my husband. The love I receive from friends is always good. A kind word or a kind thought helps me to remember what is really important in life — love and friends. The tide is high, the surf is strong, the air is warm, and the food is good. That attitude is how I focus on gratitude. Otherwise, why have I put myself through all of this?

Being able to accept help from others can also be a way to find gratitude. Prior to being sick, I volunteered full-time at a retreat center. It was all about helping others, which in turn helped me immensely. Since my transplant, I have had to be the one to receive help. Perhaps for many people like me the most difficult thing to do, is to receive unconditionally.

Each person has a journey and anyone who needs a BMT has much to work through both emotionally and physically. If you can come to a place within yourself where gratitude is available for you, then that is a gift in itself. Sometimes discovering what is most important to you in your life is the way to find gratitude. I think there are many ways to interpret the word “gratitude” and it can mean something different to each person. Find peace in yourself; find the littlest thing that brings joy and see if it can help you heal yourself.

Share your story of how you’ve discovered what’s most important to you.

5 Responses to “In Her Own Words: Astrid’s Journey to Gratitude”

  1. Craig Bowman says:

    Thanks, Astrid.

    My story of the rapid onset of AML following a year of intensive chemo for MDS, with the immediate need for BMT within weeks, is so much like yours. Then, 100 days post BMT facing the challenge of GVHD of the gut with the feeling of despair and that I had made the wrong choice to undergo transplant; just like you. Now over 2 1/2 years after BMT, I am more alive, fit, and energetic than I was 5-6 years ago. Just like you my heart is filled with gratitude expressed in everything I do and for everyone who has loved me through all this. And I tell everyone who wants to listen. Yes, there really is full life after transplant and it is worth the risks of BMT and GVHD to have a second chance, one filled to the brim with gratitude.

    Thanks for telling MY STORY TOO!

    Craig

  2. Amy says:

    Astrid,

    Oh no! I just wrote a long comment, and then something went amiss. I don’t have time to rewrite right now.

    Main points:
    Much of what you wrote so resonated with me. Thank you!
    AML/BMT May 12, 2011
    Also gut gvhd, and joint. The joint pain is chronic.
    I was also on lots of steroids.

    Zypraxa did wonders for me emotionally while I was on steroids. (twice)

    And I hear you. I also lived intentionally and with gratitide Before. I am also working on making my life After. (Relearned to walk, also working on the feeling good part!)

    Thank you for your words!

  3. Andrea says:

    Astrid,
    You are very brave. It takes a lot of backbone to go through a BMT and the recovery thereafter. It’s a tough act to keep up for yourself and those who love you. You sound like a strong woman and you have faced some very difficult trauma from GVH. I admire tour attitude of gratitude. I had a BMT from an unrelated donor almost eighteen years ago. Here I am sharing my story. I was cured by the kindness and bravery of a stranger who I know now, as a friend. I want to be a better person and I hold myself in awe of the second chance she gave me. I had CML in 1995. Now there is a medication specifically for this type of leukemia. The improvements in treatment are great. It is an amazing journey of self knowledge and humanity. I wish you continued improvement and good health. You were meant to be here.

  4. Deanna Graham says:

    I can definitely relate to all that you said. To be faced with what we have been faced with, it definitely puts things in perspective. And although we are grateful for another chance at life, it doesn’t necessarily mean its always easy.

    Even after celebrating my 2 year re-birthday, things still are not back to normal. There still are hurdles to get through and even some of those hurdles may never go completely go away. We learn to adjust to those and try to embrace this wonderful thing we call “life”.

    Thank you for you thoughts, it definitely helps knowing we are not alone.
    Dee 😉

  5. Natasha says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, Astrid. I have AML and may undergo transplant too but I’m not sure (as everyone here seems to be) that my life is worth this fight. But maybe one day my story will be here too and with a positive light as yours.

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