A super fun (sarcasm font) complication of how long it took for my particular form of lymphoma to be diagnosed is that I have, for well over two years, been carrying way too much iron around in my blood. Which is particularly ironic (in that Alanis-black-fly-in-your-chardonnay kind of way) when you consider that I was also acutely anemic prior to diagnosis and treatment. I do not even pretend to understand all the science, despite due diligence of researching Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia (a “lazy-ass” cancer as my WM friend Lisa calls it, because it smolders, sneaky – like, wreaking mild havoc in ways that make it hard to call it what it is).
In my case, two years of (we now know) pointless iron infusions led to a toxic build-up of iron in my blood, while I still remained anemic. The damnedest thing, right? Then a brilliant oncologist said, “Ooh, this is lymphoma,” and I immediately had all sorts of tests and treatment. This past spring it became super necessary to deal with the iron situation — if you don’t, it comes after your liver and kidneys (and I’m not here for that).
My ferritin levels in May hovered around 1000. A “normal” ferritin read is more like 200-250. My oncologist would feel better if I were at 100, just to be safe. Since mid-May, I’ve had 11 phlebotomies — a weekly draw of about 17 oz of blood, that is then thrown away (which breaks my heart, but no one wants my cancerous blood), making room for new, non-iron laden blood, to be made. It’s exhausting. And frustrating. And throws a real wrench in the 24 hours after. Because, you know, I’m down a pint. But–drum roll, please–it’s working, and as of last week, I’m sitting pretty at 260 for my ferritin level.
Come on, 100!!!
My blood is toxic. And it had begun affecting my overall health and wellbeing in potentially awful ways. And the bad stuff has to go, to make room for good stuff.
The bad stuff has to go, to make room for good stuff.
I spent an hour each with two compassionate, brilliant, insightful women today. One is my therapist, the other is my massage therapist. One takes care of my head and my heart and the places those two parts of me intersect. The other takes care of my tense shoulders, knotted hamstrings, and pesky TMJ.
They both help me find the things inside me that are, perhaps, affecting my overall health and wellbeing, and then work to help those things resolve, heal, relax — enough to make space for more good stuff to grow.
The bad stuff has to go, to make room for the good stuff.
Our bodies hold our unresolved, un-dealt-with trauma, y’all. And if you’ve lived very long at all, you’ve known trauma — in some form or fashion.
Significant loss is trauma. Betrayal is trauma. Acute bodily injury or illness is trauma. Abuse — in any form — is trauma. A dysfunctional family of origin is trauma. Divorce, even if it is the best decision you can make with the situation at hand, is trauma. Mental illness is trauma.
And, of course, so is life-changing tragedy. War. Poverty. Violence. Political toxicity (I’m looking at you, USA).
You know what else is trauma? A freaking global pandemic.
We are, collectively, holding more pain than we know what to do with.
We are, individually, fostering everything that has brought us to where we are, good bad and ugly.
We are, as communities, groaning, with an ache we can’t even describe.
We are, y’all, toxic with unresolved trauma. Full-up with a grief we don’t even have words for. Yearning, with hearts that don’t even know how to express it, for belonging, for safety, for the kind of love that leads us to our best selves and calls us home to all we ever wanted.
And while I am no expert on any of the things I speak of, I know for sure that if we do not find a way to both name and face the heartache, we will, eventually, fall victim to it.
I have long believed, more so now than ever, that our hope lies in each other. And I know that this terrifying.
I really, really do.
We are so afraid of being truly known, even as we long to be. So afraid of being fully loved, even as we beg to be. So afraid of being our true selves, even as we ache to be.
It’s madness. And it’s killing us.
Phlebotomy seems easy in the face of all this, even as it quite literally drains me every week. And yet — in it is physical manifestation of all that I have written here. Because it makes me feel weak. Vulnerable. Like nothing is for certain. Watching that pint of blood drain out of me is a reminder of all that makes me human, all that makes me afraid, all that makes me fear the dark, scary corners of our lives, where our deepest fears dwell.
It reminds me that light cast on those dark, scary corners is medicine. That in our frail humanity is actually tremendous strength. That in my story and yours, there will, of course, be trauma that threatens to undo us. And that also in our shared story is a promise that we are never alone.
And that in your blood and mine runs the ever-present, grace-filled, unending love of a God who has not, I promise you, brought any of us this far to leave us alone or broken or without hope.
The bad stuff has to be let go, so this good stuff can get to work.
This Thursday, I’ll see phlebotomy as space-making. As exactly what it is — an opportunity for healing.
And I’ll pray that somewhere in your week is a similar moment of such grace.