What we are

I’m on vacation right now. I flew to Florida last Friday. I have been staying with my friend, Pat, in Naples since Friday. On Thursday, she will bring me to visit my friend, Kristina, who lives a couple of hours away. Thursday night, my friend, Nicole, will pick me up from Kristina’s and bring me back to her horse farm to stay for a few days. I met them all online in a time when my life was a constant struggle to live with mastocytosis. I have since had adventures with each of them. All of us have mast cell disease.

I have recently regained a lot more control over my disease and my life. I started Xolair in March. Two days after receiving a Xolair injection into each arm, I could eat solid food again. I have steadily acquired more foods, including things I thought I would never be able to eat again. Cherry pie, my all time favorite food, and one of the first things I lost. Girl Scout cookies. Tacos. I am relearning not just what I can eat, but how to eat. I am re establishing a relationship with food. I am finding a new path in which food is not a dangerous necessity.

I have difficulty moderating myself with foods I have regained. My stomach is still tiny. My GI motility is still garbage. My stomach is still largely paralyzed. I have to remember that platefuls of food will still sit in my stomach for hours, whether or not I have a mast cell reaction. I can still make myself by eating too much too fast.

It is the same with activity. I can be outside in the heat a lot longer. I can sit in the sunlight. I can push myself physically without it ending in disaster. If I go too far, I pay for it. I still need to sleep. I still need to adhere to a rigid med schedule. I still need to manage my stress level vigorously. But my body will bend now where it would previously have broken.

Today, while my friend and her husband were out at an appointment, I took some meds, put down a yoga mat, and started a documentary on my iPad. I found a vinyasa yoga sequence I wanted to do. It was 92 degrees out and very humid, the sun blazing overhead. I stopped every five minutes or so to drink some water, wipe myself down, and rest. I didn’t mind going slowly and stopping when my body needed it.

The heat started to overtake me. I sat down and assessed my body to see if I could continue. I just wanted to see if I could do it, because I genuinely thought that I could. This was not a stubborn line in the sand. I believed I could do it safely. But I did not want to push myself too far. And I was very hot.

As I was coming to terms with needing to end my practice early, it started raining. There’s rain and then there’s southern Florida summertime rain. The kind of rain that falls so heavily that you almost can’t see it. I walked out from under the roof of the lanai and into the falling torrents. I closed my eyes and and let the water overtake me.

Water is a purveyor of emotion and memory. I was transported to a million other moments when my body was strong. When I walked my first Breast Cancer 3-day through similar heat in the first week of August 2007. When I climbed mountains in Norway. When I camped underneath the Golden Gate Bridge and walked across it on a misty San Francisco morning. This strength has always been there, even if it has been buried my disease.

The nature of this disease is that there is no real nature. It changes constantly. You can never really adapt because you can’t even comprehend what changed. You just learn to control the spin amidst an unpredictable world. Sometimes not even that.

This is the first time in a long time that my recent stability has not given me anxiety. In the past, it has been hard for me to be present. I worried a lot about how long this reprieve would last. It was excruciating to think that I could accept this good fortune only to have it torn away without warning. I felt so exposed. Vulnerable. I didn’t want to risk another heartbreak.

The last few years have been painful on every level. Even so, it is silly to think the adage in the fable of my life could be that bad things happen anymore than it could be that good things happen. They are two sides of the same coin. These two faces are matched. You cannot have gain without loss. Getting knocked down is no more important to my story than is the getting back up.

I am also surrounded every day by other people who have triumphed against this disease. Pat has made some strides this year in identifying important pieces of her health puzzle. Nicole was recently admitted for a serious line infection but she is home now and in one piece. Almost two years after a catastrophic stroke that left her trapped inside her body, Kristina has just started working on standing. This disease has threatened to drown us but we surfaced anyway.

As the rain washed over me today, I remembered that strength is not something we have. It is something we are. And just like that, I wasn’t hot anymore.