January 16, 2013
After my stem cell transplant: Becoming myself again
BY Cristina Rodriguez
In the first month-and-a-half after my stem cell transplant, I was in my own little world. I was Bubble Girl.
I was stuck in the hospital most of the time, with my visitors having to wear masks and gloves and cover gowns, but that's not exactly what I mean.
In the weeks leading up to my stem cell transplant, I kept asking my doctor if I'd be treated like a 'bubble girl' during my hospital stay. Little did I know, I would end up turning myself into just that.
Everyone could see me, but they couldn't really see me. What truly was a joyous occasion -- my stem cell transplant -- took a frightening toll on my physical health, spirit and emotions.
I stopped writing. I stopped talking. I stopped eating. I spent entire days in bed. I wouldn't leave my hospital room.
There were days when I didn't smile. I cried endlessly. I spent many sleepless nights wondering when it would all be over. Probably never, I thought to myself.
I kept everyone at arm's length, hiding myself in my own little sanitized space. I built an emotional bubble around myself. I was Bubble Girl, and I didn't care.
Now I can finally see that light at the end of this still-stretching tunnel. I'm finally feeling better again. I'm finally feeling more like myself. I can't say that Bubble Girl won't be back, but I can say that she has definitely taken a hike.
It's amazing what feeling better physically can do for a person.
It's easy for someone looking in from the outside of someone's bubble to say, "Oh, this is only temporary. You'll feel better soon." Or my favorite: "You'll look back on this one day and won't even remember how bad it was."
When you're in that position of constant pain and suffering, there is no end in sight. The struggle itself should never be belittled. And, the struggle is something that you never, ever forget no matter how hard you try.
The constant lingering, tingling sensation in my fingertips from the latest effects of chemotherapy is just one of the things that doesn't let me forget.
"For me not to have cried is a huge victory"
Enough of that, for now. 43 days after my stem cell transplant, I got the best news.
After my first post-transplant PET scan, full CT scan and bone marrow biopsy, my doctor told me that there is no sign of disease! He paused so that I could process the news. I didn't cry, which is a first for me.
I've always gotten emotional when I get any news about my health, be it good or bad, and for me not to have cried is a huge victory.
Instead, I smiled a big, toothy smile and he smiled the same big, toothy smile back at me. I looked over at my mom's big, toothy smile. It was a big, toothy smile-fest and it was perfect.
I don't have to cry every time I'm happy. Smiling is perfectly acceptable. "For real?" I asked. "Yup!" he replied. I took a deep breath and said, "Yes!" And, that was it.
I'm glad there wasn't more fanfare in that moment. That was exactly what I needed after the over-the-top, emotional roller coaster I've been on for the past two years.
Just a quiet moment in time that I could revel in and just be happy. Day 43 already has a heart by it on my calendar.
Cristina Rodriguez is a 31-year-old non-Hodgkin lymphoma fighter. It's not all that she is, but it's all she's focused on at the moment. Cristina also blogs at lymphomamaniac.