One day in primary school, my Year 3 teacher taught a class about bone marrow transplants.
“…afterwards, the patient needs to stay in hospital for many weeks and recover for many months,” she explained.
Stupefied, I raised my hand. “How can it take that long for a person to recover from anything?”
Not an expert in hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, my teacher’s eyes flicked towards the open book on the table beside her. “Well, Jodie – it’s a very serious treatment and it takes a very long time for people to get better”.
I sat quietly, unsatisfied with the brevity of her answer.
The story stirred my emotions. The image of a bored young woman, relegated to an isolated hospital room, hung in my mind. ‘A bone marrow transplant’, I thought to myself. It seemed so ‘big’ – so unfathomably serious.
When I realised I was mortal
Fast forward 35 years. On a Tuesday like any other, I went for a blood test at my local hospital. That evening, as I was clearing up after dinner, my GP called.
“Your blood counts are very worrying,” he told me. And from the tone of his voice, I could tell that he really was very worried.
Within twenty minutes, an ambulance had pulled up outside my house. Blue lights flashing, I was rushed to the nearest A&E department. The waiting room was heaving with dribbling, spluttering patients; the air rampant with a million microbes that were seeping out the sides of everyone’s blue masks. The government’s 2m social distancing mandate was universally flouted.
I looked around me. If there was one place in the world that I needed to be, it was in hospital. But that A&E department was also the last place in the world I needed to be.
After being prodded and questioned by a series of doctors, I breathed a sigh of relief when a porter wheeled me onto a ward and isolated me in a private side room.
Over the next two days, they transfused me with blood and took a biopsy of marrow from my pelvic bone. Two weeks later, a haematologist called to confirm the diagnosis.
“Jodie…” he began, in a consoling ‘I bring bad news’ voice – “you have aplastic anaemia.” He answered my questions, quoted some stats about the success of modern-day treatments, and told me about the importance of keeping a positive mindset.
I cried softly as he spoke.
Over the coming weeks, I cried more than I’d cried in my entire life until that point. One time, I lurched through the park at 4am howling like a banshee. With no-one to bear witness, my sobs reverberated into the empty space around me. Several times, I stifled my tears so my kids wouldn’t see them. I looked into their big brown eyes and lamented the fact that I may not get to see them grow up.
Although for the most part I was calm and collected, the strong undercurrent of fear – that I was going to die – would erupt at random.
I was writing my own story. Once I fully realised this, I chose to change the storyline.
The Power of Positivity
In the weeks after my diagnosis, a few life lessons were intensively compressed into a steep curve of insight. One of these was about the amazing power of my mind.
As a healthy person, I would wax lyrical about the power of the mind. As a non-healthy person, this intellectual notion spun a new meaning. I realised that a positive mindset was my absolute best ally in the long journey ahead.
And I think that everyone, healthy or otherwise, can learn something from this.
You see, I don’t know what’s on the cards. I can only take life one step at a time. At any moment, I could take a breath and there may never be another.
But that’s true for you too.
None of us – not you or me – has to wait for a medical diagnosis from a consoling doctor to realise how unbearably precious our life is.
Amidst uncertainty and frustration, alongside busyness and boredom, we can interweave a million moments of joy.
At any moment, any of us could take a breath and there may never be another. There is no time to lose. If we want to heal and thrive and be the best damn versions of ourselves that we can possibly be… the moment is now.