Sunday, December 15, 2013

Silver Linings

silver lining: noun.  something good that can be found in a bad situation: a consoling or hopeful prospect.
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary

I'm not going to talk about my pregnancy, no cute ultrasound pics, no bitching about symptoms.  So consider this post "safe" although it might be a little bit of a downer?  Maybe?  Maybe not.  I have a hard time maintaining downer status.

I'm in a mood today.  I'm stressed over my dad.  As most of you know, he's 78 years old, has stage IV colon cancer (metastasis to his liver, lungs, lymph nodes, soft tissue in the pelvis), and lives alone.  Unlike most people with stage IV colon cancer, he's been at this point for nearly 5 years.  He responded incredibly well to chemo.  Most of his tumors are drastically smaller than they were when he was diagnosed (the pesky pelvic mass being the one exception, but at least it's not on a vital organ).  Anyway.  This whole year has been pretty stressful where my dad is concerned because he's had to change chemo protocols twice and the side effects have been worse than with the protocol he was on for 2+ years.  He's lost weight.  And he's seemed depressed.  Luckily it's being dealt with, and that's really the topic of another post.  But it snowed out here yesterday, and of course, of course my dad managed to slip and fall on the ice.  He's fine.  But he's a fucking ice magnet and I feel like he does it just to freak me out.  It seriously happens every time it snows.  So, I am feeling stressed and anxious and grumpy.

I have a very close friend, Liana.  We lived together in an apartment for three years in our early 20s when I was in law school and she was working full-time as a perinatal nurse.  We were next door neighbors our freshman year at college.  I've known her for 17 years.  A year after we met and became fast friends, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  We didn't know it at the time, but the type of MS she has is particularly aggressive and not particularly responsive to all the cool drugs they have now.  About three years ago, she had to make the transition into a wheelchair.  And about two years ago, she had to stop working as a nurse (her true passion in life) and she transitioned to permanent disability.  You will just have to take my word for it that the Liana I met in in 1996 was vibrant and talkative and funny and outgoing.  The life of the party.  She is still talkative and funny.  But MS has changed her in many, many ways.  She has had so much bad luck, more than anyone I know. 

This year, she finally got a lucky break - she was accepted to live in wheelchair accessible affordable housing that was built by United Way.  She loved it, and it was so great to see her blossom there.  Then in July, when trying to transition from her armchair to her wheelchair, she fell and "shattered" (the word of the surgeon) her tibia.  She has been in rehab facilities since then.  For a long time, she was working on losing weight and building up arm strength so that she could learn to properly transition from a stationary location to her chair.  Her primary goal was getting back to her beautiful apartment.  But then Medicaid bureaucracy wound up dumping her in a nursing home in November with no more rehab.  She's been losing the arm strength she worked to build.  Her family is working so hard to get her transferred to the proper facility, but you can imagine what it's like trying to make an impact with Medicaid while simultaneously not pissing anyone off in a way that could cause blowback for Liana's treatment.

Sometimes Liana likes to tell me things, really dark things, that she feels she can't tell other people because they freak out.  What she needs is to have someone hear her, validate her, and that in turn unburdens her and dissipates the dark feelings.  She e-mailed me this week with a blog post she had thought about posting, but thought better of because she knew it would upset people.  One of the things that really struck me about her would-be post was she talked about how she's always tries to find the silver lining in her bad life events, and that she hoped years from now she would look back on this incredibly dark time in her life and see that it had gotten her some place better, but that right now that just seemed so unlikely.

I wrote to her that I think that many of us are always looking and hoping for a silver lining.  But that sometimes terrible, shitty things happen to people, and maybe there is no silver lining.  Still, I hoped like hell there would be one for her at the end of this crap mountain that she's proverbially climbing.

It got me thinking about how I'm always doing that - looking for the silver lining in the bad things that happen to me.  My mom died in 2006.  And even though I'd give anything to have her back, I know that the reason Dad and I are so close now is because her death meant that we talked to each other more directly.  I think her death also forced me to be a better, more attentive daughter.  And when I think of my dad's cancer, well, I don't think Mom would have handled it well emotionally, and so I'm frequently thankful that she's not around to deal with it.  And what about the year Dad was diagnosed with cancer, 2009?  Terrible year.  Just terrible.  But Dad's cancer made us closer, it strengthened my relationship with Jeeves, and it made me a better advocate for my own healthcare, which was pretty important when it came to my infertility treatment.

Then I wondered what I would think about 2013 when I look back at it down the road.  It was a pretty shitty year.  We started treatment, I had a chemical pregnancy, then Dad had a bad scan and he had to switch protocols.  I had a failed IUI, then got pregnant, then had a miscarriage.  Then Dad had another bad scan and he had to switch protocols again.  My sister's mental illness flared up, my cat got sick and died.  But yeah, IUI #4 worked, and that was the first really lucky break we got this year.  Will I see a silver lining when I look back on all of this?  Or will I just remember that I got pregnant (doubtful that will be all I think of when I look back on this year)?

I know a lot of (most of?) the people in the IF community have had a terrible year.  And not just because of infertility, though that obviously makes it all worse.  Maybe shitty things just happen and when we look back, we won't see any silver lining from it.  Then today one of the women in my Facebook group was kind of freaking out because she is worried she might have pre-eclampsia.  Another woman in the group told us the story about the stillbirth of her first child 18 years ago, caused by placental abruption which was in turn caused by undiagnosed pre-eclampsia (it's a really scary and upsetting story that I will spare you).  After the stillbirth (and I might add, she nearly died in the process), she decided to put starting a family on hold and made the decision to go to medical school and become a doctor.  We all thanked her for sharing her story.  Here is what she said: "My experience has made me a better doctor than I could've been without it.  It's easy to look at the numbers and say 'your chance is 1 in a million,' but what if you are that 1 just like I was? So the good I was able to take from that horrible experience is my diligence to all my patients.  So my baby's death was not in total vain.... the only reason I share is so everyone whose path crosses mine will have a fighting chance to avoid negligence like this.  If I put it in your heads to speak up to your healthcare providers when you might not have before, then I'm happy."  I think it goes without saying that this lady is pretty tough, has been through stillbirth and infertility and miscarriage, and I admire her grit a lot.

Maybe there's not a silver lining for everything.  Or maybe finding the silver lining is a choice we make.  If it is a choice, I'm going to try really hard to look for it in the shitty things that have happened to me this year, and that will inevitably happen down the road.

As an end note, I'm trying to get a care package together for Liana - I would usually pack it full of her favorite candy and junk food, but I know she has worked hard to lose weight and I want to encourage her.  Can any of you recommend non-perishable healthy snacks?  I was thinking little bags of nuts.  Anything else that would be fun for a gloomy nursing home room?  Coloring books.  Definitely Care Bears coloring books (take my word for it, she'll like it).


  1. Trail mix that had dried fruit or even a little bit of chocolate. Trader Joe's has good ones. Also they have yummy premade kale chips and roasted sea weed. Tasty savory treats. Hugs to L.

    1. Awesome ideas, I hadn't even thought of Trader Joe's. Thanks.

  2. Anonymous8:59 AM

    I believe that finding the silver lining is always a choice. It's there, it just depends on whether you're willing or ready to find it. Sometimes it's a small thing, sometimes it's a big thing...and sometimes, depending on the nature of the event, it can take decades to get to a point where you can/you're ready to see a silver lining. It can just be too traumatic to find one earlier.

    One of my close friends lost her daughter 21 years ago to SIDS at 4 months old. It was a horrible, horrible event and she is still SO very raw about it. Who wouldn't was just so horrible. However, now, after all these years, she is able to see that had she not lost her daughter, she would have never had her second son, and she knows - in her heart - that her second son was always meant to come to her. That was her silver lining in a very, very tragic event.

    So I think it's always there, sometimes it's just harder to see it - or the events that bring out the silver lining haven't happened yet.

    I'm so sorry about your Dad much stress to have on your plate. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family and I really hope that his feet find their footing in the icy weather and that you see a dramatic increase in his health. I also hope your friends situation starts to look up - MS can be such a challenging illness.

    It certainly sounds like it's been a tough year for you!! :-( I hope, once the year has come and gone, and you have you're little bean in your arms that you can look back and remember that "yes, it was a challenging year - but it all brought you to motherhood". And you're stronger for having had this year.

    Sending hugs, positive thoughts, and lots of well wishes your way!

    1. That's a really great story about your friend, and yes, definitely goes towards finding the silver lining being a choice. Thanks for the positive thoughts - I can use them!

  3. This post just makes me want to give you a big hug. Since that's out, I'll just give you care package advice: how about puzzles? I'm not sure how her motor coordination and strength are, but my bestie had CIDP, which is like temporary advanced MS (she went from running 5ks to being almost completely paralyzed, unable to sit up or brush her own hair), and she used puzzles to get her motor skills back. Also play-doh! Play-doh is always great. As for snacks, nuts are definitely perfect, and I know you love baking, so how about some homemade breakfast bars? You can make them low in sugar and high in protein but still tasty. Nothing like homemade snacks to send love, I think :)

    1. Love those ideas - thank you!

  4. I definitely think that finding the silver lining is a choice that we make and you have to seek it out. Some days- much like some situations- make it easier to see the silver lining, while other times it takes a little more digging to find it.

    1. Absolutely - some days and some situations make it easier to find it, other things it can be a struggle. But still a worthwhile struggle, I think.