I have my first session of transcranial magnetic stimulation.
Both Mom and Dad are there for the appointment. Mom brings Furry and Cutie, my baby blanket and my stuffed bunny from childhood.
They have to take measurements of my head to figure out where the magnet has to be placed to make the treatment most effective. It’s called taking my motor thresholds. The doctor moves the magnet, a clack! sound happens, and different parts of my body react. At some locations my fingers shake. At others, my arm flies up in the air. Mom is crying, but I feel calm for the first time in weeks.
I don’t know what’s happening to me, but this is going to work.
Mom takes me to TMS five days a week for six weeks. I become friends with everyone in the office. I watch The Price is Right, Saturday Night Live reruns, and cooking shows during treatments. I also manage to fall asleep during treatments even though the magnetic pulses feel like a woodpecker tap tap tapping into my skull. I’m the favorite patient at the practice because I’m always on time, I make the technicians laugh, and I bring cookies.
My therapist comes to one of my TMS sessions. She’s fascinated by the process.
My doctors are what make me believe in God.
I’m officially in recovery from depression. I have never been able to think this clearly. I feel light. I feel happy. I give myself daily goals and tasks to complete, and I complete them. I’m starting to think about the future, and the future doesn’t seem as scary. Except for one thing.
I have a 70% chance of relapse. But I have a 90% chance of TMS working again if I do relapse.
These stats ring and echo in my head like church bells.
And because I never do anything half-assed, I relapsed hard.
Mom and I see a taping of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in New York City and Gwen Stefani performs a song before the rest of the show and I’m so excited and I dance in my seat and it’s the first time I smile in days.
We stop in Ocean City on the way home and stay in a hotel on the beach. It’s freezing and snows while we’re there.
I have multiple panic attacks over everything from what I want for dinner to if I’d like to leave the hotel room or not. I’m not fit to answer questions, Mom, can’t you see that?
I sit on a beach alone for three, maybe four, hours and watch the waves and wonder if I’ll ever feel happy and whole. Is this what giving up feels like? I know I’ll go back to TMS. I know the stats. But this relapse feels different. This feels darker.
I learn later that my mom sat on the balcony in our hotel room, watching me, sobbing the entire time.
It’s my dad’s birthday. My mom has a doctor’s appointment. I’m scheduled to see my therapist after.
I wait for my mom in the waiting room. She comes out and doesn’t look right. We walk downstairs and she sits down with me on couches in the lobby. She tells me she might have cancer. I’m not OK, but I stay calm. I nod. I’m going to be OK, because I’ll see my therapist in just an hour. We call my dad. We call my brother. I don’t feel good.
The care brigade begins. Nate and Leah bring us flowers and dinner and give Duke and Casey baths in the backyard. Erin comes for a visit and gets me out of the house for a weekend and keeps my mind busy and occupied. We start receiving dinners from people at church. These acts of kindness are like safety rafts when we feel like we’re drowning.
We take Mom in for surgery at Fairfax Hospital. We sit there all day, waiting. The anesthesiologist has a form of dysautonomia, and it makes us feel a little better knowing that he understands our bodies.
The surgeon tells us the surgery went great, but he never says the words “no cancer.”
I stay the night with Mom in the hospital because I can’t stand to be away from her.
We arrive home the next day and there are more dinners from church members and the Chaparros. We are loved.
A few weeks later, Dad and I take Mom to her post-op check up. The surgeon tells her that this is the best appointment he’s had in months–because everything came back benign.
The surgeon was 100% sure she had cancer. Everyone the surgeon consulted with was sure she had cancer. Mom’s second opinion at Johns Hopkins was sure. The original doctor Mom saw was sure.
But she is 100% cancer free.
We’re no longer drowning. We can breathe again.
I’m with my friends again, and this time I meet Shira, who has known Katie, Katherine, and Daniel longer than me. I’m scared. What if they like her more than me?
No worries. She and I are instantly soulmates. I adore her.
Everyone asks about Mom. I tell them she narrowly missed death. It’s a miracle. “Thank God” is uttered a million times.
Katherine and I present together and Daniel holds my hand while I give blood for the research study I cry when Shira receives an award and Katie is running around, helping produce the “What Is POTS?” video with the videographer we become pals with over the weekend. We get Duck Donuts and stay up late laughing in our hotel rooms and everything is perfect because I’m with friends and I’m with my community.
My stomach is acting up way more than usual. I have to leave therapy appointments midway through because I get sick every week. My gastroenterologist wants to go extreme. I want to wait it out. We wait.
My high school friends are home for the holidays. I stay out almost all night with them and I love my time with them but when I get home, I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut. There’s something about the way they treat me, am I like their kid sister?, the way they ask me questions, do they expect more?, the way they look at me, do they dislike what they see?, that doesn’t feel right.
Is this all in my head?