You probably know the old saying: If life deals you lemons, make lemonade. The concept is simple. It’s the execution that’s sometimes hard and this was definitely one of those times.
When I returned home from rehab after my operation for colon cancer I had yet to regain all of my physical strength. But this didn’t worry me because, with time and hard work, I knew I’d regain most, if not all of it back. What worried me, however, was that I’d lost my emotional equilibrium.
For the past two years, since going on the lung transplant list, I’d kept my spirits up by picturing my new life without oxygen 24/7. Some days I’d pictured myself swimming at a beach or simply walking in the sand along the shore. On others I’d pictured myself canoeing across a lake or playing tennis with one of my grandchildren.
Looking back, it’s not surprising then that when I arrived home I was both anxious and depressed. I still had severe Alpha-1 COPD, but now I couldn’t have a lung transplant for at least five more years. And, even assuming that my lungs would hold out that long, by then I’d be too old.
My first month home, except for sleeping, I spent most of my time on the couch. Those of you who’ve read some of my earlier posts know that I live at Glenmeadow, a not-for-profit retirement center. As a result, I was able to get all my meals delivered and help when I needed it.
A nurse and a physical therapist also visited me three times a week. The nurse patiently worked with me until I felt confident enough to care for my colostomy on my own. The physical therapist taught me a series of exercises to strengthen my muscles and walked with me in the hall.
Despite all of this improvement, however, that first month was an emotional roller coaster for me. Some days I’d start to feel better. Then, a day or two later, I’d wake up anxious and depressed all over again. Finally, at the urging of my family, I went to see Dr. Cohen, a therapist I’d seen the summer before after my husband Gordon died.
My first visit I asked Dr. Cohen for a prescription for an antidepressant. I’d never taken one, but a number of my friends had sworn by them. Dr. Cohen wasn’t sure that I needed an antidepressant, but he was willing to prescribe a small dose to see if it helped. To this day, I can’t be sure that it actually did.
On the other hand, what definitely helped was Dr. Cohen’s first response after I told him what had happened to me. He told me that what I was feeling was to be expected after what I’d been through. But with time I’d get through it; with time I’d feel better.
Three months and a number of visits later I can now tell you he was right. I can’t tell you exactly how it happened and I still have some days when I feel down. Gradually, however, I began to realize that even without a lung transplant, I still had a life left to live and only I could decide what to do with it.
Here’s what I’ve come up with. Here’s my lemonade recipe. First, I will spend more time with family and friends. Second, I will spend more time writing. Third, I will spend more time on activities like bridge that I do with others. Finally, I will enjoy each day to the fullest and not worry about tomorrow.
I have stage 4 COPD and I trust there are others reading this who have it as well. Still others may have stage 4 cancer or some other life-threatening disease. What are your recipes for lemonade? I’d love to hear from you.