Last March I was feeling pretty proud of myself. I’d just turned 71 and I’d been listed for a lung transplant at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York. I'd already been listed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. My odds of getting a lung transplant sooner rather than later had just dramatically increased, or so I believed.
Then my phone rang one midnight in April. It was the head of Brigham and Women’s Transplant Team. She told me she might have some lungs for me. As per her instructions, my two daughters and I immediately drove to Brigham’s Emergency Room. Six and a half hours later, however, we learned that the lungs were no good.
Yes, my daughters and I were disappointed. On the other hand, I quickly convinced myself that this first “dry run” was yet another positive sign. It was further evidence that my lung transplant was just around the corner.
But the next month I found out I had colon cancer; a 5-cm malignant tumor that my local doctors said had to come out as soon as possible! Because of the condition of my lungs, however, my local surgeon declined to operate and sent me instead to the Brigham.
My first day at the Brigham a number of doctors examined me. Later, after they’d all met, one of the surgeons came and talked with me. She told me that she could operate. Because of my lungs, however, she had to be in and out in less than two hours. That meant I’d be left with a permanent colostomy. I quickly agreed.
The operation was a success. Four days later, I was walking around my room on my own. Shortly thereafter, I found someone to push my oxygen for me and I began walking in the corridor. It would take a week of rehab and six weeks of home therapy, however, before I felt secure enough to take care of my colostomy all on my own.
While still in the hospital, I called both transplant programs and told them what had happened. Both immediately told me that they would take me off their transplant list. But then they also told me that I wouldn't be able to get back on until I was cancer free for at least FIVE years!
A couple of weeks went by before the full impact of what they’d said finally hit me. My bucket list, all the things I’d looked forward to being able to do after transplant, was of no use to me now. I'd planned for a whole new life after transplant that would never be. Instead, I’d be on oxygen 24/7 for the rest of my life.