I pulled bobby pins from my hair one by one March 24, piling them in my mother’s palm. I shielded the loose strands with my hands as I fled to the operating room for a biopsy of my stomach and small intestine. Fleeing sometimes takes on strange, disturbing dimensions.
This morning at the infusion room I tugged my sweater from my right arm slowly, the knitted fabric rippling reluctantly, clinging to my skin like it didn’t want to leave. The cold antiseptic stung. I hated my bare arm, resented it, looking away as the nurse stuck me, again.
In 2016, I’ve felt stripped of energy, clothing, control, my favorite foods (I love you and miss you, Pillsbury cinnamon rolls). I called my mom on her 50th birthday after the hematologist called me to inform me of the weekly IVs. It should have been a cheerful birthday call, the one where I inevitably say “happy birthday” in Arabic, tripping over the foreign sounds, still.
This year has challenged my self-described brand of fierce independence. I’m learning to say “thank you,” to stop apologizing for being the one who picks the lunch spot (again) — to simply be thankful for accommodating, considerate friends and family and to let them know. Fierce independence, it seems, isn’t trying to do it all on my own. It’s rooted in being open with who and what I love fiercely — and in asking for help when I need it, whether it’s a ride to the doctor, a new gluten-free recipe or help paying my many medical bills.
For a long time during this months-long ordeal I call 2016, I felt I had been stripped of my independence, too. Of course, it was there all along; it was quietly, subtly redefining itself with every reluctant favor request, every text that read, “Holy shit, I’m having a bad day and my arm hurts and looks bruised and ugly, please send me a cute baby animal picture, pronto.”
I’m thankful for all the photos of baby goats in sweaters (sweaters!), the check-in texts and, of course, the comforting news that the Cheesecake Factory has gluten-free Godiva cheesecake.
There’s a thank-you card in my purse for the nurses who looked after me the past six weeks. I’m grateful for their kind words and the fact that they complimented my veins every week even though they’re hard to find. They taught me that independence isn’t static, that my definition of it can and should evolve as I get older — and that change stings at first, in more ways than one.