A second chance, an opportunity to live the life you have been deprived, or trading old problems for new ones. No matter what you call it, no matter what point of view you choose to hold, a transplant is a very taxing ordeal both physically and mentally. There is a reason why national transplant centers set a process to help determine if someone is suitable for this life-changing journey.
Though you must be physically able to undergo every step of the transplant, the other determining factor is to ensure you have the proper support system in place (and if your support system has their own support system). Mental health may even play a bigger role than physical health during the transplant process.
I received my transplant Easter weekend of 2017, after waiting four weeks from signing papers and agreeing to start the process.
So now that I have a new set of lungs and a second chance at life, I should be happy. I am extremely grateful for everyone who helped me achieve 20 years of life, and this God-given opportunity to continue living with the help of a double-lung transplant. But, there is a question that always lingers: Was it all worth it?
The short answer to that question is yes, it was most definitely worth it. It would be unusual for an individual to reject a second chance to live. My immediate and extended family are more than happy to see me alive and well, as are my closest and dearest friends. I strongly believe that for every action, there is a justified reaction. In that way, I understand that my new lease on life meant I had debts of some sort to be paid -- tradeoffs for having a second chance at life.
Before my surgery, I never had any problems with my mental health. Anxiety and depression were non-existent in my life; I was a beacon of confidence and self-pride. It all went downhill after the novelty of getting a new lease on life wore off. At first, the question, “What now?” always plagued my mind. I was at a loss for what my next goals should be. Before transplant, my biggest goal was to live as long as possible with my failing lungs. Now, my lungs are not as big of a factor in me living and dying, so I was struggling to find purpose in my life post-transplant.
Why have I survived?
To this day I have trouble dealing with survivor's guilt. From Daina to Matt, and not forgetting Claire -- all were lives that CF had taken from the world, lives that I am humbled to have met when I did. Lives that were more deserving of a second, third, and fourth chance than me, so I truly believe. I know my life matters; I know people want the absolute best for me and are willing to stand by my side to fight any battles I may come across.
The biggest battles I have ever fought are the constant battles with myself, specifically my mental health. I struggle to accept the fact that everything that has led to me being alive today was worth it.
Everyone who has passed away from cystic fibrosis has left a legacy because healthcare providers and other CF patients are able to learn more about how the disease effects the body. Because of these lost battles, we are closer to winning the war.
Sometimes it feels unfair, especially when you lose a loved one from the same illness you have; this is when survivor's guilt impacts my mental health the most. I often cast doubt on why I'm still alive by thinking that my lost loved ones were more deserving. I'm thinking of Matt, who was on the transplant list for years but, unfortunately, wasn't strong enough to wait any longer for the miracle call. There's also my beloved CF sister, who quickly fell ill and passed away due to meningitis, unrelated to CF or her transplant.
Sometimes finding joy in a life that was spared is tougher than trying to stay alive while fighting a chronic, genetic disease like cystic fibrosis. The key is to set goals for yourself -- both long-term and short-term. When times seem difficult, keep yourself occupied and surrounded by loved ones. Most importantly, keep on finding new hobbies and different activities you love doing.
The best way to say thank you, or to show how grateful you are post-transplant, is simply by living and breathing each day. Honor your donor's lungs by continuing to fight to live -- sometimes harder than you have ever fought before.
Live easy. Breathe easy.
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