Time To Go

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEighteen hundred years old, and towering above me, the Grizzly Giant was a living reminder of resilience, strength, and vitality. Walking among the amazing sequoias, and seeing their ability to survive and regenerate after the damage of ravaging fires, inspired me. I savored the aromas of the forest, the fading chill of Winter, and the calls of the winged creatures flying above.

We arrived in the dark the night before. And it was freezing outside the comforts of my heated car. Thirty-one degrees to be exact. Someone had left a window open in the room, significantly diminishing the effectiveness of the old-fashioned radiator. Clothed in multiple layers, we huddled together for warmth in the small double bed. I didn’t sleep well that first night, but I was still excited to start the day’s adventures.

Last year I couldn’t have gone. I was still battling ongoing episodes of inflammation of my kidneys, which would land me in the hospital every few months. But this year, this year is different. All the infectious bacteria that caused my kidney failure have been found and eliminated. Throughout the winter I saw gradual changes in my lab tests, celebrated another birthday with friends, and began to return to my work helping others. I am healing. I am so much stronger and healthier. My blood pressure has been normalizing, along with more test results, and the stem cells are continuing to do their work.

It was time to go. Time to be near the giant trees, the melting snow, the massive walls of granite. For more than a decade I had wanted to see it, and now I would not be delayed. It meant missing a dialysis treatment, but I wasn’t worried. All life involves risk, and I knew my body could do it. I only wished that I was already in better hiking shape, and that I could stay longer to explore more.

As a chunk of ice floated down the river, I watched Spring unfolding. The deafening cascade of Yosemite Falls, the highest waterfall in North America, thrilled me as I drew closer. Looking up from its base, I yearned to hike to the upper section. But my body wasn’t quite ready yet to make the long trek. Mirror Lake, the meadows of the Valley, and the views of El Capitan and Half Dome all held endless wonders. It’s no surprise that John Muir and Ansel Adams were captivated. I’ve come a long way since being in the Intensive Care Unit a year and a half ago, and I’ll be hiking again in the Sierras in the near future.

The pictures don’t do it justice. They don’t convey the beauty and vastness of Yosemite National Park. Some people might believe that you can experience something or someplace by watching it on television, in the movies, or on the internet. You can’t. How will you know what it feels like to have the mist of Bridalveil Falls dampening your hair and skin? How will you feel the roaring thunder of the water in the depth of your Being as you draw closer, or smell the richness of the forest as you wander past mule deer?

Sometimes places call to me. Beckon me. And, often, daily demands have led me to ignore the callings of my Spirit. Work, family, relationships, bills, and responsibilities. Seeing death approach so closely has changed me forever. Now I listen to my Inner Voice. Now I heed the places that call to me. Now I embrace my independence, my fierceness, my uniqueness. Every day my kidneys heal more. Every day I get closer to coming off dialysis. Every day is one more step forward.

With the onset of Spring, I feel a restlessness in my bones. Spring is a time of life, renewal and rebirth. I can sense it within myself as well. This year, this Spring, I can go to the places that are calling to me. The places within and beyond. And, I am deeply grateful.

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Tall Tale

It may sound like a tall tale, but as revealed in the front page of my local newspaper today it’s all true.

As I sat at my kitchen counter drafting a letter to my benefactor, I decided to make one more call.  I decided to leave one more message.  What would be the harm?  I thought about what to say, and rehearsed it a few times.  Rehearsing for a phone message isn’t normal for me, but I wanted to convey my words in the right way.  Time was slipping by, and I reached out to hold the door open.  The door leading to my dreams blurring and merging into reality.

An eternal optimist.  A believer.  A dreamer of possible realities.  This is how I’d describe myself.  When things change in my life, even in the most awful ways, I prefer to believe that it is because there is something better around the corner on the cusp of entering my life.  I didn’t always see things this way, but I have for many years now.  It doesn’t mean I enjoy the dreadful moments and events that occur.  But, I know to let go of them sooner, laugh loudly, and re-dream.

This is part of my way of being.  Many people have tried to convince me that this is not a way to be.  That this is not reality, but mere fantasy.  When you’re life is on the line, you make choices.  I chose to dig in deeper, and grow my roots firmly into this way of being.  What’s the point in sharing this with you, dear reader?  Because I wish for this story of mine to inspire you and give you hope.

I dream of fully recovering from kidney failure.  I dream beyond this.  Why does my recovery have to be enough?  Perhaps I should go bigger, aim higher.  So, I dream of helping others with what I’ve learned as a dialysis patient and about the potential of healing with stem cell medicine.  For fourteen months I have been dreaming this.

I left a message, and then as before I hoped for a response.  Within an hour my phone rang.  My messages had been received.  My voice had been heard.  I listened as the person on the line explained what had happened with the check.  There had been concern that the check had fallen into the wrong hands.  “We would like to reissue the check”, said the man’s voice.  “I am here in town, can you meet me for lunch?”  Of course I replied with a resounding, “yes”.

“Om Mani Padme Hum” I repeated into the void of my car, as I drove to meet the employee of Ty Warner Hotels & Resorts the next day.  Mantras come in handy, when you’re anxious or worried.  Essentially they are a prayer repeated over and over.  They connect you with the Divine.  Whether a Tibetan Buddhist prayer like this one, or one to the Virgin Mary, they all speak to something higher than the self.

As I passed by him, I knew he was the man I was meeting for lunch.  We sat down inside the Biltmore, and with a large smile he reassured me that Ty Warner wanted to reissue the donation check.  He was warm and patient, as he listened to me talk about my pending stem cell treatment.  This wasn’t all though.  Ty Warner also wanted to support my efforts to bring attention to how stem cell medicine can help with kidney failure.  “Astounding”, I thought.  My second wish is also coming true:  potentially helping thousands of people have more access to information, which might positively change their lives.

The faith I had in Ty Warner’s kindness, sincerity, and generosity is just.  He is the donor I met that fateful day.  He is the man, who extended his hand to hold mine through his car window.  He is the man, who is opening his heart widely to help push my dreams forward.  My deepest gratitude goes out to Ty Warner, and I don’t have enough words to express the “thank you” from my heart and Spirit.

Dreaming and believing open the doors to endless possibilities.  Effort, work, and resilience will most likely be required on top of the dreaming.  Yet, the doors will begin to open.  I tell everyone that I will accomplish my dreams, and I disregard whatever negative or doubtful opinions they might have about them.  After all, they’re my dreams, and I will continue to have them.

The best possible outcome in Joy & Health. This is my focus. This is what I see.

Leap of Faith

Before I knew about the check fiasco, when I thought everything was done and ready, I tried to book my travel to get the stem cell treatment.  I had been researching previously, and learned that August is the least expensive time to travel there, to the clinic I’d selected.  An hour quickly went by as I reviewed airlines, travel routes, and hotels.  Of course, I selected the travel insurance option.  A woman can’t be too careful, when on dialysis and cruising out in the vast world with a chest catheter ever present.  I was ready to push the button and pay with my new debit card.  The one directly linked to my medical benefit fund at the bank.  Only it wouldn’t go through.  It was the weekend.  My bank was closed.  There was nothing I could do at that moment.

Due to the growing stack of medical bills, almost all of my money is consumed by doctors, hospitals, labs, and dialysis.  I’ve barely managed to handle these bills alone, thankful to those allowing me to set up payment plans of meager amounts:  ten dollars a month, maybe twenty-five at the most.  I do what I can to sort through it, match bills with EOBs, and catch the errors of my insurance company and the group that bills for emergency services at my local hospital.  It is a part-time job.

This is why I don’t have another way to pay for the travel other than this one debit card.  In case you’re wondering.

Periodically I would visit my friend downtown to tell her the latest news.  Walking through the door, I found her hard at work like usual even after business hours were over.  The decision was firm in my mind, and I’d finally chosen the clinic I believed would give me the best stem cell treatment for a fighting chance at kidney recovery.  It was June, and my friend listened patiently and attentively to my remarks about the clinic and the field of stem cell medicine.  Excitement lifted my voice, as I divulged trivia about the patient, who had successfully recovered following the same treatment.  I had spoken to this patient, and almost fell out my chair as I learned that this happened two years ago.  There had been no complications.  Only functioning kidneys as a result, and an end to dialysis.

This particular friend has always been a generous soul.  I go to her to get her opinion, and I highly value it.  Her comments were what I sought that day.  Nothing more.  As I rose to leave, she asked me what I thought it would cost to travel to the clinic.  Following my reply, she immediately grabbed her checkbook, and without hesitation wrote me a check for the exact amount.  Looking at me, she said now I could go whenever I was ready, and that I could use the funds however I wanted.  Once in the solitude of my car, salty wet drops smeared my makeup and rolled across my neck.  There have been so many reasons for tears throughout this health crisis, although the ones cried for joy are much sweeter.

Quietly resting in my bank account, these funds waited.  I waited for Monday.  The earliest day I could go to my bank and fix the problem with my debit card.  The problem was partially mine, since I’d forgotten to lift the transaction limit on the card.  I thought it would be simple.  It wasn’t.  Plans were crumbling, and monies were unraveling.

Days passed, and my iron-strong intuition kept pestering me that I needed to book the trip.  I needed to go no matter what.  I prayed for guidance and clarity, as I do more often than people realize, and remained open to seeing and hearing whatever messages might come through.  I had enough to pay for the travel, but not enough for the treatment.  Not even enough for the deposit with the clinic, for which I had negotiated.  I knew I had to go sooner than later, and at the time I was still attempting to figure out what had happened to the pivotal donation check.

Everyone has moments when they have to decide to leap or not to leap.  I was facing mine.  Friends kept telling me to “GO”.  One of my doctors randomly called me and said, “you just need to go, get the treatment, get well, and get that catheter out of your chest.”  I listened.  I heard the message over and over.  It was time to leap.  To have faith that my friends, family, community, strangers, and the Divine would hold out their hands to support me and get me there.

“Dearest Archangel Gabriel, give me the strength to get through this”, I asked every day and night.  With lightly sweaty hands and fingers, I pulled up the travel itinerary on my computer.  Rechecking the details, I confirmed.  My debit card worked this time.  It was done.  Like falling off a cliff into the darkness unable to see the bottom, I lept into my future.

A handful of people knew about this before today.  People, who I could count on to be positive, and who wouldn’t think I was too crazy.  Truthfully, I must be a little crazy to take this leap.  Faith and believing in the Light, the Divine, the Goodness in others requires craziness.  Some have been callous.  Some have been all talk.  Some haven’t viewed organ failure as a serious malady, warranting immediate action.  Never mind them.  I relish having the experience of seeing the best of humanity, or as penned by the devout Tukaram, “how then can a heart feel it is broken and in need if we are held in the arms of infinite compassion and strength?”

I AM going.  Today, in this moment, I am savoring the secrets I have yet to tell.  Shortly, they will have their moment as well.  Confusion and misunderstandings are fading fast.  Time will fly by, and then I’ll be boarding the plane, racing to a renewed lease on life.  I may only be leasing my body for a lifetime, but I can’t wait to extend the lease.

To you, who have listened, given, prayed, reached out, reconsidered, cheered me on, and embraced me with love:  my eternal thanks.  Without you, I couldn’t have made it even this far.  Blessings, blessings, blessings.

The Type of Letter You Keep Forever

“Oh my GOD”, I thought as I drove in my car to my office last Tuesday night.  “This could be it.  I could actually be going.”  I didn’t expect anyone to still be at the office, and no one had called to tell me that a package had arrived.  A package that could potentially change the course of events in my life.  Entering through the waiting room, I found that someone was still there working.  Passing by with a “hi”, I quickly walked to my office in the back with trembling anticipation.

I had received an email the day before.  In rereading it with my mouth hanging open, I realized that the package was waiting for me.  And, now, I saw it in the shadowy light of my office.  Flicking the switch, light revealed that it was an overnight FedEx envelope resting on my desk’s glass surface.  It was from his business in the Chicago area, as promised verbally only a few days before.

In seconds I had it open, and I was reaching inside and pulling out the cream envelope inscribed with one word:  “Jennifer”.  The handwritten letter by the donor was genuine and heartfelt.  It was the type of letter you keep forever, and accompanying it was the check.  A check that could change my life in an instant.  Streaming tears of relief and amazement fell uncontrollably from my eyes, as I walked out of the room back towards the exit.  I was flooded with indescribable emotion.

The cost of roundtrip travel.  The cost of the dialysis treatments while there.  The cost of the stem cell treatment itself.  Food.  Lodging.  Calculating numbers in my head, I concluded that I might have enough now to go without worrying about anything.  I might have all that I need to claim my life back and continue my journey here on Earth.  All the tension in my body released and an unbelievable feeling of euphoria began to fill me.  Beaming a smile from ear to ear, I floated to my car to start sharing the news.

“Mom, are you sitting down?”, I asked over my cell phone.  She already knew the back story.  She, along with a few friends, already knew the name of the donor and how I met him.  He’d rolled up in his nondescript car, while I was fundraising at the French Festival.  He was lost and needed directions.  I often get asked by random strangers for directions.  Not one to miss an opportunity, I handed him my flyer and he made a fifty dollar donation.  As he drove off, I thought that was the end of our encounter.  One of my girlfriends with me that Saturday morning noticed his return before I did.  Again he stopped at my table near the entry to the parking lot.  He’d returned after an hour or so.  Rolling down his window, he reached out his hand and introduced himself.  I immediately recognized his name.  He was kind and sincere as he looked directly into my eyes, and the woman with him smiled at me.  They’d read my flyer.  I listened as he repeated over and over that he was going to help me.  That my fundraising was done.  That I didn’t need to worry any longer.  He said he would send a check after he returned to his offices during the week.

For the next few days I began to make plans to get the much-needed stem cell treatment.  Excited doesn’t adequately explain how I felt about having a normal life within my reach.  I began to dream about swimming in the ocean again, showering like a normal person, and I relished the thought of having my chest catheter removed.  A life without dialysis.  A life with all my organs working.

Over the years people have commented on the intensity of my life.  What’s that saying?  “God never gives you more than you can handle.”  I’ve worked hard to get where I am, meaning to fully get to being my True Self.  To let my Divine Self shine out as much as possible.  I’ve tried to become more patient, more tolerant, more compassionate, and to laugh often at life’s quirks as well as my own.  I consider myself truly blessed to have studied numerous meditation techniques, and yoga with wonderful teachers and Tibetan monks since my late twenties.  They’ve armed me with the very tools I need to get through this, and to continue moving forward.

A couple of days ago I had to go into my bank, to fix a problem with the debit card I now have for my medical benefit fund.  That was how I found out that a stop payment had been placed on the check.  The very check, that was going to go a long way in saving my life.  Shock took over.  “What?  Why?  How was this possible?”, I wondered.  Tears once more overtook my cheeks.  Immense sadness washed through me, as I struggled to grasp this news.  When something phenomenal is given and then is abruptly taken away, it jolts you to the core.  Not having it at all is easier than this.

I don’t have any answers yet.  There’s been no response to my email and phone calls.  I still believe that the donor meant to give me his gift.   After all he took time to write that touching letter.  I can’t fathom that a person would intentionally crush another’s hopes and renewed chance at life.  I can’t understand why any person would behave this way.  Perhaps it was an error.  Perhaps he’s not available to remedy the problem right now.  Perhaps he doesn’t know.  Perhaps I’ll never know.

I can only pick up where I left off:  striving to raise enough for the stem cell treatment.  In the book, Siddartha, there is a technique of visualizing the word “Om” riding on the breath and aiming towards a target as you exhale.  The seeker only focuses on this without distraction.  This is how I feel now, and how I have since the day I originally learned of my kidney failure.  Unwavering focus on recovering.  Unwavering attention to the Light streaming into my kidney cells, healing me.   I pray to the angels, my guides, my Guardian Angel, my teachers and ancestors, and those of the Light that it may be so.  Mere Gurudev.  Om Santih.