20 years ago this week, I returned to Albuquerque after close to two years of being what I jokingly called a professional sick person. Lupus and the confused immune system that came with it had been not so slowly trying to kill me for years. I had just ended 18 months of chemotherapy and quit a medical trial early – which required going through mediation. But I was afraid the treatments were killing me faster than the lupus and I wanted out. My levels and tests were starting to look okay – my doctors were cautiously optimistic – and I was resolute in my decision to stop treatment and see what happened.
The only caveat – I was semi-regularly passing out, so I couldn’t live alone. Which meant I had to move back home with my family in Albuquerque. When I left Albuquerque in 1991 to attend college in Auburn, my plan was to never live in Albuquerque again – instead, I was always looking forward to new adventures in new places (a theme that continues to this day). So I was angry about having to move back to my hometown (to be honest, it felt like a failure) but willing to do whatever it took to get better without putting more poison into my body.
At the time that I quit treatment, a lot of medical experts weren’t sure I would see my 30th birthday (I was 27 at the time). Some of them went as far as to say that it was good I was going home to Albuquerque because it was better to be with my family at the end.
But then a lot of amazing things happened. I fell back in love with the high desert and remembered how much I always loved the red rock canyons that I spent so much time exploring as a young girl. I loved being able to spend more time with my family and old friends. I continued to feel better and passed out way less. Just two months after returning to ABQ, I went to the birthday party of an old friend and ran into Kyle in the driveway, playing basketball with the kids. We would spend large parts of the next year hanging out together – hiking, cooking, going to movies – before finally confessing that we each had a crush on the other. Sometimes I wonder if we ever would have met if I hadn’t been sick and had to move back home. I can’t imagine my life without him.
I think about all the moments from the past 20 years that were never promised to me – that I was in fact told with utmost certainty I would never have. So many adventures. Love. Marriage. Deep friendships. Nieces and nephews. Time with family and friends. Several iterations of careers. Weddings and celebrations. Funerals and heartbreak. A body that works and allows me to do all the things I ever wanted to do – dance, run, travel, trek, experience the world, spend time with people I love and spoil the heck out of them – and myself. It allows me to be present in this life that wasn’t even really supposed to happen. I am grateful every.damn.day for all this time I’ve been given and the health that allows me to enjoy it.
At 27, I was a completely different person than I was at 25. I got to have my life crisis early and there is definitely a sense of appreciation and gratitude that comes with that. 27-year-old Kathy would barely recognize herself now, but she would most certainly be impressed (& maybe even a little surprised) by all she’s done. And I’m proud of who she has become.
If I could go back in time 20 years and tell that tired and scared but very brave girl one thing, it would be this: Trust yourself. You know your body and yourself better than anyone. Your opinions about you matter. Also, eat the tacos – nutritionist be damned.
Cheers to all those moments that were never promised but that we get to have anyway. There is so much more life to be lived.