My niece Lexi starts kindergarten today. A big accomplishment for her.
And, in a way, for me.
She came pretty close to not having this aunt.
When she was ready to arrive on this earth, I looked like I was ready to leave it.
I was seriously ill and getting sicker. Doctors weren’t sure what was wrong with me. They suspected lymphoma, based on my symptoms, but they couldn’t find any lymphoma cells. (Without knowing specifically what type of lymphoma I had, they couldn’t treat it appropriately.)
And, boy, did they look. I had three bone marrow biopsies, at least four spinal taps, a multitude of scans over a 10-month period. They took out my spleen, thinking for sure that it would contain lymphoma cells. But no luck.
My spleen was three times the size of a healthy one and while I was getting worse and worse, it was traveling the country, from hospital to hospital and expert to expert, to see if doctors elsewhere could find what mine could not.
They were all stumped.
They treated me for CNS vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels that affects the central nervous system.
Meanwhile, I was going downhill. I could barely speak or move. My doctors at the local hospital decided they had done all they could for me, including two sessions of plasmapheresis, taking all the blood out of my body and freezing it, then putting it back in. They were planning to hand me over to physicians at UCLA, but I was awaiting a bed.
On March 14, 2006, the day Lexi, my brother’s daughter, was born, I was in the intensive care unit of my local hospital. I had been hospitalized for six weeks.
I was pretty much unresponsive. I was getting huge amounts of drugs, so when I awoke I was too foggy to interact. I would open my eyes occasionally but did not seem to really connect. Doctors had told my husband that they weren’t sure if I had suffered brain damage or not, or if in fact, I would survive.
Then around 2 p.m. I awoke, barely. My husband, Matt, told me about Lexi being born. He and the nurse saw me open my eyes and my mouth instantly and smile briefly.
It was a bright moment during an incredibly grave time. It gave everyone pulling for me a glimmer of hope -- that I was still me inside and that I somehow might come through this. I did.
(The doctors gave me drugs to forget most of what I went through. But I remember being told about Lexi being born.)
When my brother Kevin emailed a photo of my beautiful new niece, my husband printed an 8 by 10 color copy and showed it to me, I smiled and shed a tear.
He put it on my bulletin board. The photo moved from room to room with me as I worked my way through the hospital-rehabilitation labyrinth. It continued to bring a smile to me and to others who visited my room.
While Lexi lives out of state and I don’t see her often enough, I still smile at the adorable pictures of her my brother posts on Facebook.
And my heart is with her as she begins kindergarten.
She’s come a long way, baby. And so have I.