Keeping Hope Alive

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As Jaime recently mentioned, our summer has been great overall! He’s a summer enthusiast, I’m a summer enthusiast, and Lucas has followed in our footsteps to adopt summer as his favorite season as well. We’ve enjoyed days at the pool, time in our garden, park trips, games, lots of soccer, visits with family, art projects and bike rides. If you ask Lucas, though, he’ll tell you that his favorite part of summer is sleeping in as long as he wants. I didn’t realize those attitudes started at the young age of five but I’d have to agree, sleeping in is the best!

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A pool date and ice cream with cousins! Well, ice cream for the cousins and a banana for Lucas.

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Playing soccer in the sprinkler.

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Perler bead art project meets Lucas’s love of deer signs!

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Scrambled States game with more cousins!

Jaime also reported that I had been back to the doctor after finishing my round of IVs and was relieved to see that my lung function had come back up to 38%. When I first began the IVs I wasn’t sure what to expect. When I was on them two years ago I went from feeling a little sick to feeling horrible within the first week. This time, however, I felt much stronger and more stable throughout. Relief flooded in when I felt my breathing ease and I knew I was headed back up towards that 38%. Then I started to hope for more. I thought maybe I could surge up into the 40s again which would give me a little more cushion in case my lung function settled. During antibiotic treatments, my lungs are healthier than usual due to reduced congestion levels and less inflammation. It’s not uncommon for my lung function to drop a few points after I’m off the medications, once my chronic levels of bacteria return with their accompanying symptoms.

I made slow and steady progress in the first two weeks of my IVs, but into the third I felt myself plateau. It’s okay, I assured myself, at least you’re back to baseline.  I remember telling my sister that I almost wished I hadn’t hoped for the 40s because it looked like it wasn’t going to happen. It’s tiring being a hopeful person sometimes. Allowing yourself to hope means opening to the door to disappointment. Hopes that aren’t realized lead either to despair or require me to readjust my expectations.

I decided to readjusting my expectations was the way to go. Having done so, I was relieved, even excited to blow the 38%. The rest of the appointment went well too–my blood oxygen saturation, blood pressure, temperature and pulse were all normal. My lungs sounded clear and my heart sounded healthy.  The only thing that gave me pause was my doctor’s confession that he would feel more comfortable once I strung together six months of stability and we saw that the 38% was sticking.

I wanted to feel joy about the 38% and satisfaction for how hard I worked to see that number again, and I did, at least for a time. But after a few days, I began to feel the weight of his comment. I know where he’s coming from. What happened to me–a sudden and not-easily-explained eight point drop in lung function is not a good thing. He has treated hundreds of CF patients over the course of his career.  He certainly knows that lung function can slip down after a course of treatment. He knows from experience that as baseline lung function drops, patients are more likely to have frequent infections and health becomes more difficult to maintain. He’s a compassionate and caring man but he never sugar coats the truth.

And so a few days after the appointment I felt myself sliding into a place of grief. I felt sad that somehow I have gotten to this place of 38%.  I grieved the fact that I was even temporarily pleased with it. Wasn’t it just yesterday I was struggling because I had dipped into the high 40s? And not so long before that I was stuck in the upper 50s, straining with every fiber of my being to get back into the 60s? The honest truth is, I am sick and tired of readjusting my expectations.

With these unhappy thoughts coursing through my mind, I entered the adjustment phase–the span of time that my CF symptoms spike up as my body gets used to life without the help of antibiotics.  This means hours of coughing each morning and again in the evening, back pain, headaches, and poor nights of sleep. It’s about as enjoyable as it sounds. I began to feel certain that I would work and strive and do everything in my power to maintain that 38% and that it wouldn’t be enough, and my lung function would slip down to a new, lower normal. Sometimes it’s hard to hold onto hope when you’re so frequently disappointed, and feeling awful doesn’t help either.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who spent years in a Soviet work camp (and therefore knew a lot about despair) said, “All that the downtrodden can do is go on hoping. After every disappointment they must find fresh reason for hope.” Why is hope so important? We know from medical studies that hope itself has a healing power. Hope causes the placebo effect–where patients show improvements just because they believe they are taking a medication that will help them. Hope is such a strong influence that many drug studies are done double-blind so that the patients aren’t influenced by the unconsciously communicated hope of the researcher. There are studies that show that patients who have an attitude of hope experience much better outcomes than patients who feel defeated or depressed, and true hopelessness can even result in death.

Hope is an essential part of a healthy soul. When I’m hopeful I believe that there are good things ahead and that my life is worth fighting for.  It keeps me from giving up. I do get tired of readjusting my expectations. I weather plenty of disappointments in my life with cystic fibrosis. It’s hard that with a progressive disease, what I’m hoping for feels like “less” over time. Just two years ago I was hoping for 50% lung function. Now I’m hoping for 40%. Or even 38%. The numbers are less, but what is behind them is really the same. I want the health and strength to live a full and meaningful life.

The “small” hopes–hopes to recover from illness, hopes for a higher lung function, hopes for a better day tomorrow–they are important. If I didn’t wish for those things, if I didn’t think they were possible, I wouldn’t fight nearly so hard for them.  Sometimes they lead to disappointment. But better to hope and be disappointed than to live in darkness and despair.

I have other hopes too, ones that don’t require any adjusted expectations. I have the hope that God will transform and redeem my pain and bring wonderful good out of it–for me and for others. I believe that the ugliness and pain of this disease is only temporary but that the good God brings from it will be eternal. I don’t know all the ways God has redeemed my suffering but I have witnessed some things. I have seen my faith become stronger and deeper. I have been drawn and into a closer relationship with God and with others because of my dependency. I have struggled but I have also experienced victories. I have been knocked down but I have also overcome. The joys would not be so sweet without the hurts nor the victories so gratifying without the struggles. I know the eternal glories that await me when this life is through will far outweigh any loss I have sustained. I know God is using this disease for my good. I have built my life on that hope.

And my desire for a full and meaningful life? That can happen at 100% lung function, it can happen at 50%, and it can happen at 30%. It may look different at each step of the way and it may involve adjustments and disappointments. I may need to find fresh reasons for hope on a regular basis. But until the day that God calls me home to heaven, I know He will help me to truly live.

We wait in hope for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
    even as we put our hope in you. 

Psalm 33:20-22

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2 thoughts on “Keeping Hope Alive

  1. Jacqueline VanEerden

    Thank you so much Betsy . Just please know that there is much heart love behind these simple words. 💖💗💝

  2. Thank you for your insights into this stage of life with cf. Just this morning I saw a Ted Talk on grit and resilience which I think goes hand in hand with hope. It’s picking yourself back up again and again with the hope of making a difference and of a better day ahead. If you don’t have hope, it is so much harder.

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