Day +229: post traumatic stress and healing and writing

Hi, I’m going to tell you a story. When I had really bad GVH in December, I gained about 30 pounds (of fluid) in a week. Almost all of the fluid was concentrated in my abdomen, so I looked literally 9 months pregnant. I also had really cute cankles which was nice. Gaining that much weight that fast is extremely painful – not only did the GVH itself hurt, my entire body was swollen and my skin couldn’t stretch fast enough to accommodate all of the fluid.

The fluid accumulated primarily because, due to the GVH, I was lacking a protein called albumin, which helps to pull fluid into the veins and keep it out of tissue. The hospital would periodically infuse me with albumin, which didn’t really help until suddenly one day in January it did. I peed all night and lost 7 pounds the first day after that. I lost about the same the next day, and the next, and the next. Eventually, my pregnant belly and my cankles were gone and I was left just a scary thin human who hadn’t consumed anything by mouth in two months (except when I not-so-slyly cheated on the no water rule – which I do not recommend oops).

I think I cried every day that week. And not out of relief, but because I was terrified. What if it happened again? What if I gained all that weight back in a week again? I had one of only two panic attacks I experienced during treatment – shoutout to the resident who talked me off that ledge and convinced me that the hyperventilating wasn’t due to my lungs being full of fluid (hey, it had happened before with the messed up central line so I’m not going to call myself irrational).

Here is why I am telling you this story – I think that I tend to blog when I feel better, more in control of the situation. Over the past few weeks I have felt a lot better and I have started to catch up with friends again. People ask me how I am, they tell me it’s amazing how positive I have been. I am telling you this story because I want you all to know that you got the sugar-coated version. And none of it was a lie – everything I have written on this blog has been 100% genuine. But of course it has been affected by how I feel when I write and by the limitations of my ability to really get you in my head and relay my experience. I wasn’t writing cute blog posts while I was so weak that I couldn’t move my legs when a blanket was on top of them because it was too heavy and I had 2 chest tubes and an NG tube and a triple lumen femoral line and I sincerely felt like I would never recover. And now that I’m starting to feel better, it’s incredibly difficult to relay these types of experiences, especially in passing conversation.

As I continue to heal, I spend half of my time feeling thrilled to be somewhat back to myself and the other half terrified that it could be taken away at any moment. Throughout all of this, I feel compelled to write. I am processing my experience and want to get some of the darker stuff out. I am thinking some sort of essay series, but I’m still brainstorming. I would love to use this project to raise money for AML research. If you know anything about writing/publishing or have any useful advice, please reach out –  I know literally nothing but I am starting to do some exploring. Above all, thanks for reading the blog – despite my horror at the depths of illness I have experienced, I am continually grateful for the support and for my life.

PS: bonus pic of me with aggressive steroid face ugh I hate prednisone so much

Does the skinny arm detract from the aggressive steroid face?

A post shared by Brooke Vittimberga (@brookevitti) on

 

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About Brooke Vittimberga

I have cancer...oops
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7 Responses to Day +229: post traumatic stress and healing and writing

  1. Kayla says:

    I’m getting married in 10 days (!!!) and starting to write a book as soon as we get back from our honeymoon. I don’t know anything about being an actual author, but I love to write, and I’ve been exploring and talking about it forever. Let’s chat!

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  2. Mary Fallon says:

    You are beautiful, steroids or not! You are an amazing writer and one tough youn lady! Sending positive thoughts your way! Mary

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  3. Hey, Brooke – My name is Christina and I found your blog a long time ago through a mutual friend (I was Stanford ’14 who coincidentally also studied abroad in Cape Town). I wanted to start off by thanking you for sharing your story through all the stages of your treatment – that’s incredibly brave and generous of you. I noticed your “about me” says you’re premed, and I wanted to say that if that continues being what you want to do, you should absolutely pursue it because you would be a great source of compassion and strength for your patients. Last thing is that I think it’s great that you want to write about an essay series about your experience – I don’t know if you’ve taken any creative writing courses on campus, but I would highly recommend applying for a Levinthal Tutorial (a one-on-one course with a Stegner Fellow where you get to choose the texts you read and the topic you write on) once you’re back. I also think the Stanford English dept. has a list of publications that are open to submissions from new writers, so it might be worth shooting them an email to get ahold of that. I also have a friend (another fellow Cardinal) who’s currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing as a way of documenting her own experiences with serious illness, and I could put you two in touch as she might have some resources that would be helpful to you. Let me know.

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    • Hi Christina – thanks so much for your comment! I just looked up the Levinthal Tutorial and it looks amazing. I will definitely be applying. I would also love to connect with your friend working on the MFA. Feel free to message me on facebook or send me an email at bavittim@stanford.edu.

      And yes, I am still premed 🙂 The nurses at CHO have told me that their patients tend to either stick very close to medicine or run very far away and I am definitely in the former category.

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