Why I’m No Longer Hiding the Reality of My Illness


I’ve spent this past week learning how to self-cannulate, how to locate veins in my arms, how to make them stand out by dipping a limb in hot water, how to tell which ones are sclerosed from old cycles of chemotherapy from the way they feel when a needle meets the vein wall. In three four-hour training sessions, I learned how to hold a butterfly needle so my hand doesn’t shake while I’m piercing my skin in search of a usable vein. I  learned I mustn’t hesitate with needles. One smooth, decisive movement. I also spent an entire morning looking for veins — digging needles into my flesh, pulling them back, going in again and again and again and failing. A few days later I hit a vein on the first try.

For years after I became ill, I refused to share my reality with others. People who loved me and who I loved were left frozen out while I refused to acknowledge what my day-to-day situation was, never mind the emotional havoc that situation was creating. I distanced myself with exquisite skill from friends and relatives in a way that ensured what I was doing was beyond reproach. Paradoxically, through this time I have also been very honest with a couple of close friends about…well, everything.

In a way we all do this. We create personas and master them. And while I’m not advocating crying over one’s week at work or telling a stranger on the bus about self-cannulation, nine years into this journey I’ve reached a place where I just want to be as honest about my day with others as they are about theirs with me.

Needles, catheters, angioedema, blood clots, infections and incurable disorders are not everyone’s cup of tea and I get that. But that is my reality. Sometimes it’s a reality I cherish and on other days it can be torturous, just like everyone else’s. So I’m trying something different and actually talking to people about this stuff. And it certainly feels less exhausting than hiding it.

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Zoe and her daughter

Follow this journey on Iced Coffee Creature.

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