Be Here Now: How Major Surgery Changed My Outlook

I grew up in a family that strongly believes in the concept “be here now,” a saying from spiritual teacher Ram Dass, and though my family isn’t a religious one, it still resonates deeply with us.

It was January 2012, and over the past three months I'd developed a severe cough—similar to what one gets after a three-pack-a-day habit. In those 12 weeks my general practitioner had diagnosed me with bronchitis and pneumonia, and prescribed three medications and inhalers, none of which did anything for me. My mom, like any incredible Jewish mother, kept mentioning that it was time to call the doctor for further review.

So there I was, 27 years young, calling my doctor, being referred to a pulmonologist, and scheduling a very terrifying appointment. After a full day at NYU with my mother, we received the results of my X-ray and breathing test, both of which showed up fine. At that moment, she thought it was over, that nothing was really wrong. I, however, could feel that that wasn’t the case.

I woke up the next day to a phone call from my pulmonologist asking me if I was sitting down, if my parents were with me. This isn’t a good sign, I thought. My parents were at the gym and I couldn’t reach them. I asked her to give me the news, and the doctor said, “Harper, we found a very large cyst in your lung. It’s not cancerous but it’s really big and needs to be removed. You need to have surgery.” Later that night, my parents and I tried to comprehend the magnitude of all this.

Shock turned to focus, the phone calls began, and we rushed to get a second opinion. It took several consultations, including a trip to the National Institute of Health in Maryland, to determine if surgery was the right move for me, my body, and my life. It turned out I had aspergillus (a fungus in my lung), and the operation would result in the removal of ¼ of my lung.

The cards, cupcakes, flowers, teddy bears, emails, calls, texts, and more came crashing in pre- and post-surgery. It was almost overwhelming, but in the best way possible. I was fighting this newfound role as “the sick person,” but welcomed the outpouring of love and support that came with it.

Several weeks after my surgery, the cards dwindled, the emails stopped overflowing my inbox, and my cell phone sat relatively silent. “The sick person” had recovered, or at least hadn’t gotten worse. It’s nobody’s fault, but the large amount of support I experienced left as quickly as it came, and that was hard to process.

On top of everything, I didn’t even know what I wanted. At times I wanted the spotlight on myself, while at others I wanted to hide in my apartment. Some people in my life understood these waves of emotions and fought alongside me, knowing I was going through something bigger than me, them, or us. Others didn’t fare as well, and sadly the cracks in those relationships were revealed. I hold no hard feelings, but I do have a greater sense of who will really be there for me. Unconditionally.

A year later and I’m almost fully recovered. I’ve learned to listen to my body instead of dismissing its warnings. Several months prior to seeing my pulmonologist I rejected my body and its alerts. Today I stand proud, with an eight-inch scar down my back, confident that I’ll never write off my body again. At the first event at my current job, one of the speakers said, “Take care of your body, it’s the only place you have to live.” That stuck with me. Sure, I’ll give in to that late-night slice of pizza or extra glass of wine every now and then, but I know where my body’s boundaries are today, and I know how to make this home of mine the best environment possible for me.

Two of my best friends and I went away on a yoga retreat at The Garden a few weeks ago and I was met with delicious healthy food, inspiring classes, and a deeper connection with myself. I was removed from my phone and nonstop thoughts, and transplanted to the right here, right now. This presence is as crucial to my ongoing recovery and wellness as the sensible food plan I’ve started.

“Be here now,” and, “Everything happens for a reason,” I can’t help but think. They both ring true, and they've both brought me to this place I write from today: one filled with happiness, health, and optimism.

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