Book Review: Three Amazing Things About You by Jill Mansell

Favourite Line “A mixture of horror and sympathy flickered across his face as the information sank in.”

I’ve always been rather snooty when it comes to book characters with Cystic Fibrosis. Characters who were like me were the only thing lacking from the stories I grew up on. On the odd occasion when I have stumbled across them, the medical details were never quite right, and the characters themselves seemed shallow.

I saw a recommendation from another person with Cystic Fibrosis for Three Amazing Things About You by Jill Mansell and thought I’d give it a go. I felt an initial connection to the character of Hallie, but the discrepancy with medical details jarred a little. Some medical details were simply not feasible, some treated insignificantly, and another major plot point used an outdated transplant technique as an emotional grab.

As a writer I see why she chose these elements for her story. A domino transplant (*my explanation of a Domino Transplant does reveal a potential spoiler) tugs the heartstrings a little more and a non-chatty protagonist doesn’t read well on paper. I assured myself the inaccuracies in the outdated medical details were because Mansell had to research this novel, she is not an #ownvoices writer.

Despite this, I had a huge emotional connection to Hallie – in particular her desire for Ross to see her as a person first, and a person who happens to have a chronic illness second. I know her frustration and the emotional impact all too well.

I dated other people with Cystic Fibrosis to avoid this issue. I settled for a toxic relationship because that seemed easier than living alone. The worst heartache I experienced was the devastation when, in the midst of a mad affair, my health plummeted and I watched a man I so desperately wanted to love me, look at me with pity because of the PICC line in my arm.

In the blink of an eye, as Mansell brought back those emotions I know so well, the inaccuracies no longer mattered. In that moment, with those emotions, she nailed it.

You’ll find more of my recommendations for reading about Cystic Fibrosis on my Pintrest Board : Cystic Fibrosis in Print – Books and More

Letter With No Address

The day our paths collided, you became my lifeline. I was, you see, in a far worse position than I allowed myself to believe. At best, I had mere weeks left to live, yet somehow I convinced myself that there were months, and many of them.  That denial regarding the true state of my health gave me the determination to cling to life.

To be brutally honest, I didn’t give much thought to the origin of my new lungs, which makes my discussions seem a little clinical now. But please understand, this was a coping mechanism – I was hanging on by my fingernails, existing on hope, and although I knew someone else had to die, I didn’t dwell on it. There is a sense of desperation, a willingness to embrace any option when your time starts running out.

In my yearning to continue living, I never thought of you as a person. As an individual with hopes and dreams. Instead, donated lungs were an abstract concept, part of a selfless act that would save my life. Donated from a generous individual and with consent from a family brave and strong, who during a dark and horrible day and in the midst of their grief, still thought of others.

Reflecting makes me feel a little callous and shallow because I think about you every day now. I’m so consciously aware that these lungs, now a part of me, once belonged to you. And you are someone real. Someone who breathed, walked and talked. Someone who was happy and sad. Someone who loved and was loved. Someone who gave me much more than a second chance. Someone to whom I will always be connected, although I will never know you.

I am entrusted with the guardianship of taking care of a part of you, and with it comes the responsibility to live life well and to the fullest. Since the day your lungs became a part of me, I’ve experienced many milestones, both big and small. My extra time has not been wasted.

More importantly, there is a simple pleasure in waking each morning to take a sweet breath without coughing, without gasping, without pain. And each wonderful breath is followed by another. Because your lungs, our lungs, do what lungs are supposed to, naturally and without effort, giving me more energy to pour into the world and make a difference to those things that matter most to me.

I am not who I was before the transplant, although I am still me. My son describes my changes succinctly. I am, he says, who I was always meant to be. But of my changes, great and small, it is the ones with no explanation that fascinate me the most, as if a part of you has imprinted onto me.

The words “my donor” leave a bureaucratic taste in my mouth. To me, it reflects an impersonal nature, as if this had been an ordinary transaction between strangers. There is nothing ordinary about this; it feels deeply personal to me. You’ve given me so much more than a second chance; it’s as if the final jigsaw piece has slotted into place and now I’m complete. As long as I continue to breathe, your contribution to my life will never be forgotten. I have this fervent wish that wherever you are, you know what an impact you’ve had.

There is nowhere I can send this letter, it has no address. So instead, I’ll send two little words out into the universe and hope that somehow they find you and let you know you made a difference.

thank-you

Sunday 20th November 2016 is national Thank You Day for our fabulous organ donors and their families.

donatelife-thank-you-day-2016

Growing Up When Your Mum Has Cystic Fibrosis. Part 3

This last part of my interview with my son  deals with his thoughts when I was called for a transplant.

Part 1 deals with Jarryn’s childhood and Part 2 his decision to move to Sydney when I was listed for transplant.

 

Where were you when you heard that your Mum had been called for a transplant?

The first week at my new school I made my regular teachers aware of mum’s situation and knowing that if Mum rang the call would be important, they had all given permission for me to answer my phone if she called.

I was in film class when my phone rang. My step-brother Ronan picked it off my desk and said, “Your Mum is calling.”

I grabbed my phone and went to race outside but the relief teacher held his hand up for me to stop. Ronan explained the situation for me, but by the time I got outside, the phone had stopped ringing. I immediately rang back and Grant answered the phone. My heart stopped for a second thinking this was bad news, but Grant said, “Your Mum’s having an x-ray, she’ll be out in a minute with some news for you.”

I don’t know what we talked about while I waited for Mum to come to the phone, but the first thing Mum said was, “I’ve been offered a set of lungs.”

What was your first thought after the phone call ended?

I have never been so freaked out in my life and I wondered if I had just spoken to my mum for the last time.

What happened next?

I sat down for a while before I went back to class. Everyone asked what was going on. I hadn’t told many people that my mum was sick and they all stared at me when I said, “My Mum is going into surgery to have a lung transplant.”

There wasn’t anything anybody could do or say that would help me. I just had to wait.

And it was a long wait.

The next pieces of information arrived by text. Due to the time difference between Sydney and Perth I knew Mum would be in surgery until midnight. The first text Grant sent said that the surgery had started. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, I felt helpless. The deputy principal let me sit in the library for the rest of the afternoon.

Waiting for the text to arrive was torture. That next one informed me that Mum’s right lung had been transplanted and they were starting on the left lung. Just after midnight, I learnt that Mum was in recovery.

In the morning, my Grandma rang to tell me she had been to see Mum and everything was progressing well. In the afternoon Grant sent a text to say Mum was off the ventilator and breathing on her own.

On Sunday , when the phone rang I thought it was Grant with bad news. But it was Mum! She didn’t say much, but I instantly felt calmer. I could hear that she was no longer gasping for breath.

Despite this, I was still worried. I was used to Mum being sick, but this felt different. I didn’t know what to expect next, and I didn’t know what the warning signs would be.

I was booked to fly to Perth a few days after Mum left hospital. I’d been warned that because Mum’s immune system was weak it was really important that I was honest if I got sick. If Mum got sick at that stage would be dangerous, so if I had a cold or other symptoms I’d have to stay at Grandma’s house. I was paranoid that I was going to catch something, so I kept my distance from everyone.

The plane ride took forever. I knew Grant was going to pick me up while Mum stayed home (keeping infection risks to a minimum) and that as soon as I got home I would have to shower (plane germs) before I could see Mum. I thought not hugging her was going to be hard, but she waved at me from the lounge room and I could see straight away that everything was okay.

All my tension melted away.

Is your mum different post transplant?

A little different, it’s like the Mum I saw at home when I was younger, everyone else sees now too. As if this is who she was always meant to be, and her old lungs held her back – that she didn’t have enough energy to be herself around other people. Now she seems to have more energy, and she’s happier, and she talks a lot more now too – but she’s still my Mum.

Jarryn and Sandi - Scotland 2013

Jarryn and Sandi – Scotland 2013