April 19, 2012

A Twist On Be-Longing

Several weeks ago I went to a play at the University of Otago entitled, Be-Longing.  It was a lovely, innovative play about immigrants in Dunedin.  Upon entering the small theatre, the usher approached me and asked if I would please first head over to a map on display and put a pin where I feel I belong.  I immediately just about stopped short in my tracks.  I thought I was going to cry, standing there in front of that map with a little pin in my hand!  I was stunned to realize that I was tempted to put the little pin on Dunedin. 
The events that have lead to this new grounding in Dunedin are not events that I ever could have predicted.  Several months ago I was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder called Primary Myelofibrosis.  It all started with a routine blood test. Then I was called back into Student Health. The next day I was in the Haematology/Oncology department of the Dunedin Public Hospital. And the day after that I was having a bone marrow biopsy which, when the test results came back some time later, confirmed the diagnosis.  I’ll post more about the disorder some time. For now, it’s enough to say it is serious and will require some management for the rest of my life.  The prognosis is pretty unknown, the only cure is a bone marrow transplant, but that is not deemed necessary at this time as I am a best-case scenario patient for long-term management.  

Ever since the diagnosis, I’ve been wondering whether or not to mention it in my blog.  But the more I think about it, the more I realize it would be really hard for me to blog WITHOUT mentioning it because this is now a large and important piece of who I am, pervading even my migrant experiences.  Though the two may seem unrelated – being a migrant and now having a chronic condition to manage – they are, actually, very related.  I realized this when I wanted to put the pin of my belonging, for the first time, in Dunedin. 

See, this huge and unexpected medical experience has basically changed everything.  I can’t do a comprehensive description of what the last months have been like, but we’ve have been on a wild ride of tests, research, copious information, treatment plans and medications.  I have also sought out a naturopath, a meditation guide, changed my diet and implemented an exercise regime all to help me cope physically and mentally.  I have cut back to part-time studies.  And this is only the beginning of the changes we’ve been handling.  My husband has been on this wild ride with me at every turn.  The doctors have been amazing and my care here has been exceptionally high quality.  We have a long road ahead of us, managing this situation, but we’ll get there. I’m determined. 

All of this has made me feel immensely grounded right here, right now, right where I am.  Five months ago, I didn’t know I had any health problems, now I know I need medical intervention to stay healthy and alive and that intervention is based right here, in little old Dunedin, the town at the end of the earth -- with a medical teaching hospital I can see from my kitchen window! My care has been free, my prescriptions are $3, my doctor takes a good amount of time with me at every appointment.  We have a lovely new house, in which I can rest and recuperate between the ups and downs.  We even have a lovely neighborhood cat that keeps us company (when she pleases, of course!)  I have a valuable handful of concerned, supportive people here for me. I even have a hair dresser who is basically an unrecognized health and mental health practitioner herself!!  I am right here. I am, actually, precisely where I am supposed to be.  I may have come to feel this way eventually anyway, but this situation has really sped matters up!

My ties to my friends and family overseas have also been strengthened because of all of this.  I am connected to them intimately on a daily basis and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  It’s hard not to be closer to some of the most important people in my life, especially with my new-found appreciation for the preciousness of loved ones. But I have a new odd peace about my situation. 

As I stood in the dimly lit theatre, having a mini internal crisis, the usher sort whispered and said, “You can mark two places if you’d like.”  Whew! I had to laugh a little. She was probably afraid I was having a breakdown. Crisis averted. I put a pin on Alaska, I’m not ready to give that place up. And I put a pin on Dunedin, still surprised that for the first time, I do feel a sense of belonging here.  And then I mentally put a little pin on every other place where I have a dear friend or family member supporting and thinking of me. 


  1. I'm sorry to hear about the diagnosis - what a wild ride, indeed! Thinking of you!

  2. Thank you for sharing this experience with us—I'm sorry for the negative changes this brings, but am uplifted by your hope for the situation! If there's one thing I do know about those who "belong" to the coldest parts of the earth, they are strong, resilient and survivalists :)

  3. I just stumbled upon your blog from the Expat Women directory and this post really resonated with me. As an expat in the UK,I often have a very schizophrenic take on the meaning of 'home'. I am sorry to hear about your diagnosis, but appreciate your decision to share it with your readers.

  4. Now I understand a bit more of why Dunedin has finally become "Home" for you.

    I hope you are doing well..Lots of love