I tried to be as cheerful as possible as I was led through the pre-op procedures. My stomach protested mightily. I chalked it up to nerves and the fact that I had been on a liquid diet for the three previous days. I mentally calculated how long it would be before I would actually get to eat real food again, and then tried not to laugh at the absurdity that under the circumstances, that’s what occupied my mind. The nurse started the IV on the first try, in spite of my challenging veins. I think she was secretly pleased. She ceremoniously presented me with the “feel good” shot, and told me that surgery might be delayed a bit. I snuggled under the warm blanket, and watched the clock.
The anesthesiologist came in to introduce himself. He was young, and confident, the kind of man who had been blessed with the trifecta of good looks, personality, and intelligence. His parents must have been mighty proud, I imagined. He made a few jokes. I laughed a little too enthusiastically. I resisted the urge to ask him how long he had been in practice. At my age, everyone seems to be a babe in the words.
I had hoped that I would get to see heaven as I had during my previous major surgery as they whisked me away and into the bright lights of the sterile operating room. I whispered an incoherent prayer only seconds before everything faded to black and all conscious thought went with it.
And just like that, it was all over. I woke slowly, the pain ripping through my body as my mind struggled to form a coherent thought. The rest happened rather quickly. I was told to bid goodbye to my husband as they wheeled me onto the surgical floor to begin my recovery. I was in and out of consciousness for the next ten hours, the Dilaudid pump my constant companion.
For six days, I was alone, cared for by the medical folks, to whom I was simply a name on a chart. You see, in 2020, when fear of Covid permeates every aspect of society, a hospital stay is not just a physical challenge, but an emotional one as well, since you are isolated from family and friends. Major surgery is never easy, but without the support of loved ones, the social interaction, the compassionate care, it is even more difficult. Somehow, as I went through my mental checklist in preparation, I hadn’t given this aspect much consideration. And it was cold, isolating, reducing the patient (me) to overt symptoms and test results. We are interdependent beings and relationships are the cushion in life that allows us to survive difficult times. When that is taken from the equation, everything changes. Everything.
I will spare you all the details of what went wrong, the sleepless nights interrupted by suited lab workers who resembled Darth Vader, the incontrollable pain, and accompanying nausea. There were detours I was forced to take on this road to getting better. And quite frankly, over three weeks later, I still have not arrived at the destination. It is a process; one I hadn’t quite prepared myself for. Instead of the smooth sailing, I expected, I had to navigate my boat through some mighty rough seas. Quite frankly, I am still paddling as fast as I can. And my arms feel like lead. My Pollyanna attitude backfired on me this time.
Nevertheless, arriving home felt like a real victory until I realized that it wasn't. My progress seemed to come to a screeching halt, much to my dismay.
Recently, I have been stuck by the idea of a microcosm. When you are forced to view the world from a sick bed, everything looks differently. While your existence becomes small, confined, the rest of society seems to be living large by comparison, going through their daily routines, unchanged. It is a shift in perception, no doubt. But it can be unsettling, and truth be told, there is a bit of envy there. Normal seem quite elevated. Let's face it: regardless of what is happening to you, the planet continues to spin. It is certainly true that life goes on.
Quite frankly, most difficult moments in life are transient. The bad times don’t last, and we hold tight to the promise of light at the end of the tunnel. This third battle with the cancer monster has given me pause. Suddenly, when the finish line is clearly in sight, another ten miles has been added to the race. At least that’s the way it feels. I pray that I have the wherewith all to break the ribbon. That's where the celebration happens. And I hold fast to the promise that they will be joy in the morning.
And so, I look toward tomorrow. It is hard to remain optimistic. I am trying, even if that requires that I did deep.
So here is what the future holds for me.
My doctor’s chemo nurse called. He recently met with the tumor board and presented my history, including my most recent pathology reports. There were slides and statistics and speculation. I imagine it to be much like those TV shows where their collective brilliant minds conjure up a heroic plan-of-action that saves the day. Let's pray that art imitates life. Ultimately, the “experts” have decided my fate: I will get "big guns" treatment, stronger than what I have had in the past. I have been warned about monumental nausea and ongoing skin issues. The friction of wearing footwear can cause blisters. (And no, the irony is not lost on me. I do so love my cute shoes) I must avoid temperature extremes, included my beloved hot showers. I will be losing my hair for the third time. I worry about my stamina as I face this yet again. I am not going to lie: I cried through most of the afternoon. I know what lies ahead, which doesn’t make it any easier to accept. It is true that sometimes ignorance is bliss.
After my first treatment, I considered getting a tattoo, a phoenix with feathers ablaze as it rises from the ashes. Now, I am thinking a blue butterfly is more appropriate. (You know how much I love them anyway.) It is transformed through difficulty. And I most certainly have been. Time will tell if I am made stronger.
Keep me in your prayers, will you? God ultimately has determined my fate, and I place my trust in His mercy. Surely, His grace is sufficient.
And maybe, the third time will indeed be the charm.