I know you are a cynic/ but I think I can convince you.
Yeah, cause broken people can get better/ if they really want to.
Or at least that’s what I have to tell myself if I am hoping to survive.
It’s a long road up to recovery from here, a long way back to the light.
Frank Turner, “Recovery”
It isn’t something that I talk about a lot in this blog; I’ve used it primarily as a tool to explore the psychological and emotional toll of an end-stage cancer diagnosis.
However, I suspect that as I progress, it will be harder and harder to keep the two separate. Pain is like a veil. When it is all-consuming and immediate, it drapes over you until you are unable to see anything beyond it.
The good thing about pain is that it is never supposed to last forever. It always ends, if we can only bear through it, be strong, and let it pass.
The flip side to Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay” is that the inverse must also be true, correct?
I am usually a pretty tough cookie when it comes to pain. Minor physical annoyances gained no sympathies growing up. The term “melodramatic” was thrown around a lot if an attempt was made, so I quickly learned how to suck them up and ignore them. So if something does knock me down? Pay attention.
I knew going in that this was going to be a tough surgery with a long recovery. I had envisioned day 1 being the worst, with a slow steady climb up from there. What I didn’t know was that more like a series of hills. It gets worse, then easier, than worse, etc. The only good news is that the hills themselves appear to get less steep as you continue on the long journey.
Each day has been unique. Each day my body decides for me which front of the overall pain war I will be facing that day.
Initially, it was mostly incision pain and exhaustion. Then the muscle soreness from lack of movement came marching in to the chorus. Not to be outdone, severe gas pain and cramps made their entrance, loud and proud. This was all in the first week. But I was okay. This is ground zero, only up from here! I didn’t know yet that it was only the first hill.
Before leaving the hospital, I was treated to two blood transfusions and two iron infusions to try to get my internal engine back up and running again. At first sign of an uptick, they released me, but we stayed in a hotel for two additional nights locally anyway just in case.
My first really bad night was also the first night out of the hospital. I spent hours writhing in pain as my husband snored blissfully all night beside me. In the morning, I was drenched in pain from head to toe and had barely slept. I snapped at my husband.
In the morning I had a bit of a break down.
I’ve had surgery before. I have been sick before. It happens. It passes. But a long night of sleepless misery is the perfect time for dark thoughts to swoop in and stay awhile. It gives them ample room for storytelling.
I started to think of the inevitable pain that will begin to increase at the end. I thought about the limitations of pain medications. I thought about how I felt like Abe and I were living in separate worlds where there is no way that he can feel or fully understand what I am going through. I realize that anything I take to help ease the pain is bound to also make me less lucid.
The weight of how terrible this will all be in the end soaked into me, layer by layer. We try to soft-focus these details to protect ourselves. Pain without adequate relief is suffering. Sacrificing your awareness of the time left to mitigate pain is an unfair trade-off. Will seeing Mom this way hurt my kids? Will I snap at them too?
I will not simply one day go frolicking in a meadow, fall asleep and never wake up. Why can’t we do that? Why haven’t we figured out a better way? Probably because we all just assume that we will fall peacefully asleep in bed at 95.
Of course, this surgery is not the end yet. I fought for this surgery. I hope that it will buy me some time. I had 17 tumors ablated or removed from my liver (all but four sub-centimeter), the rest of my colon removed, my omentum removed, cyto-reductive surgery of peri mets, and finally HIPEC (heated chemo bath). The whole surgery took upwards of 14 hours. When it ended at around 12:30 the next morning they didn’t bother waking me, but sent me instead to the ICU under continued sedation until morning. I was asleep for nearly a full 24 hours in total.
And they didn’t get everything. There are still some Peri mets wrapped up in my intestinal loops. But they did get a LOT. A whole lot. That has to buy me time- very precious time- that will be more than worth every bit of the pain that I am going through now.
Week #2 has brought increased gas pain, which finally led to vomiting. Fatigue has persisted. My appetite is pretty much non-existent. Unsurprisingly, my blood work from Tuesday has come back with very low ironiron co again, so I need to call and schedule another iron infusion with my oncologist here locally.
This time, it will get better. This time it will pass.
And today I am 41. Just waking up today, looking around, and seeing all of the wonderful things that I have made in my life has been priceless. Grand gestures not open to me, I’ve soaked in a few simple pleasures. A long bath that makes me a prune to fend off tummy troubles. A half of a plate of eggs made lovingly by my husband trying to keep me eating. A lazy romantic comedy on Netflix. Precious head kisses for the children.
Tiny reminders that it should get better from here, at least for a while. That I will recover. Tiny reminders that I am still here and can do these things. Tiny reminders that I loved and that I love in return. Tiny reminders to leave fears of tomorrow in tomorrow.