And games that never amount
To more than they’re meantWill play themselves outTake this sinking boat and point it home
We’ve still got time
Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice
You’ll make it nowFalling slowly, eyes that know me
And I can’t go back
And moods that take me and erase me
And I’m painted blackWell, you have suffered enough
And warred with yourself
It’s time that you wonGlen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, “Falling Slowly”
Tomorrow I have another surgery. It will be my fourth attempt and/or complete major operation since my diagnosis fourteen months ago. This of course is not counting four additional minor surgeries to place my port, insert my nephrostomy tube, and to place and replace my ureter stent. I guess you could say that preparing for surgery is getting pretty routine for me by now.
Before my first surgery to remove my primary tumor, I was shell-shocked, but trusting. I blinked in wonderment as it was explained to me that I would wake up with a colostomy bag. There was hope sprinkled in that it probably wouldn’t be permanent. I could have it reversed in maybe three months, or six months, or a year. It’s hard to describe my state of mind during that time, but there was a fair degree of denial. I had always overcome medical issues before. I survived four broken vertebrae in my back as a pre-teen. I survived a seizure disorder as an older teen/young adult. Nothing bad had ever happened to me that the doctors couldn’t magically fix. I did not yet know I was Stage 4, and my surgeon was sprinkling hope dust all over me, deliberately downplaying information that he had that signaled that my cancer was far more serious than he led me to believe. It hadn’t yet processed with me yet how my life would be forever changed.
No thoughts entered my mind that something could go wrong.
Before my second surgery-not-surgery I was also trusting. I had selected the best team of specialists, and they would take care of me. Little did I know then that I would wake up only a couple of hours later to what would become one of the worst days of my life (described in my earlier blog entry titled, “Things Broken.”)
By the time my third surgery came around, I had cycled through all of the emotions. However, I was riding high on a major pep talk that I had given myself on why I should once again let go and have trust. What I woke to this time was a mixed bag of success and failure that would have to wait for months to fully play out. I was better off in many ways because of the surgery, but worse off in other ways. And those ways that I was worse off could have been easily taken care of in surgery. But they weren’t.
So where do I find myself today, on the eve of yet another major surgery? And yet another crucial turning point for my prognosis and quality of life?
I have four emotions simultaneously: I am grateful, and I am hopeful; I am apprehensive and I am scared.
I am grateful for the chance to take this 8-inch diameter blob of cancer out of my abdomen. I am ready to free my other organs from this invader that is pressing on them, trying to crush and damage them. This tumor has been growing steadily and menacingly for seven months. 7 cm, 11 cm, 14.5 cm, 16.7 cm! At times, I have pictured the tumor laughing at me, and mocking every weapon that I have fruitlessly used against it.
Tomorrow I am giving it it’s eviction notice. It cannot have power over me any longer.
I am taking it out before it takes me out, and I am so grateful for all of the extra time that will give me.
I am hopeful that things that will go right. I am hopeful that after this surgery that my abdominal pain will finally go away. That I will be able to do light exercise again. That I will have my energy back and be able to live like I did before my HIPEC surgery last April. I am hopeful that I will be able to live like this for several more months to possibly years.
But hope is a dangerous thing, and I have been conditioned to be wary of it. To question it. To beat it away before it jinxes me and sets me up for another fall.
So I am apprehensive. I am apprehensive about what removing my ovaries and possibly my uterus will do to my body. And how it might play havoc with my emotions.
At 41, chemo has already chased away my periods. Now I am looking at a surgery that will hurtle me head-first into early menopause.
If death has to be accelerated for me, by all means, let’s not skip menopause!! Chemo hasn’t done enough to dry me up and age me!! This surgery should finish the job.
How far away my pre-cancer life now seems to me! A little over a year ago, I was a full time working Mom. Today I am retired and about to go through menopause.
While cancer and associated treatment may burrow through and change my outward appearance, it cannot change what’s beautiful within. The gutting of my female organs doesn’t make me less of a woman. It just makes me a bad-ass woman. Take it all out. I’ll trade it for more life. I’ll trade it for more life with my loves.
Which brings me to the very last emotion that I am feeling today. I am scared. I have the fear that comes with knowledge and experience. Unlike before my first surgery I now know that things can go wrong. I know that they might go wrong tomorrow.
One of the two surgeons operating on me tomorrow is there solely to take care of any scar tissue left over from my HIPEC (heated chemo washout) in April. How bad it is is the great unknown. It’s not uncommon for there to be some organ fusion after HIPEC. If it’s bad enough there could be complications, and/or surgical separation and clean up. These could impact my recovery, or (worst case) cause quality of life issues post-surgery.
So I go in anyway. I move forward despite my fear. Because I don’t have a choice. Because I want my best chance.
Tonight, I will begin my usual routine. I will shower with surgical soap before bed. And tomorrow I will wake to the standard protocol of fasting, and shower with surgical soap again,. sterilizing my skin for the procedure to come. My husband will drive me to the hospital, where I will exchange my clothing for a hospital gown and wrist band. I will say my birthdate about 20 times. I will have a needle attached to an IV line stuck into the chemo port in my chest, and probably a needle or two in other locations for good measure.
I will say goodbye to my husband before being rolled into an ER and subsequently knocked out. I will lay on a table, unconsciously, as medical personnel shave me, remove my ileostomy bag and, finally, slice into me existing scar lines- which already run across my abdomen like a treasure map.
My husband will wait for hours for updates, but for me the time will pass in a blink.
I will awake to the news of how everything went this time.
I am grateful, and hopeful. I am apprehensive and scared.