This photo was taken Sept 26, the morning after my 4th big operation. I have learned that the quicker you get up & moving, the quicker the recovery. Thumbs up to brushing my teeth standing upright, let the healing begin!
This photo was taken just two weeks post surgery number 4. I treated myself to a hairdresser appointment that was long overdue. After all, it has taken one year for my hair to grow back to this length. The head massage is always my fave part. Nahela’s healing hands rub the stress away! My hair is naturally very curly so I thought it would be nice to experiment and have her use some power tools on me. Hello blow dryer & flat iron.
September 2013 was a head spinning month. In a two week period I went from thinking I was cancer free to finding myself on an operating table telling a surgeon that I will run out of body parts before I will run out of spirit. Did I say this for his benefit or for my own? Who knows? He smiled after my comment and rubbed my shoulder with a “keep up that positive attitude” comment from behind his surgical mask. His eyes looked very kind and I felt confident that I was in good hands and that in approximately 3 or 4 hours after the surgery while I was still out cold, he would be meeting Rick and my Mom out in the waiting room telling them that the surgery was a success and I was okay.
I have taught myself to be in the moment at all times. Don’t worry about tomorrow or next week, how about right now? Good and bad moments, they both apply. Find something positive in every situation, that’s what will get me through. So the bad situation is that I am pretty sure I am going to be told I have cancer again once I wake up after surgery and the positive spin on the situation is that I am thinking of our dog that recently passed away. How can I be positive but that? I have been struggling with the decision we made to humanely euthanize her. I know it was our greatest act of love and compassion that we gave to her to spare her pain but yet I struggled with enormous guilt. I no longer struggle with this wasted emotion and it took 4 months of beating myself up over it and finding myself laying on an operating table to free myself of the emotional pain. I lay there on the table with a team of medical professionals, my health in their hands. The oxygen mask is lowering onto my face. I take very deep, controlled breaths, my eyes are closed, I am in the moment. The moment is not that I am about to be cut open and this is going to hurt like hell…. the moment is the mask on my face and the medicine running through my veins to make me sleep. My memory takes me to the exact time as I watched our dog fall into her final sleep, her eyes closed forever, she is at peace. I feel nothing now, I myself have gone to sleep and I feel no pain. I trust all that is around me. I take great comfort in knowing exactly how she felt at her final moment. I am free of guilt. I am free.
I am healing before the surgery even begins.
I, or really I should say… we… were settling quite comfortably into a normal life again. This cancer recurrence is harder for others to accept than myself. I think it’s hard for most people to grasp simply because I do not look like a typical sick person does. Even when I myself know I am at my worst shape, my vital signs do not reflect and present to the doctors and nurses what my body is experiencing. Take for instance the first of two blood transfusions this month. Sure I look good, but I can’t walk far or go upstairs without shortness of breath and breaking out in a sweat, and I’m talking only about 10 stairs. I felt like I was carrying an elephant on my back. I felt heavy and very sluggish, but blood pressure was ok, pulse ok, temperature ok. What is going on then?
I have to back track a bit to provide the whole story.
“But you look good, but you look so healthy, I don’t understand”, the nurse says to me as her eyes look back & forth from mine, back to my chart, back to me. After three attempts she is able to find a vein that will work. “Your hemoglobin is at a critical level Karrie that is why you are here for a blood transfusion today. We will start with 2 units and re-test to see where your levels rise to. This should ease your shortness of breath, but the extreme fatigue you’ve been experiencing will take some time to lessen up”. She continues, “you know most patients that present with this low of hemoglobin look very frail and sickly, you know right away that they are ill, geez you look so good, your eyes are bright, your skin has great colour, you look the picture of good health, I’m confused really”, as she reads through the notes in my chart again and proceeds to take my vitals. Perfect blood pressure, perfect pulse rate, perfect oxygen level. I look at the gift of life slowly dripping into my arm and wonder what this person or people who donated their blood are like. I wish I could thank them personally.
One week earlier…
“Your MRI liver results are fantastic! Eight months post chemo & radiation and your liver function is completely normal and I see no sign of cancer!”, the radiation-oncologist happily informs us. I turn my head to Rick and I am so happy to see the look of relief in his eyes.
“But why has my upper abdomen been swelling lately?”, I ask him. I was actually surprised that my liver was clear because for the last few months, it seems as I have been gaining weight. The number on the scale has increased a bit, and the area where the liver is seems to turn hard as rock at times, especially after meals and I just feel so swollen. I also have been very emotional, crying a lot. I normally do not cry often, and I thought that most likely I am still experiencing extreme grief with the loss of our dog. I ask myself “am I depressed?” I am told that I am cancer free, how could I be depressed. I snap back into the present moment and continue conversation with the doctor.
Two weeks later…
I run my fingers over my abdomen. I feel and make a count of the zipper. My pajamas do not have a zipper. What I am feeling are the staples that keep my flesh bound together. I stop at 40 and I guess there might be about 10 more. I don’t want to count any longer. I am full of emotions. Anger yet appreciative, sad yet hopeful, lonely yet loved.
I lay here on the sofa. The silence is deafening. Being home alone is not easy. I think of my golden furry girl, C.J., it’s been 4 months since she passed away. I long for her breath, her kind eyes. I begin to cry.
What just happened?
“The mass was this size, Miss Roy”. The surgeon formed a shape with not one, but both of his hands that made me think of a loaf of banana bread. I recall he said this to me once I had been moved from the recovery room to the hospital bed that I would call home for the next few days. My mind is foggy, the anaesthetic still affecting my sight and my memory, although his words I will not forget. Ever.
I am looking directly at him, attentive to his words, yet my thoughts and eyes wander briefly to the tubes in my hands & wrists, the humming of the IV pole, the tight stockings on my legs to avoid blod clots, the catheter, the hospital gown. “We were able to remove the large mass that formed on your right ovary, and as I had explained to you in the operating room before you went to sleep, we also performed a radical hysterectomy, removing both ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes and removed other tissues in the area for testing”, the doctor continued. “Your small intestines were jumbled up on the right side and we corrected this for you also. The mass was squeezing them up under your rib cage. This explains why your upper abdomen was distended & swollen, especially after you ate, despite your healthy eating, it wasn’t typical weight gain. I dissected your uterus and did find fibroids, but I expected them to be quite large because of the continued heavy bleeding you have been experiencing for the last 8 months. They were not large.”
Rick, my Mom and my stepdad Gord are with me in the hospital room. I feel terrible that they have had such a long day. I wonder if we will ever escape this reality? I know I am not dreaming. I am wide awake at this moment and I ask myself, how many times can they hear those words, she has cancer, before they’ve truly had enough? I know they will never leave me alone in this fight and I make a mental note to do something extra nice for them once I am able to move around on my own again. Maybe I can make Rick dinner, send a surprise floral bouquet to Mom at her office, wash Gord’s truck for him? I want to do this now, but I am too weak.
I have work to do… Save My Ass, Inc.