As I write this I realize I was still in surgery one year ago today, blissfully unaware of what my oncologist was doing inside my body. My husband and family were experiencing increasing anxiety since the surgery had gone on at least 90 minutes longer than they anticipated. It would be at least 90 more minutes before John would be able to actually see me. It would be at least an hour after that before I would be awake enough to know what was going on around me. I still had a TPA injection, nuclear scan and admittance to ICU ahead of me. To coin a phrase, this day sucked one year ago.
Today I did some of the things with my boys that I did on the day before my surgery last year. We bought Braeden’s Halloween costume, then went to Barn and Bunk to buy our pumpkins. Unlike last year when we had amazing weather, it poured down rain today. After lunch at Max and Erma’s we headed home to watch Halloween specials we recorded. Nothing major, nothing out of the ordinary unless you consider that the pulmonary embolism last year nearly killed me. Now I love those ordinary moments. We never know how many we have.
October 17, 2012 started a whirlwind I didn’t think I’d be able to escape. I went from being totally out of it in ICU (those of you who visited me can attest to those 8 minute naps I took between hits on the pain pump) to walking the halls of the gyn floor. I listened as my oncologist pulled the rug out from underneath me believing that if after 4 days I’d had no bad news, it must be good news. “You have Stage 1C ovarian cancer. I believe I got all of it. You will need to undergo 6 rounds of chemotherapy as a precaution. Here’s your report. Let’s talk about it.” It’s amazing that with the chemo fog I can still remember his words verbatim.
Three weeks later, with port inserted, I began chemo for what ended up being 7 rounds instead of 6. I endured blood thinners that were injected into my abdomen, compression stockings, nausea, baldness, hot flashes, cold spells, constipation, headaches, ringing ears, blurry vision, neuropathy and a whole host of other symptoms that were supposed to be suppressed by a shoebox full of medications. I still suffer from hot flashes (as a result of instant menopause from the hysterectomy), cold spells (from the anemia I had prior to the surgery that got worse with the chemo along with the Coumadin I take to thin my blood), constipation (chemo side effect, neuropathy of the large intestine), floaters in my eyes (thank you again, chemo), and neuropathy and joint pain in my hands and feet (kudos, chemo). I can also add hernia to the list, but with a 12″ scar down my abdomen I shouldn’t be surprised.
I have spent the last few weeks wondering if I’ve been walking in a dream for the last year. Then I check the mirror. The salt and pepper hair and hysterectomy scar are the visual reminders I face every day. The pain is a visceral reminder. Every so often chemo fog kicks in and gives me a reprieve. I can’t remember what I’d like to forget. I really don’t remember much about chemo except that I was VERY sick and scared the crap out of everyone who saw me, except for Cathy. She knew what to expect. Chemo friends are like that.
I cleaned out my closet and room last week and packed up all my cancer hats. They are in a box in my cedar chest waiting for me. I got rid of my “sick” clothes I wore last year. I just couldn’t stand to think about wearing them again. I don’t like having my picture taken. While my hair finally looks “normal” I’m not allowed to color it yet. I look strange, old, tired, cancerous. There’s something sad about the person in the mirror. She lost a part of herself and gained a shadow that’s always lurking behind her. I am waiting for the shadow to become commonplace so I can feel normal again.
I still don’t plan too far ahead. The idea of having to tell my boys that we can’t do something because I’m sick again is more than I can handle. I have made every soccer and flag football game so far this season. I have bought Halloween candy. I am working on losing excess weight to help me get healthy and help the hernia. We’ve discussed visiting John’s family for Thanksgiving. I see my doctor every 3 months. I get my CT scan every 6 months. Despite the 88-90% chance of being “cured,” it’s a long 10 year road. And someone has to be in the bad end of the line, not that I’m asking to stand there.
The last year has been a dark, scary one. I have found that I have people that I can count on and who love me. God has blessed me with new friends, strengthened casual friendships to something stronger, and made me a better person. I am more tolerant and less concerned with the little things (unless it’s schoolwork, then all bets are off). I nap more and feel guilty less. I appreciate what I have and don’t pine for what I don’t (except for a Kitchen Aid stand mixer – that I drool over in stores). I hug my husband and sons a little longer and a little tighter. I say I love you more often. I am more willing to get rid of the clutter. I’m willing to try something new since you never know if the chance will come again (hello canoeing).
Life can change in an instant. I know that now. I only wish I hadn’t chosen such a difficult way to learn it.