The Big C

It has been 6-weeks since my kidney cancer surgery and tomorrow, I go back to work full-time, resuming life as usual, cancer free. “Life as usual” seems to be such an oxymoron now. There’s nothing usual about my life now. Is it a blessing? Maybe. One can’t help but look at the trajectory of their own life with new meaning once something like this happens. I was incredibly lucky to have been diagnosed early and for it to be a kind of cancer that has only a 2% chance of coming back. Had it not been found when it did, I may have spent the next 10-years living “life as usual” until it was possibly too late to treat. How would I have spent that time? How will I spend it now?

The weeks leading up to my surgery were tense. I prepared my responsibilities at work to be handed off to co-workers during my medical leave. I completed an advance directive should I have become unable to make medical decisions for myself. I documented all my logins and passwords in case of my death so it would be easier for my family to tie up loose ends with my finances, websites, social media, photography, etc. I drafted a last will and testament so there would be no confusion about how to handle my remains and what to do with Cole. There was still a lot of time to think. Some days I was fine and managed not to think about the situation too much. Other days, it was all I could think about.

My mom and cousin/best friend arrived in Portland the day before my surgery. They both accompanied me to the hospital while I checked in early the next morning for my surgery. I was concerned about pain management post-surgery and very nervous before they wheeled me into the operating room. The recovery after my back surgery 13-years ago was extremely painful and I did not want to experience that kind of pain again. Lucky for me, this experience was a lot different and my pain was very well managed. I hardly had any of the post-op side effects I was expecting although I did learn that I was extremely sensitive to strong pain medication, evidenced by my stopped breathing in the recovery room for a brief moment. My cousin stayed with me the entire time, sleeping next to me on a portable bed the hospital staff brought in for her. My mom stayed most of the time as well but went back to my apartment each night to sleep since there was only room for one person to stay overnight. Friends and coworkers sent flowers and a few friends even came to visit during my stay. Two nights after my surgery, I was well enough to leave so a friend drove us home. Cole, who was being watched by another friend during my time in the hospital, arrived a few hours later.

My cousin had to go home a day later but my mom stayed with me for another couple of weeks to help take care of me. During that time, I learned I was allergic to Percoset when my skin became so itchy I wanted to rip it off. I also learned I was allergic to tape because of the giant blisters that had formed on my stomach where tubes and such had been secured while I was in the hospital. A couple of weeks later, I developed a seroma at my drain hole incision site which split open the wound into a very large hole in my stomach. My doctor prescribed a round of antibiotics and I had weekly visits with her to monitor the healing process. On the upside of all of this, I had lots of time to talk with my mom, something we hadn’t done a lot of since I moved to Oregon. Once my mom went back to Wisconsin, I spent much of my time with Netflix. I caught up on the latest seasons of Orange is the New Black and Shameless. I finally watched Breaking Bad from start to finish, why I waited so long, I do not know. I enjoyed the show a lot so naturally, I watched Better Call Saul next. After I consumed all of the seasons that were available on Netflix, I binged Sons of Anarchy. Friends and co-workers were amazing during this time and brought all sorts of delicious meals and helped take Cole out for walks, day after day. I’m so thankful to have such kind and generous people in my life.

So what comes next? I’ve had a lot of time to think these past weeks. Being confronted with something so serious tends to make one reflect on their life, how can it not? I’d like to say I have it all figured out, but I don’t. Like a snowglobe, everything in my life has been shaken up and I’m not sure where all the tiny pieces are going to land. Here’s what I do know: I understand what is most important to me and that I want to live my life with those things front and center. All I have to do now is figure out how best to build my life around them.

“There’s magic in transitional times. In the moments when we’re no longer what we were, but not yet what we will become, we can choose to be anything.” Martha Beck


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