Regrouping

Since I took my first professional job in 1981 when I moved 2 hours away from family to live by myself in a town where I knew no one, I have been a pretty independent soul. I can do most things for myself–with the possible exception of fixing the lawn sprinklers  because it requires the hand strength of a man. And moving furniture. Other than that, I’ve always had it covered.

Arriving home weakened after major surgery put me in an unfamiliar situation of having to depend on others for help. Although it was foreign to me, I knew there are times in life when the humility to depend on others for assistance is required. I didn’t have to ask my sister Mindy for help though, with her it was a given. She arrived from California just in time to accompany my brother in picking me up from the hospital. She immediately went about getting things I needed from the store, procuring a wheelchair loaner so I could get outside and go for longer distances than I could under my own power and most importantly just talking about everything I was going through. No filter needed in conversations with Mindy. The sisters from church had arranged to have dinner brought in for us for several days. I was hungry now that I was home, and some of that food we received was just over-the-top delicious. My daughter and granddaughter arrived about the time Mindy was going home and stayed for a week. There are no words to describe the gratitude I felt for all who contributed to my recovery phase. They were the actual hands working for God to answer my prayers.

Following major abdominal surgery there are bound to be changes to your body. I would soon learn what the “new normal” entailed, and how to adjust my life accordingly. This mostly involved my digestive system since I had part of my colon removed. In the first few weeks at home I would have periodic lower abdominal pain that would be intense for an hour or so and then go away. I’m not sure what caused it, but I could imagine in surgery the doctors cramming everything back into my body before suturing me up, and what that could do to me. I have no idea how that is done but this is what I pictured, and decided this was why I was having pain. Thankfully, after a couple of months this stopped. Worse, however, was the unpredictability of my bowels. I could go days without anything and then other times found myself running to the pot all day long. I was afraid to go out to eat or even to church. This complication has improved over time.

When you are discharged from the hospital following any abdominal surgery the doctor will prescribe a blood thinner (Lovenox) for you to take at home to avoid complications of blood clots that would lead to a stroke or pulmonary embolism. Much to my dismay, however, this is not a pill but an injection. The prescription is given in the form of a syringe. There is a reason I became a dietitian and not a nurse! I don’t mind getting shots but I don’t want to give them, especially to myself! This was one of the hardest things I had to do every day for about 3 weeks. I am confessing right here and now, I did not take that last shot–I just couldn’t do it any more and figured I’d be okay.  I was.

This recovery interval was also a time I was forced to confront my future and make decisions. Was I to go back to work or retire? Did I have enough money to retire? Could I work while going through chemotherapy? What were my chances of surviving? What about all of my dreams for an idyllic retirement? Was I a fighter or a “dier?” (I made up that last word).

I am not a fighter. I don’t take on causes because I never see myself as a victim. There is nothing in this life that has been withheld from me if I was willing to go after it. Bad things happen to good people, which is just part of this mortal experience. I related with a recent “Music And The Spoken Word” which described resilient people, or “survivors” as sharing certain traits: “They are optimistic, selfless, and spiritual, and they accept what can’t be changed.” (Music And The Spoken Word, September 9, 2018) So I may not be a fighter but I figured out I am more of a survivor.

I decided to retire since I was fairly well-positioned financially and didn’t want to work another 4 years only to have the cancer come back and not have any retirement. It would also allow my employer to hire someone to take my place and not leave them in limbo. I didn’t want to have to work through chemotherapy. I would stay put and not move to the Pacific Northwest where I didn’t know anyone except my daughter and her family. I had a good support system here. It felt good to make those decisions and move on.

I went to my first appointment with the oncologist two weeks after my discharge from the hospital. I was dreading this appointment. My daughter and granddaughter accompanied me which was comforting. He explained in great detail the treatment, the possible side effects and the odds of survival. He discussed drug trials I could get involved in during chemotherapy. I was initially all in with that, until right before beginning chemo treatments they said I had to have scans and blood tests, and wanted to put off the start of chemo until after that was done. Then I said forget it, I wanted to get this going.

A week or so before starting chemotherapy I was scheduled to have a “port” surgically placed in my chest which would facilitate easy access to my veins, thereby eliminating the agonizing process of trying to find a vein to poke each visit. This took the better part of a day in outpatient surgery but was well worth it. The port is just under the skin with no tube or anything hanging out. It was uncomfortable sometimes at night lying in bed on my side when it seemed to get scrunched a bit, but overall I did not feel it. With that taken care of, I was now ready to embark upon the next, and scariest phase of my treatment–chemotherapy.

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