There are a lot of milestones in life. The firsts. The lasts. The anniversaries. The befores. The afters. Some milestones stand before us all and others are reserved for the select few – the lucky, the unlucky. Today is one of those milestones for me. It is a year ago today that I was wheeled in to surgery to rid my belly of cancer.
It’s hard to believe it’s been a year and I’m not sure I’m articulate enough to properly express why it’s hard to believe. Hard to believe that I made it? No. Hard to believe my recovery, that I’m going OK, that it hasn’t all come crashing down? Yes.
The difficult thing about some milestones is that despite the fact you can see them coming, you can’t prepare yourself for how you’ll react when you reach them. Or for the memories it brings up, or for just how overwhelming it will be some times.
I hope it goes without saying that I’m grateful. Especially when the first specialist I saw told me I wasn’t a good candidate for surgery and that I likely had only 6 months to live but hey, do some chemo and I’ll reassess in a few months. I had an amazing recovery and supportive people who put up with the delightfulness of my post-surgery, menopausal personality!
But it’s difficult too.
Having been diagnosed with a rare cancer that they tell you there is no cure for and that might not all get removed through surgery, you prepare yourself for the worst because quite frankly even if you’re one of the lucky ones, it gets worse before it gets better. But when you’re told in no uncertain terms that this disease will return and that it will kill you, it’s hard a year later to be overjoyed given this supposed inevitability before you.
There’s also the sometimes surprisingly crushing reality that the world does not stop spinning. I always knew that, or I thought I knew that. But it’s like doing double-dutch at school – you’re standing on the sidelines watching the ropes turn, waiting for the right time to jump in when really, there’s no right time – you just have to leap and hope for the best.
I’ve never been good at leaping. (Nor was I any good at double-dutch coming to think of it…!)
You find yourself wondering how the hell things get back to ‘normal’. When you find yourself ready to get back into life, how is that despite how different everything is, nothing much has really changed?
Then there are the things I never imagined would cause me grief but do. Before my recent 3 week ‘woo-hoo I didn’t die from cancer’ trip to the USA (more on that another day), my hair regrowth post-surgery and chemo really started to come through. No matter how nicely I did my hair, little tufts of blonde fuzzies poked up around my head. Now that I’m back they’ve graduated to ringlet curls that make me look a little like that kid from Bad Santa.
It’s exciting to have my hair back. At the same time it feels like the last piece of the puzzle has been put into place and everything is whole again. Like everything from last year is forgotten. Done. Dusted. I wish I could explain this better. It sounds ridiculously superficial and bananas I know!
There’s also my ileostomy. The last time I spoke to my surgeon he asked about whether I wanted to arrange the reversal. It’s normal for him I guess, and so many patients are desperate for the bag to be gone, but I was shocked. It was 9 months post-op. I couldn’t fathom another operation just yet, especially not one that potentially came with as much of a learning curve as the last. I felt guilty for not being ready, then vindicated because ‘well, if the cancer comes back you’d probably just do another one’, then guilty again.
Even my scar in parts has faded significantly which shocks me mostly because I still remember it before it healed and you could see the internal stitches!
The hardest part I think has been the memories of hospital that I never really processed at the time. At first I was dosed up on fentanyl and focussed on getting the bloody NG tube out of my nose, then when I was out I needed to build strength and get back into walking and driving and living. Now I can laugh at things, and see how well I did and see how much of a bitch I was at times.
I remember when they wheeled me into surgery being surprised that the theatre looked just like any other. I imagined that because of how long and extensive the surgery was that it would somehow be fancier maybe. Have different machines. I remember thinking that that was the last time I would ever be anatomically whole.
The year since has held some amazing things for me and for my family. Out little man started school. We took a family holiday to New Zealand. Naomi got me tickets to see Adele in March! I went to the USA on a trip I planned by myself. I SAW HAMILTON! It’s been an amazing year and I am truly grateful for everything we’ve been able to do.
It’s important too to recognise that it’s not as easy as simply being grateful. I’ve never been the eternal optimist. I can’t tell myself I’m done with cancer because statistics (and my surgical team) tell me I’m likely not. And as much as I want to shake things up and do something new, we still have bills to pay. I think for me it’s hard to settle into a new normal because I fear that once I’m comfortable in that place the rug will be pulled out from underneath me again.
So, here’s to the first anniversary of my MOAS. To the good, the bad and the somewhere in the middle! Only 365 days until the second!