People who have never dealt with cancer (or any other serious illness, I think), have no concept of just how all-encompassing it can be. The fight is 24/7, and begins the minute you’re diagnosed. In my case, I was sick enough that it basically took over my life. Every day was full of things I needed to do to deal with the cancer. My friend put it best when she observed that I had become a “professional patient”. Just to give some perspective, here’s what happened *just* between my 2nd surgical consult, and my first surgery (remember, this is a span of just 24 hours, and I hadn’t even started treatment yet):
Once we’d ridden the elevator down from the surgeon’s office, we stopped and stood in the lobby. We just stood there. I think we were all in shock. My stepmother asked me if I wanted us to all go to Starbucks or something, to have coffee and chat. A few weeks later, when I was in the hospital, barely able to move, I fantasized about going on coffee dates, and regretted not taking her up on it, while I was able. Oh, the things I took for granted…but on this day, I told her that I just wanted to go home. Then I started crying. Up until that moment, I hadn’t cried at all. Now, I wasn’t in denial anymore, and everything was beginning to feel real. I vaguely remember my Dad telling me that we were going to get through this together.
We were basically in a holding pattern, waiting to hear if the surgeon at Mercy in Baltimore would be able to get OR space for me, on such short notice. He’d told us that, if it was his wife in my situation, he’d want the surgery done “tomorrow”. At a certain point, my mom and I went to the supermarket…as you do. I love supermarkets, and I love going there late at night, when there’s no crowd. We wound up walking around the shopping center parking lot, just talking about what was happening. We cried some, too. The news was bad, and nobody knew what would happen. I kept saying that if they could just give me one tiny shred of good news that I could hang my hat on, I knew I’d be able to fight. The other thought on my mind was whether I would still be alive in a year. My mom told me that, while she couldn’t promise me how things were going to play out, she COULD promise me that she’d be there with me every step of the way, and that she was not going to let me suffer.
It was a difficult night. I’d started letting my friends know what was going on. One of my best friends since childhood stopped by to visit. She hugged me, and when she pulled away I saw tears in her eyes. She said “you’re going to beat this, there’s no other option!”. She brought me gifts, and a beautiful card. This made me cry, because I was overwhelmed by the love and support.
Late that night, I started to bleed. We called the doctor on-call, and he told me that this was part of “the cancer process”. Nobody slept much. My mom hugged me for a long time and said, “I just never want to let you go”. I tried to get some sleep in her bed. In the early hours of the morning, we got a call from Mercy, telling me to head to the hospital to prep for surgery, which would take place the next day.
Once at the hospital, I was checked in, and taken to the cancer floor in a wheelchair. I think it’s dumb that hospitals won’t let you walk anywhere, but it’s a liability thing, I guess. I had intake paperwork done, and various medical people in and out of my room. Nobody wanted to talk about what was happening. They just kept asking me if I knew what was going to be done during the surgery. I wanted to tell them to knock it off, that I knew I had cancer already, but I kept quiet. I had begun to struggle with crushing feelings of anxiety, and told the nurses and doctors this. I think they gave me some ativan. My nurse came in with my “bling”, aka: hospital bracelets. A white one with my name, and a red one with detachable stickers on it–for meds, maybe? I don’t remember.
They brought up the “Go Lightly” that I was supposed to drink, to clean me out for surgery. In my case, the tumor was pressing on my bowel, so nothing was going to come out, but I wasn’t asking many questions at that point. The drink made me throw up and, of course, did no good.
I was anxious to get that tumor out. I had also packed a little suitcase with some changes of clothes and toiletries. I was so naive. After my surgery, it would be 5 weeks before I was able to wear clothes again.