I just wrote an anniversary–rather, cancerversary–post, but today I’ve hit another important milestone in my life as a liver. This one is perhaps more important than my date of diagnosis: today, it has been a year since my surgery. My surgery was the day the whole cancer thing became real. It was the day I started to really feel like I was as sick as I was (even though I felt pretty sick before). It made me realize that the cancer wasn’t going away.
It doesn’t feel like it has been a whole year.
This is turning out to be a very difficult post to write. All I seem to want to write about are my memories from that day a year ago, and the days after. I’m not sure why I want to do that because I don’t usually like thinking about it or why anyone, particularly my family, would want to read it. Because when I think back to the days, even minutes, before and after my surgery, only one feeling comes to mind: horror. Maybe I have to write about it to help get over that horror because, at the time, I didn’t want to (and really couldn’t) write about it.
It was an unbelievably scary thing to look forward to. That I would be in a drug-induced sleep for many, many hours (it ended up being 7 or 8), not conscious of anything, and that during that time I would be cut open and parts of my body would be removed, and that I would somehow, presumably, live through it all. I was so focused on this, and how my family would cope with the waiting, leading up to the big day that I hardly thought about what I would feel like after the surgery. I wrote out a visualization and had a friend record it so I could listen to it and think about that, and not about being nervous about the surgery. I wanted to get through the days before, the night before, the morning of, the moment I said goodbye to my parents, the moment in the OR, the moment before they started the anesthesia, without panicking. I threw up a lot–but I didn’t panic. It all ended up happening somewhat like I imagined, except by the moment I said goodbye to my parents and got on the OR table and before they started the anesthesia I was so woozy from the anti-nausea and anti-anxiety medicine the anesthesiologist gave me that panicking was the furthest thing from my mind. I remember those moments in flashes.
I couldn’t really fathom that there would be an “after the surgery.” Let alone how long I would be in the hospital (10 days). Or how long I would go without drinking or eating (a week). Or how long I would go without washing my hair (9 days–so gross). Or how long I would have to inject myself with insulin before meals (6 months). Or how skinny I would be (still skinny…but slightly less so). Or how long it would take me to fully recover (has the recovery ended if i’m still horrified?). I will write about my full recovery in a future post.
Physically, I can walk again. I have my energy back. I eat and drink normally. Most of my blood levels have recovered. The scar has healed nicely, but it’s still very visible. It’s still numb. It still itches and sticks to my clothing, like it’s trying to get me to notice it’s there. I always notice. My abdominal muscles are still weak. I still feel delicate. Emotionally…I am definitely feeling much better, especially in the last few months. But, it’s hard for me to imagine that I will (with any luck) have to go through it again someday.
When I woke up from the anesthesia, I remember that feeling of horror vividly, even though everyone told me I wouldn’t remember anything. I was lying in a hospital bed in the middle of a room with a lot going on and I couldn’t move. My eyes kept wanting to close. There was a tube in my nose. I couldn’t talk. And it hurt. A lot. I wanted to see my parents but they would only let me parents see me for a minute. Later, when I was finally moved up to the ICU, I watched someone else’s blood drip into my veins.
The hospital was…a hospital. I am grateful that my family was there with me 24/7. I am grateful for my family and my wonderful friends who visited. I am grateful for that green sponge on a stick, which tasted weird but, soaked in ice water, was the only thing they let me put in my mouth for a week. I am grateful for oatmeal and horrible corn syrup-laden popsicles, which were the only things I wanted to eat. I am grateful for the nice nurses. And my surgeon. And my other doctors and my therapist who visited me. And morphine. Even though it made me a little crazy near the end of my stay when I was hearing and participating in conversations that weren’t happening in real life.
Mostly, i’m grateful that I haven’t been back for longer than a few hours. And that this year, on this day, I am writing, feeling OK, seeing my oncologist for my usual monthly appointment, hanging out with my family, and getting a start on my holidays.