Okay, here goes. It’s time to open up the “cancer-compartment” of my emotional storage unit and break out some of the feelings that I experienced during one of the most challenging times of my life. Before I dive into the guts and glory of surgery and recovery, let’s go back a few years to 2009 and pregnancy number one of my life for a little back-story as to how my body and I communicate.
Joy. Empowerment. Strength. Challenge. Triumph.
I love being pregnant. I love how my body feels and adapts to the growing child inside of me and I love the strength within myself during the process of laboring a child into the world. Life as a mother is the perfect fit for me. After Harrison’s birth, I cared for my son and myself with the utmost priority. I centered myself spiritually and started making long-term goals for my family, our future, and myself. May 2011, pregnancy number two was equally as wonderful as the first and again, the experience tapped into an abundance of strength within myself that guided me through the postpartum months as a month of two.
What you just read can bring you into a bit of my mindset and “my reality” at the time of diagnosis. I have been on a journey as a mother and woman and continue to search for balance and manage the demands of parenting. I was diagnosed with postpartum depression six weeks after Sammy was born. I found it so hard to keep it together in my new role as the “mother of two”. Daily tasks exhausted me. I would “lose-my-shit” at the drop of a hat. I was just plain ole’ exhausted. Little did I know, not only were the hormones in my body off kilter, but my body was fighting to get my attention and make me aware of a cancer that was growing within me.
October 17, 2011…now, we can begin the cancer story. This is the first time that I am writing these words out. I have written about my diagnosis and my surgeries in regards to timelines and such, but never my fears and my perspectives associated with the entire experience. So here goes.
The afternoon of October 17, 2011, I had called my naturopathic doctor out of frustration and pain. I had a biopsy on my tongue the week before and the pain was so unbearable and I just wanted her help and guidance in managing pain as I waited for my results. My husband and two boys came with me to the doctor’s office that day and we all walked in nonchalantly as if this was just a routine visit. The boys were playing with the toys, Frank was playing with them, and I sat in the chair next to Dr. Levitt and spoke to her as a confidant and friend and told her how frustrated I was by the pain of my ulcer, my experience of the biopsy, and how I just wanted relief. She has and always will be an advocate for my health and me. Without hesitation, she got on the phone with my surgeon’s office and called for my results. I remember sitting on the floor with Harrison doing a puzzle (farm puzzle with doors that open and there are magnets inside). I heard her saying over the phone words like “surgery”, “referral”, and “course of treatment”. I remember looking at Frank and saying, “That doesn’t sound good”, but I wasn’t scared when I said that. I said it very casually. When she hung up the phone, I sat next to hear and she held my hand. Ut oh. This can’t be good. She moved closer and made eye contact with me….and said the words, “It’s a squamous cell carcinoma”. “Is that cancer? What is that?” “Yes. It’s cancer”.
“Yes, it’s cancer”. Speechless. Even now when I write that. Even when the words travel from my thoughts to my fingers to form them into words on the keyboard of my laptop…I have to pause and collect myself. I can’t form into words what it felt like to hear that. I cannot even recall exactly what went through my mind at the time. I can see myself in the chair in her office. I can see my husband and my children in front of me. I remember being told to go to the surgeon’s office down the street to “discuss my options”. I walked out into the waiting room in a total blur. It was as though I was floating as I walked out the doors into the parking lot. I walked out into the parking lot and my world was spinning. I had to call my family. I called my sister and my mother and actually verbalized the words, “It’s cancer. I have cancer”.
Now this is where the memory train is going to take a little detour, as the rest of the story is an emotional roller coaster for me. To walk through all of the memories of it minute-to-minute and day-to-day is just more than I want to get into here. I haven’t revisited those emotions yet and don’t want to today because today is about celebrating a victory and triumph. Fast forward to October 25, 2011. I woke up in the very early morning hours with hope. I felt like I was functioning in a bubble of peace and protection. My focus was direct and I was following what felt like a spiritual guide taking me through the steps to say goodbye to my family, leave my home, and get me into the hospital operating room safely. It wasn’t so much a feeling of optimism or positivity, but I can only describe it as peace and serenity. I simply had faith in what was about to happen. There was no fear. There was only strength.
There was only strength.
The hospital was quiet that morning. When I went to the bathroom to get changed, I looked in the mirror and stuck out my tongue for the last time. I laughed that when the nurses when to enter my homeopathic medications in their computer system, the software didn’t recognize the names. Here I am, this organic and natural person when it comes to treating the medical needs of my health and family, and they can’t register my information in the computer. I was bummed that my nose ring had to be removed. And then they wheeled me away. The operating room was incredibly cold. Freezing! The nurse that spoke to me was so kind and she covered me in freshly warmed blankets. My arms were spread out. I heard Dr. Takoudes talking behind me. I remember lightness and the color white. Then they asked me to count backwards.
I woke up in the most tremendous pain of my life. My throat and neck felt enlarged and I couldn’t speak. Pain times a million. I panicked and grabbed hold of the bars on the side of my bed and just started banging them and banging them. I was so frustrated that I couldn’t communicate. I didn’t know what happened to me. I knew I was alive because the pain meant I was alive. All I saw was the ceiling above me and I could hear the nurses around me. Did I have my tongue? Would I ever talk again? Is this pain going to stop? Pen and paper would be the only way I could communicate in that most frustrating time of my recovery. Those moments in recovery were the scariest moments and most vivid memories of this journey. After scribbling words onto a pad about the agony I was feeling, the rest is all a medicinally induced blur.
I spent five days in the hospital. Five days away from my precious babies. Five days in a sterile environment that wasn’t my snuggly bed. I missed my cats. I missed nursing my five-month-old baby. I missed reading to Harrison and Sam. Would I ever be able to read to them again? I missed taking showers in the comfort of my own home. I missed food. Oh how I missed flavor and sweetness and ice-cold water. I missed coffee and ice cream and the simple pleasure of enjoying a lollipop.
My memories of those days are in bits and pieces. My two favorite things in the world were my pain med pump and my little spit vacuum contraption. I cannot even start to mention the nurses who cared for me without my heart ready to swell out of my chest. These men and women leave my speechless (no pun intended). So after many days of recovery and pain meds and countless hours of HGTV, it was time for me to check out and go home. October 30, 2011, I was discharged from the hospital, fifteen pounds lighter, and cancer free as we drove home in the snow.
I stood outside our back door letting the snow hit my face and being so scared to go inside. Life was going to be so different once I passed through those doors. This was the first time I was going to see my kids. I wasn’t going to be able to speak to them and I was anxious that that might scare them. Hugs, kisses, and snuggles as we reunited. Mommy was home. That night and the next several weeks at home, a second surgery, and an emergency admission to the hospital for complications continue my story of recovery. Healthy chaos is the best way I could describe it. Lots of drugs, doctor visits, and sleep. Lots of caring people donating their time and food to help my family.
October 25, 2011 was the day that cancer was removed from my body…permanently. Today is October 25, 2013 and I can still say that I can cancer free and the chances of reoccurrence have dropped considerable. For my type of cancer, T2 squamous cell carcinoma of the right side of the tongue, the likelihood of reoccurrence is at it’s highest during the first two years after removal. Milestone achieved. Three years from now on October 25, 2016, I will be able to say that I am cured of cancer.
Joy. Empowerment. Strength. Challenge. Triumph.