Begin anew, Carcinoid tumor, Coping, Healing

What Comes Next.

Sitting under a Pacific Northwest sunset, freshly shucked oysters in hand, a friend asked me last night, “what are the top take-aways you have from the last three months and what you have been through.”

The first thought that came to mind? I can heal. No matter how much I thought my body was broken. I have never been health challenged before. I did not know what came next.

The second thought? I was wearing a long, white linen skirt. I twirled it a little. Then said, “I realized saving this was ridiculous and have worn it almost every day.”

What came next for me, when I woke up one morning and realized I could make tea and walk the dog and make it past nine o’clock at night, was a sense of magic and wonder. Every day is a good day. Even if I feel crummy and sit curled up on the couch, resting. Here I am.

If I focus on the what if of that now-removed but large carcinoid tumor I will never get out of bed, or get dressed at all. So that feels like a waste of all my body has been through. I am breathing, right?

Now that I have thought about this, I like the image: Drag the broken body out into the sunset. Decorate it with a long, impractical but divine white linen skirt. Twirl in the sparkle of the setting sun. Pat the stomach pains and remind self: I got this today.

What came next was an understanding: The sun will come up and go down, despite. Every day. I want to watch it, eyes wide open. Surrounded by friends and family, preferably wearing that impractical skirt.

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Mt. Rainier, Restoration Point sunset, July 2017.

 

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Coping, Fear, Strawberries

Hold. On.

 

This week marks one month since my second surgery that removed and rebuilt a portion of my colon. As the four weeks crawled by I struggled to adjust to healing all over again. I stayed upstairs for a week, fear and pain ruling me. I stared all day long at a blue whale print propped across the room and listened to a nature app on shuffle just to breathe. The discomfort was relentless. Night and day were interchangeable. It was easier to close my eyes. Who was this person?

It took me a few weeks to have both the energy and the courage to look down again at the new swelling, stitches and bruising, the new topography of my belly, taped up tight with steri-strips. Then I went back to bed.

Once upon a time I thought exams were a tragedy. I wept nightly into a dorm pay phone my third year of college over an English paper while my mother sat silent on the other end. Soon after she mailed me a small card. I opened the envelope while curled up in a ball on my single dorm bed, eyes swollen. The front pictured a cute little mouse nibbling on a bright red berry. Inside she had written, in her strong, loopy cursive,

Relax and have a strawberry for god’s sake!

Dollar bills fluttered to the floor. Wait. This was sympathy? I have to take care of myself? I have to get on with things? I got off the bed and went to dinner, miffed. Exams ended. I still had good grades.

A flat of farmer’s market strawberries made me turn the corner again this week. I got off the couch at week three and made compote. I spooned the jam straight from the jar and closed my eyes as it sparkled in my mouth. She was right.

Then I took a bath and slowly peeled off the stern-strips. And I had a brand new indent in the middle of my abdomen.

The surgeon smiled as he checked my incisions last week and asked how I liked my new belly button. My reputation was at stake, he said, I couldn’t leave you like that. So he stayed on and did some plastic surgery. We high-fived and I thanked him. His eyes twinkled. We had a good laugh that rolled down the oncology floor.

It’s the little things.

Is life as simple as a field strawberry, red and sweet and full of the sun, perfectly orbed and bursting with remarkableness? Definitely. Do I believe in the kindness of strangers? For sure.

I kept the card from my mother, cutesy little mouse and all, because I count that little piece of paper as one of my big HOLD ON moments: while wallowing in self-pity my mom pushed me to get up and get on with it, ace the difficult and remember how good a strawberry tasted. And it worked.

However, the nature app has to go. Every other track includes the sound of rolling thunder. Olive my Scottish Terrier —  chief nurse and caregiver who has not left my side for ten weeks —  does not consider that restful. It’s me or the app she finally huffed.

I have learned over the last ten weeks that I can and will heal. That is the miracle of my body. The potential of more cancer, the active surveillance by my doctors, will be on my calendar for years to come. That is the risk of my body. This new bodily state can not dictate my life or rule me with fear.

I have so much to do. You can find me at the market, loading my basket with strawberries.

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