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.