We had a wager going that the whole procedure would be done in 30 minutes.
As I lay on the gurney, my head propped to the left, a surgical-field paper falling across my right cheek, I had a perfect view of the minutes clicking by on the clock.
I wasn't going to win the bet.
We were there to get my chemo port removed -- that little bump under my skin below my clavicle that had been my constant companion for 15 months -- a spot I rubbed absentmindedly when I was thinking or nervous.
It wasn't Surgery with a capital S -- I wasn't in the OR -- but it was a little more serious than they'd initially led us to believe. When they said we'd be "in the surgeon's office," what they really meant was a "Procedure Room" in the office (and the office is in the hospital). I was in a gown, he was in scrubs and a mask. There were knives and serious-looking surgery lamps. There was a nurse. There was an iPod for setting the tone and keeping the surgeon relaxed and focused.
There was no anesthesiologist, but there was a lot of local anesthetic ("little bee sting here").
But Joe was there, too, this time. There was light conversation and some laughter. No one was looking at me with pity, knowing the year that was in store for me: the chemo, the radiation, the mastectomy... The waking-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-soaked-with-sweat-scared-to-death.
With each stitch the surgeon laid down, I was writing the final pages of that chapter in my life right there on the gurney.
When I had it installed last year, the chemo port, in a lot of ways, kicked off my year, maybe even more so than the diagnosis or meeting my oncology team. That installation meant I was in for A LOT of chemo, and it was also my first-ever surgery. My first time really feeling like a patient. Now, as Dr. R move the scalpel over my chest, I thought, "This is the third time he is cutting me open and sewing me shut since we met."
As I lay there, feeling him tug and pull at my chest ("you'll feel a little pressure"), trying to coax the port away from the scar tissue that had formed around it, I thought about how weird this whole thing was: "new normal" people like to call it. In some ways I think it is more like life after death... or like what waking up from a coma might be like: Life and time have moved on for everyone else but the person waking up is straddling the present and the "before" with a dark cavern of time in between.
My memories of the Cancer Year are fuzzy (thankfully, I wrote it all down!). I remember things right before my diagnosis much better -- almost as if they just happened.
In February of 2012, I went to my last conference before I was diagnosed. After the conference concluded, I sat outside the hotel restaurant by the pool and had a glass of wine with two colleagues. A few weeks later, one of those colleagues moved on to another job. I'll probably never see or talk to him again. Eighteen months have passed and considering that was the only time we met, he may hardly even remember me. But I remember that drink by the pool so vividly, like it was just last month. And not because it was a particularly memorable glass of wine or conversation, more because it was one of the last things I did before.
Now that I'm NED-ing, the whiff of cancer still hangs around, still raises its hand and begs to be part of the decision-making. Like the nights we do our finances: on the one hand, we spent all our money fighting cancer so we really don't have much to spend on things like vacations. On the other hand, if this stupid cancer comes back, I know I will wish I'd gone on more vacations. Live like you're going to die tomorrow... and also responsibly, like you're going to live to 100.
Sure. That's easy.
But all we can do is L I V E. Right? I really do embrace every day. I lived through that terrible cancer year.
It is summer again.
I am here.
I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well. ~Diane Ackerman