No one wants to say it or believe it.
It is endless in reach.
Life or death or just a short-term illness?
We don’t know.
It is an unknown that takes. takes. takes… mentally, and if you’re not careful…physically.
If only you could rip it out like a dentist does a rotten tooth. But. No. Not this.
We did it. I take a deep breath… and look over the first few wedding photos on my computer screen.
Tux. White dress with pearls. Me and Tim. April 6, 2018.
I start to wonder how that was possible considering all that has happened– last month– this year– even many moons ago, but then I quickly realize. believe and better understand the forces that are working all around us. And for that, I am thankful.
My eyes begin to water. I am overwhelmed by it all…
Our wedding was a blur of beautiful magic.
I ended up in a sad version of a partial backbend in the darkness of my hospital room. I couldn’t bare the lights post-op. My oh-so-brave husband was struggling with the pink plastic bed pan. A two-time-Iron Man who could run, bike and swim- my living hero on all fronts- simply. could. not. figure out the ins and outs of urinating in a mobile, unsecured pan. You understand in those moments that men… have it easier.
He asked, “Isn’t it slanted? Won’t it pour out?”
My cloudy, post-op head just knew one thing. No peeing-the-bed. Otherwise, I didn’t have a clue, and so he muscled it around… his hands clutching each side of the bedpan and his face… well, you can imagine where it ended up. It wasn’t pretty. We Laughed. It felt good. But then an alarm started sounding… The IV in my hand wasn’t a fan of my current position.
We had been married less than 72 hours at that point.
What a trooper.
We were on our honeymoon of sorts without the honeymoon. There were no fancy, lace pajamas for me. No pina coladas or a villa by the water. The sun beating down on our skin. The ocean breeze.
Tim set off two other alarms before it was mom’s time to see me. He had leaned on one of my leg compression sleeves. A man typically so precise…sleep deprived and stumbling around trying to make it all okay. His mom is a retired nurse. She didn’t teach him much in this arena… but his love. His desire to give. Help. And Fix…Is unmatched. Even in that tiny hospital room where I was only pieces of myself days after our wedding.
I questioned my thoughts. I was afraid to close my eyes, but they closed anyways. I was worn out. beat up. Just plain tired. I gave myself orders to move this or that… but I made a mess of it, and the right words seemed too difficult to speak in my attempts to ask others for help with the most basic tasks. Acceptance.. of my current state only came with the faint sound of a loved ones voice as I opened my eyes once more. I am not alone.
And, then all of the sudden, there’s what feels like a crowd. With my hearing altered… two or three voices boomed like a party of 5 in a celebratory restaurant. It is the kind of attention that made me want to sit tall for family and medical staff who cared for me hour after hour. I wanted to be okay and say all the right things to make everyone feel better… to feel at ease. I tried to be funny to lighten the mood. The air felt thick. I’m not really funny though…
This was my proud answer to hospital personnel about how I was feeling:
“I feel like I drank too much Jack Daniels. Ended up in a fight. Took one to the side of my face near my eye and three to the jaw. But I think I won.”
Insert yellow face emoticon with hands over eyes.
Comic relief… in the moments afterwards when you add up how I may have looked and sounded.
In the before… I resorted to shallow breathing and a calm acceptance as they wheeled me through the catacomb of hallways towards the operating room. I just saw glimpses of bodies in hospital gowns rushing here and there as we rolled on. Someone mentioned coffee. It was early.
Too early I thought for loud music… But in the operating room, Michael Jackson sang strong. I am not a fan. Sorry guys! I know there are die-hards out there including the gift of a man who married me and Tim. Nick, Tim’s childhood friend, has many talents including total domination of a karaoke microphone… as he performs his impeccable MJ moves. Tim says he has been practicing his shtick since they were boys. We laugh and enjoy each performance as if he hadn’t performed it before.
And in that moment… as I felt swallowed up by my hospital gown. The bed. The bright lights. The reality of the next few minutes.. hours. Days. Weeks. The unknown….
I saw an image of Nick in our condo doing Michael Jackson proud. My closest girls and I laughing on the couch like teenagers… each kissed by a beautiful wedding weekend. I catch a glimpse of my husband leaning on the kitchen counter as he chats up his best friends from across the pond who had joined us for our special day.
He sees me. We connect. All is well in the world. Then and now.
It had to be.
I laughed to myself as they lowered the breathing mask towards my face blocking most of my vision.
It was time.
Take deep breaths… she said.
***A special thank you to Nick for making our wedding day a true fairy tale. Thank you for loving Tim as you do. Thank you for being you.
He smiled in the doorway. My surgeon looked proud. He was on his way out… stopping by as promised. I felt the warmth. I held back the emotion. The vulnerability. Piercing. But I… would be still.
I tried to use my words. I peered down at myself… a faded, jelly bean gown stained with betadine from surgery. My hair in complete disarray. I could feel it. I knew I didn’t look good. I pushed my shoulders back trying to sit a bit more upright.. if only for a moment.
He had cared for my facial nerve like a newborn baby as he carved.
“Raise your eyebrows.”
“Bite your upper lip with your bottom teeth.”
I knew the drill. I did what he said… not knowing if I was passing the test. I could not feel some of my face. He had a good poker face, I thought. I looked around at my family… tired eyes. They looked relieved. That was enough.
He moved onto the next patient. We would see one another next week. He disappeared down the hallway.
The drainage tube in my neck. tugged out. I looked away. The nurse would remove the wires next. Cords. Machines. One by one. Freedom with each tug. Unclip. Beep. I took a gentle breath each time. Staying quiet. I had told myself the night prior. Don’t move. Let it all happen. My job….Was to. Just. be. Let the medicine and my body do what they were designed to do. I would be patient and smart.
I knew the power of anasthesia and the pain medicine. I knew what they did .. every cell on a roller coaster ride by the second. minute. hour.
Breathe. Just breathe.
This Is just now.
My diagnosis had hit me like a mack truck. At first. Nothing. I didn’t move. I had a hair and makeup trial for my wedding two hours from then. Should I keep it and dig in? I had plans. A busy day for a bride-to-be like all of the others that were sprinkled with doctors appointments. I had so little time to take care of me already. Work .. kept calling on my days off. It was never enough. Who I was supposed to be for everyone else reigned. The doer and worker bee in me…frozen. I was puzzledy by the ambiguity of a diagnosis that meant so many things. Soon, I needed to walk out of there, but how?
They handed me a box of tissues.
I thought of the baby that Tim and I wanted soon after we were married. Was this still possible? I asked.
It was why I was there. sitting listening. That sterile room in Sylvester. The Nurses. The doctor. I had questions I had not gotten answers to about my health. I needed closure for a new beginning. A life with my husband. A family. We were getting ready.
I was weeks away from having the life I had dreamed of… but never thought possible. I had spent years renegotiating with myself. Settling for so much less, and then, I nearly had it all with Tim. We had a plan, and I could almost touch it.
It was all too much.
My family, and I had said goodbye to a beautiful man the day before. His grave beside the water. The wind whistled the trees. He was a father. A husband. A real man. A fighter. He lived with immeasurable grace and for 10 years…He told cancer. F*#@ YOU! He lived. He lived until he was ready to go, but he deserved more time.
Selfishly, we wanted him forever.
It hurt. I heard the word again.
My doctor was still talking.
I pushed the images away. I came back to myself. Cancer. We were talking about me. We needed to go over what’s next. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to give it life by giving it a name, but I would need to use it to tell Tim. My mother. My father. The list would grow of heartbreaks I’d be responsible for that day and the days following.
I took a deep breath. Our conversation honest and raw as I liked it. There was no sugar-coating. There was just truth in that room.
Truth that takes everything from you, but like anything else… anything traumatic… you start to set it aside. You teach yourself to do so so that it doesn’t infect everything that you are and will be. I did that, and when my wedding day came, I was ready. I dressed delicately in white. I walked towards strength… holding on tight to my father. My Rock.
Closer and closer we flowed towards my mother who had just sat down at the edge of the palm grove. I could feel her arms around me. Kindred spirits. We have always spoken without any words. I look away to keep it together.
All of those eyes and smiles. Love. So much love in every seat. My heart full. Tim was waiting for me. We locked eyes. I felt the wind on my face as it dazzled my veil. There was real magic in the air.
We said, ‘I do’ as if we had said it a thousand times before.
We Laughed. We danced. We ate and drank.
Far deep inside it went. The sadness. The fear. The struggle with the invisible, unwanted ghost inside my body. A body… weakened by the life I had led, but replenished just before a battle that was fast approaching.
Surgery and recovery.
…choosing a bed pan over a restroom fearful I couldn’t make it that far in the fluorescent lights after surgery. My 3-year-old nephews plastic spoon for Jell-O. Paper cups with straws. Glass far too heavy.
Each day… a new opportunity. A fresh start. Fewer clouds. Deeper breaths.
Less medicine. More sleep… More strength from within thanks to the love that beams out of those dearest to me. They have held my hand. Cleaned my wounds and reminded me that there is always a better tomorrow.
My eyes may water. I may feel the hurt. The ache. The pain. But I will not allow a full cry because I am not defeated.
Not this time.
Not by this.
Purpose wakes us up in the morning… the search for it. the desire to see it through. It is also what some of us wrestle with at night… fighting sleep. How can we create a more fulfilling tomorrow?
And while we may not like it, a job oftentimes plays into the answer… or aids in the journey of finding our purpose.