Yesterday snuck up on me. On Sunday, July 5th, I was aware that that was the day two years ago that I went into the hospital with severe belly pain. July 7th was the two year anniversary of the surgery that would bring news of colon cancer stage 3CN2. I also started my 8 month journey with an ostomy bag. Along with the knowledge of chemo in our future.
Yesterday was different from Sunday because on this day my body remembered that day. Last year, on the one year anniversary, we threw a big party (graduation, one year cancer gone, wedding reception and birthday party all in one) so we were distracted and very busy with the celebration. This year was quiet. I had appointments and was knocking things off the “to-do” list, nothing remarkable. But midday an edginess came to me that I didn’t even know was lurking below the surface. By the afternoon, and a couple of bouts of crying, I had pieced together that as much as I want to act like it is just another day, my body wanted to have this day acknowledged as the day everything changed.
Being married to a first responder, we have had many conversations on the concept of “the moment things change”. We have spoken from the perspective of how as first responders they frequently are present for people for a very short period of time on the day that lives change forever – be it an overdose, heart attack, someone just died, a terrible car accident, loss of a child. All of these could be examples of that moment in time where the lives of those involved takes a hard unexpected turn that will change them from that moment forward on the inside and/or the outside. When observing this from the outside it can be a meditation on the idea of time and how we only move forward and to move forward we will come to hard change which is part of the human experience. The only thing we can control is how we respond to this part being human. Simply put, shit is just going to happen in life that will change us whether we like it or not and there is no rewind button or do overs. There is no going back.
After my first surgery we were in survival mode. After my ostomy reversal I was hesitantly optimistic but still in denial and functioning from fear. With the third surgery in January 2020 I was compartmentalizing life to be able to handle it all. Compartmentalizing could also be seen as a bit of denial but I dealt with what I could at the time. I do not want to speak too much for Jenn who has been on this journey with me about how she feels about it all but I think I can say that all of it was taking a toll on my relationship with my wife. I am assuming my kids worry about us and have their own thoughts and feelings although they don’t talk about this part of our lives very much.
In May and June we were put through the medical ringer again with the potential of another surgery this summer for a hernia. By the time I spoke to the third doctor to “schedule” a surgery she said I am not a candidate for surgery because 1. I do not actually have a hernia – I have diastasis recti of the lower abdomen 2. I have had a surgery in the past year (actually three in the past 18 months) which makes it risky to go in again and 3. the mesh they would use to fix the separation would obscure all future cancer scans. For about a month while waiting for this meeting with the surgeon Jenn and I were mentally preparing to get back on the rollercoaster of surgery and the medical system and doing it all during COVID. It was a hard time. I was angry at having to get another surgery. I was sad about more time healing from a surgery. I really felt on my insides like a toddler laying on the grocery store floor flailing their arms in protest and poopy feelings. It was a lot to try to take in when we were still trying to catch up emotionally from the last surgery in January followed by the very significant event of Jenn’s dad passing in March. When we heard that I could not get/don’t need surgery, the news was clouded with so many mixed emotions. Relief was one emotion because who wants surgery and especially surgery during COVID. Doubt was another. How did we go from “You need surgery!” to “You don’t need surgery, this is just the way your body is now and you can’t get surgery anyway.”? The feeling of disorientation lingered for a while once we had spent so much time preparing for another summer in the medical system and all that comes with it. To just let go of that felt unnerving. There would be the inner voice asking us “Can we actually put this mental luggage down? Because we don’t want to have to pick it up again in a couple weeks. We have already had to do that twice. Can we really let go and be okay again?”
Cancer is hard on relationships. It challenges all the weak spots in the relationship. Which could be communication, sex and intimacy, ego, coping skills, and much more. I have heard about feelings of resentment from partners that the person with cancer changes or that the person who had cancer doesn’t go back to who they were before and that is hard. It’s hard for the person who has cancer also.
I do not want to go back to who I was before this journey began two years ago. There has been so much growth for me inside (and still growing and doing my work). I feel the healthiest in my body that I ever had with my new diet. I may not be running half marathons anymore or hitting the gym five days a week but there is a greater health that I have found in my current state. I express all of this gratitude being very aware that there is a cost for all of this. There is trauma that my body knows that I have been told will fade with time. There is an awareness of mortality, its fragility and randomness that still leaves me on edge many days. My relationship with my partner feels like it has been tossed in a barrel and thrown over a waterfall not once, not twice but almost three times in the last 24 months. My cancer is part of the “story” of my kids childhood whatever that means for them.
I desperately would love to have a time machine to see five years into the future and know where I will be. Hopefully that I would be ok. I would be far enough out from my last occurrence that cancer doesn’t hold space in my mind everyday like it does right now. It would be a time where cancer is part of my past and not my present. I would be done with the three month cycle of anxiety that comes with the quarterly blood test to make sure my levels aren’t going up. At this time in the future my wife and I mostly talk about travel, house projects and whatever without caveat’s or health worries below the surface.
In the tapestry of my life this two years, July 7th 2018 – July 7th 2020 is a knotted, bold, dark, colorful, delicate, strong, significant but small collection of threads woven into what is going to be a long large culmination of colors and textures to come for the next 50+ years. As I lay down on my rug of life this portion will always stand out, just like the births of my children and meeting my wife. These are all times, that in a moment my life changed forever.
As much as I say I want a time machine, I would not want to go back and I do not want to look forward. I love who I am and who I am becoming. Although it has been hard AF, I love where my wife and I are right now. My practice in life is to be right here, right now, in this moment with gratitude.
We have done hard things and we can do hard things. Today we are good and getting better every day.
NOTE: Recently I was introduced to guided meditations with Dr. Joe Dispenza here is his website. I am really loving how he explains with science how to change the brain through meditation. Take a moment to look at his stuff. The explanations he gives before the meditations are fascinating and the meditations themselves have been game changers for me.
RECIPE SHARE: Fruit Overnight Oats
1 ripe pear
1 ripe banana
Nuts and seeds
Dried fruit (raisins, goji berries, cranberries, etc.)
- Blend up the pear, apple and banana until liquid.
- Blend in cinnamon and nutmeg to taste.
- Pour into container, like a mason jar
- Add oats, nuts, seeds, dried fruit
- Add more liquid if needed – water, milk, milk alternative, juice, etc. You dont want it too liquidy. Kind of like a thick stew.
- Place lid on container and put in the fridge overnight
- Eat by the spoonful in the morning