Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Dear Cancer

Dear Cancer,

15 years ago today I kicked your ass. It wasn't easy, but I did it. I went to the hospital at five in the morning unsure if I would leave in a body bag. You see Cancer, I only had a 40% chance of surviving my surgery. I was warned ahead of time it would be easier to die than survive. You were with me that morning, growing silently in my thymus gland, wrapping your cancerous tentacles around my aorta twice. I had two choices that morning: kick your ass or die. You wanted me to drop dead. I wanted to live. You lost. I won. Do you remember how?

I undressed in a locker room and put on a hospital gown. I put on support stockings that barely fit. Knowing what was coming next, I took a deep breath and faced you down. After I put on a hospital gown, hands guided me and I stretched out on a gurney. I got an IV in my arm and watched as a man taped the IV in place. I sat up and got a spinal catheter in my back for pain relief after surgery.

Then the anesthesiologist said something about medication to help me relax. Relaxing sounded like a good idea. I watched her hands moving, putting a needle in the IV line. Then I looked at a hideous yellow-green wall. The wall clock said it was a little after six in the morning.

I blinked.

I looked at a hideous yellow-green wall. The wall clock said it was a little after five in the evening. Hands touched my arms and face. Voices chattered words I couldn't comprehend. "Mrs. Smith. Mrs. Smith?"

Who is Mrs. Smith? Where is Mrs. Smith. For that matter, what is a Mrs. Smith?

"C'mon. It's time to wake up. Surgery is over. You did great."

I did what? Surgery is over? How can that be? It's only been a second. I turned my head a millimeter to the left. Apparently, my little head bob was the cue for the gorilla on my chest to dance. I'm not kidding. Right under my chin an invisible 500 pound gorilla wearing extra sharp golf cleats danced! Now, that woke me up! The pressure directly under my chin stunned me. I could hardly breathe. The pain was just off the scale. Not surprising, considering for the past nine and a half hours my entire rib cage was ripped in two down the center. Hand me the bone saw. Anyone seen my rib spreader? Sorry, I think I left it hanging on my barbecue grill.

There are no words to fully describe the pain of a median sternotomy and I know why. When the English language was in its infancy, and some poor dude got a battle axe embedded in his chest, he died before he had a chance to cry out. He certainly didn't invent a new word on his way to a dirt nap. Whack! Dead. Meanwhile, after being split open with an electric saw, I clung to life.

Cancer, you tried to kill me that day and the next day, when my heart and lungs swelled. When I got an infection you almost did kill me. But I was stronger than you. I am still stronger than you.

Surgery to remove you hurt so badly I cried every time I changed the channel on the remote control. I couldn't hold a book. I couldn't bring my hands together. I couldn't play my cello for a year. You stole my music for an entire year, Cancer. I didn't bounce back from surgery. I crawled back. Inch by painful inch, I crawled my way forward until I won my cello back. I couldn't have a hug without pain for two full years. Two years without the comfort of a hug because of you, Cancer, and guess what? I survived that, too.

I didn't know if I would live to see my 30th birthday because of you. But I did live. I turned 30. And 31. And here it is 15 years later and you're still gone, Cancer. I kicked your ass. Remember me. Remember my name. If you ever come back into my life, I swear I'll kick your ass again. Because life is worth fighting for. It's worth crying for, struggling for, striving for, and pushing ahead no matter what. Life matters. Even when it hurts so much just breathing makes you cry, fight anyway. I fought you and I won. You came. I saw. And I conquered you, you son of a bitch. Goodbye Cancer. Good riddance.

Ever so insincerely, your arch nemesis,




I am not a doctor. I do not have a medical degree. Nothing on this site qualifies as medical advice. These are lessons I'm learning at the University of Catastrophe. What I find to be correct answers in my classes may not be the right answers for you.

If you are enrolled with your own major at the University of Catastrophe, please consult your doctor, therapist, attorney, auto mechanic, veterinarian, plumber, dietician, arborist, acupuncturist, manicurist, mother, local dairy council, shoe shine boy, or other equally qualified professional, for advice and assistance.

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