Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A postponement, and a bit of grace

Last week (January 17th) I woke at 2 a.m. feeling like I'd swallowed razor blades. A cough, postnasal drip, and a slight fever followed. By the time we made it to UAB for my day of pre-op appointments I was well and truly sick. I was so pissed - I'd been washing my hands til they hurt, not touching my face, wiping down everything with sanitizer, and still I caught the crud! As soon as Dee (my plastic surgeon's PA) came in, she asked if I was aware that it was imperative I be 100% healthy for 7 consecutive days, and as it was then day 8, I wasn't going to make it. Surgery had to be postponed. At first I was really upset, and I cried a little right there in the exam room. The next few days, however, I was too sick to care; I slept and nebulized (I'm asthmatic, another reason the delay was so important). A course of antibiotics and a lot of rest meant I got better fairly quickly; it's been a week and I'm down to just a bit of residual congestion.

I've come to realize that maybe this was a wake-up call: I wasn't ready. While the overall journey has taken what seems like forever (four months since diagnosis), when I got the call with my original surgery date, I had less than two weeks. And despite knowing that the treatment I've chosen is right for me, it felt rushed. There are things I want to do before the long recovery: clean the house top to bottom, weed the garden, make sure the finances are caught up, gather simple knitting projects, even load my tablet with books on the Kindle app. But most of all, I needed to feel mentally and emotionally prepared, and I just wasn't.

The other night Andy told me something very simple, just something he'd been reading. In doing so, he inadvertently opened an emotional can of worms for me. Things I'd put on a shelf, shoved to the back and locked away were suddenly right there in my face. He felt badly for hurting my feelings, but in truth, what he did was push me to confront the very things that were keeping me from being able to feel truly prepared (or as prepared as one can be for this sort of thing) for my upcoming surgery. As much as it's hurt and sucked, this is work I need to do, another in the long list of "what can cancer teach me?" Much of it is too private to put out on the Internet, but I will say that we all have our personal demons, and ignoring them doesn't make them go away. Putting on a pretty public face doesn't change a thing; in fact, what it actually does is cause others to think that you're doing great when in private, it's a different story. This is how it's been for me. I'm having to learn to really pay attention to my public face; apparently I'm a damn good actress without even trying, and nobody knew how I was really feeling, how terrified I am. I don't ask for help, I don't offer up my inner thoughts and feelings. Now, with cancer, I have to, or nobody knows how much support and help I really need.

Andy told me that he watches me and doesn't understand how I function, how I get up every day and keep going. Someone on one of the forums I'm on said "I know your days are good and bad, you freak and you don’t. But your strength is amazing to me. Don’t deny it - you could be a sniveling ball of mess at this point and the fact that you keep breathing, to me, means that you've got a ton of grace in all of this." I read it to Andy, and he agreed. This my answer:
"When you ask 'how do I function,' my first thought is to respond 'I don’t,' but the truth is that I do. I am sometimes a sniveling ball of mess, believe me, but I don’t let that be all I am, because I have to be a wife/mother/sister/aunt/friend/employee/etc and the world, rudely, just keeps turning and having expectations. Laundry still needs to be washed, groceries bought, appointments kept, bills paid. But it leaks out if you pay attention. I mess up simple knitting. I blow up over seemingly small things. I wander off in the middle of IM conversations. I don’t understand when someone speaks to me. I try to convey something and I can’t find the words. I miss a bill payment. I misspell things a lot. I cry - often. I hiccup when I hold back tears. I don't sleep well and when I do, I often have bad dreams. I need to be held a lot, and it’s not practical all the time. I get very afraid that I'll be judged by those who either don't know, or who know but haven't been there so have no frame of reference (nor would I wish it on them)."

Surgery has been rescheduled for February 8th. We leave for UAB the 7th, as I'm having a sentinel node biopsy (this makes sure the cancer hasn't spread to my lymph nodes, which we don't think it has)  and need to visit Nuclear Medicine to have dye injected the day before surgery. The surgery itself is very, very long - up to 12 hours. I have no idea how being under anesthesia for that long will affect me, mentally or physically. I'm trying to stay positive, to plan to be as active as I can as soon as I can after surgery, but the truth is that the unknown scares everyone, and this is pretty damn unknown.

A lot of folks have asked what they can do. I was told that while Andy and I are generally pretty independent and don't ask for help, we are to suck it up, because helping us lets others feel less helpless in the face of something as scary as cancer. The things I know we'll need are meals (something we can freeze, with instructions and your name attached), light housekeeping once my mom goes home (she'll be here for a week after I get out of the hospital), distractions, especially during the day when I'm home by myself (there is only so much TV I can watch), I imagine Quinn would love folks to come hang with him, or pick him up and take him out occasionally. Andy will need private time, which is hard the way our house is structured. I'm sure there are things I'm not coming up with, so suggestions and offers are sincerely appreciated! This is overwhelming to me, and while we are blessed to be so well-loved, it's also very hard to accept the outpouring of help when we're accustomed to being the ones doing the helping, not needing the help!


wintermoon said...

just wanted to leave another reminder that you are loved and thought about and you do deserve that love! *hugs*

Jan Conwell said...

For some reason, I hear a quote from one of my favorite movies, "Honey, we ALL deserve to wear white." Hugs from Texas.