It's vacation time! For two wonderful weeks I will try to switch off and not to think too much of my job. It's a time to connect on a deeper calmer and more relaxed way with my daughters. I will be visiting my loved ones over the next five days. With the immediate family living in different cities, our vacations are planned, in part, to visit or go away together.
So I will pack the car and leave tomorrow in the early morning hours for my seven-hour road trip. Tomorrow's also a special day for me; it will mark four years since my double mastectomy and reconstruction. Some cancer survivors count from the day they were diagnosed, others may count from other personally significant days, but I chose the date that the cancer was removed from my body... forever!
Although many of us would rather forget about that day, I would hazard a guess that most survivors spend some quiet time remembering and going over in vivid detail the events of that fateful day. Even four years later, and after the brain fog that chemo left behind, I can recall the details of my hospital room and feel the anxiety I harboured in the face of the unknown. Even though I was given some pills to calm me down, sleep would elude me as the thoughts of my family and loved ones would increasingly occupy my mind.
I was up bright and early the next morning to get ready for my operation. No breakfast for me that morning; in fact, it would be two full days before I would even put a spoon of jello in my mouth. I was surprisingly calm that morning. I was taken up to the operating room at 8 a.m. I would be lined up alongside two other patients. We lay on our gurneys each of us consumed with our own thoughts. There would be no idle chit chat for any of us. None of us really cared what the other was in for. All we were asking for was to get through surgery and continue on with our lives.
I spent the better part of the day in the operating room. The first few hours were taken up with the removal of my breasts and unfortunately some lymph nodes. The last few hours were taken up with the reconstruction of my breasts using skin from my abdomen. Ten and a half hours later, I was taken to the recovery room and it would be dark before I was wheeled back to my room.
That night, as I lay there in my tiny little room, I thought of nothing but the discomfort and the boots on my legs that were keeping my circulation going and hopefully warding off any potentially deadly blood clots. Nurses came and left carrying units of blood for transfusion and needles full of strong medication for the pain. One of my surgeons told me prior to surgery that I would feel like I had been run over by a truck when I woke up. At the moment I thought it was a strange thing to say... especially to a patient that had never been run over by a truck! But I can say, having been through it, that he was probably right. This must be what it feels like to be run over by a truck. The pain radiating from so many different parts of my body made it feel like one big fire pit.
So... part of my drive may be spent remembering parts of that day. However, it's also an opportunity to look back and see all that I have accomplished over the past four years. I am much different from the woman I was back then. I prefer to think of myself as an older, wiser and more updated version of her.
Cancer has given me the opportunity to change many aspects of my life. It has opened my eyes to many different practises. Before cancer I most likely would never taken up meditation, nor would I have started doing yoga. I have also been given some precious insight into food and nutrition. I am much more conscious of the types of foods I fuel my body with.
Cancer has also opened my eyes to some new and interesting people. It gave me insight about the types of relationships I had, and helped me see those who were a positive, thoughtful and loving influence. I know that the people around me today would stick with me through thick and thin.
So tomorrow will be a day of reflection, but also a day of celebration. It brings me one step closer to the five year milestone (something I am eagerly anticipating). So, although I could have done without it, cancer has jump-started my life and made me into the person I am today. And that is a whole lot to be thankful for!