The past six weeks have not been easy. I had been sincerely convinced that death was coming soon.
For those of you who haven’t followed my story, here is a quick synopsis. I have stage IV rectal cancer. Over the past three years, I have had 55 radiation treatments, twenty chemo infusions and four surgeries, (colostomy, 2 lung resections and a chest wall resection and reconstruction). During the last surgery, performed on May 14th, three of my ribs were removed to reach the five centimeter tumor. It was that tumor and surgery that really messed me up.
The recovery from the other two lung surgeries had been pretty easy. It took longer than I expected, but I’m never one to be patient with my body. But this last one was excruciating. I called for Norco, (double strength Vicodin) refills. I really took it easy; because I had to. Two months went by and I still didn’t feel right.
Soon after the surgery, my blood tumor marker number began to rise. Ten to thirteen to eighteen. It was time to go back on chemo. The pain around my surgery sight exploded. It didn’t take me long to decide that it was a quickly growing tumor. I figured the cancer would win. I had had a good run. I had lived at least a year longer than most expected me to. I began to contemplate dying.
Most days, my life was filled with a sense of calm. Different priorities began to emerge. I started writing stories in books for my three kids. Adrienne and I spent two nights together in our favorite hotel. We sat together in the evenings; sometimes we talked about my death. Many evenings were serious and some were funny. We began talking about all of the great musicians who have died; did they give concerts in heaven? If they did, Adrienne would choose Dusty Springfield singing songs written by Alex Chilton and I chose just a simple greatest hits concert by John Denver.
As always, the kids were the hardest part. I reminded them again that my cancer will never be cured. They cried, I cried, Adrienne cried.
We went to Oregon. I truly believed it would be the last time I would be able to see the place I will always consider home. The pain in my “tumor” continued to increase. The new pain killers the doctor gave me were not working. I knew it was growing.
Nothing mattered but my family and my close friends. For the first time, I decided it would be okay if my book was edited and published after I was gone. Christmas seemed too far off; I would never make it. I was thinking and living like I was dying.
Last Wednesday, after waiting a week, a CT scan was finally approved by my insurance company. My stomach wasn’t feeling well. I drank the two sixteen ounce bottles of water, and whatever that yucky stuff is. During a CT scan, a contrast liquid is put into your blood through an IV. For the first time, it made me sick. I didn’t throw up, but came close. I was feeling weaker than I have through this whole ordeal.
We had a week to wait for the results. I took Ativan took keep from crying.
Adrienne and I had an argument. We rarely fight.
Waiting for the results on Wednesday afternoon, I knew my specific pains were cancer. Our doctor was on vacation. Another doctor walked in to ask questions about the chemo and to give us the results of the scan.
“Overall, it looks pretty good. Looks like the small spot on your trachea has shrunk, so has the one in your right lung.” I was unaware of either of these tumors, but they were also on the PET scan report from the first week of May.
“What about my shoulder,” I asked. “Shows no activity,” the doctor replied. “Pelvis?” I asked. “Nope. Nothing else.”
“Then the awful pain in shoulder/rib cage area is from the surgery?”
The doctor talked about what a difficult surgery it is to recover from. Sometimes the healing is worse than the original tumor pain, he explained. He wrote a prescription for a patch made with Lidicane that numbs the pain. You know what? It’s working. The pain is still there, but it didn’t control my world today.
A day and a half have passed since the doctor delivered this news. I am finally starting to believe it. But I feel guilty. I didn’t mean to start a dress rehearsal. I really believed the pain was an ever growing cancer. But I have learned from it. There are still things that Adrienne and I need to work out before opening night. On the other hand, things were accomplished. Knowing you are dying has its pros and cons.
I don’t think my tired brain can figure out a reason why this happened. I’ve been through this, “I’m dying,” thing before; but never to this extent. You know those clichés like, “Live like it’s your last day,” and such? I think that is an impossible task for someone who hasn’t been near death. It’s too bad. The experience isn’t much fun, but it sure strips away stuff that doesn’t matter.
Lots of people told me my time wasn’t finished and I had things to do. They were right. And I believe it. There is a book to finish, kids to raise until their next birthdays, and a woman I love to spend time with. I hope I don’t have to go through this again until it’s opening night.