Cancer, Year Three: What the *#@%*!!!
The summer of 2020 was all about getting better and recuperating from surgery. There were lots of new things I had to get used to and challenges to face. Phantom pains from parts that weren’t there anymore were driving me crazy. I still could barely walk, but thanks to a nagging husband and a desire to be outside in the fresh air and sunshine I was able to get out and walk a little farther and stand up a little straighter every day. I figured that was a much better option than just punching him in the face - what I really felt like doing sometimes! I quickly went from thin and frail to looking very well fed and then downright pudgy.
One morning, I don’t remember how long it was after my surgery, I woke up, looked in the mirror and finally saw myself again. One of my chemo drugs had turned my eyebrows and eyelashes into a weird non-colour, but it seemed like they had magically turned dark again overnight, and my face was back to its normal shape instead of the ‘moon face’ that the steroids had left me with. I had spent months feeling a total disconnect from the person in the mirror looking back at me, but it seemed as though everything had gone back to normal over night. What a relief!
Even simple every day things were more difficult. How do I dress this strange body with its ‘after market parts’ as I like to call them. Everything requires planning and preparation now, where I used to fly by the seat of my pants. Even small things, like going out for the evening, require some extra preparation and thinking. “What is the bathroom situation” is something I worry about - I need privacy that public washrooms don’t afford, unless I station Glenn at the door (which I have done). Sleeping is different because now I have some extra equipment that I need at night. It took more than a year to get used to that, and let me tell you - it is SUPER sexy.
In spite of all the challenges, I knew that I had made the right decision. I simply wasn’t ready to die.
The normal protocol post-surgery is either a CT or PET scan every three months for the first year, and then every six after that to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned. The first few scans after my surgery were supposed to just set the baseline for the ones to follow, so I had one in July and then another on October 7th, 2020 with a follow-up appointment with my Oncologist booked for October 19th.
On October 8th, I was out with one of my girlfriends when my phone rang. I looked at the screen and it was my Oncologist calling. As soon as I saw his name I knew.
It was back.
WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK!
It hasn’t even been five months since the surgery! I can’t do this again. I don’t WANT to do this again! I haven’t fully recuperated from surgery. I haven’t even started adjusting to the changes to my body, and now I have to lose more parts?
I can’t do it.
I won’t do it.
This time the conversation with my doctor was different. It was about treatment options (not many) and clinical trials, which means hope is running out. It’s strange to sit and talk so matter-of-factly about your impending death, but it was also a relief. I’d come to terms with it long before anyone else, and it’s a relief to be able to talk openly about it without the empty reassurances from others. It felt like we were talking about something real, finally. I don’t think I cried, and anyone who knows me knows that that’s not normal. I cry at long-distance commercials.
Before I made any major decisions regarding my treatment I decided to do another mushroom trip. The first one made such a huge difference in my journey with cancer that I decided to do it again, this time just for me. I came across my list of intentions in my journal this morning as I was thinking about what to write, and they’re pretty simple and straight forward:
1. Is there an afterlife, and if so, what is it like?
2. How will I know if I’m making the right decision regarding surgery and treatment?
3. Am I going to be ok?
Well, that’s getting right down to the nitty-gritty, isn’t it?
So before I started any treatment I was back on the couch.
I used a different playlist this time, one with lighter, happier music. I felt like I’d been taken to a lot of dark places the first time and didn’t feel the need for that again. I wasn’t feeling the heavy grief and anxiety that I had been carrying the year before - it was gone. I needed reassurance, and that’s exactly what I got.
I saw myself standing on the street corner by our house, the one I stand at almost every day, waiting for the light to change as I start out on my walk. A voice said to me “it’s as easy as stepping off the curb. Just wait till you’re ready, and when you are, just go. I knew that the voice was talking about more than my daily walk - it was telling me not to worry, that dying was just like stepping off the curb. Just go, that’s all there is to it.
I started to laugh after that because I saw how ridiculous it is to be afraid!
I saw a bunch of rainbow-type people or beings, I don’t know what they were, but I had fun watching them. Months later I watched the Pixar movie Soul and thought “Oh my god! It’s real!” And then started to laugh - the Pixar people were definitely doing mushrooms too,
So much in both mushroom trips had native imagery. I don’t know if it’s because we were on traditional native lands or what it was, but it holds deep, deep meaning for me and feels comforting. It feels true.
I saw my kids sitting in their own canoes. When I pushed each one of them away from shore I told them that they were on their own journey now, and they had my blessing. I let them know that it was time for them to live their own lives, that I was letting them go. But know that as I’m pushing you away from shore to begin your journey, I’m also holding you close, in my arms and in my heart, and that I’ll always be your Mom. I had a beautiful moment with Maxx, then Bailey, and then Noa, telling each of them the same thing. Then I turned around and saw that Cole & Iris were already a family tree, firmly planted and growing on the shore. Perfect.
At one point I was sitting on a cliff looking over the city where we live, one I’ve hiked to on many occasions. I sat cross-legged on the edge, holding hands with my sister-in-law on my left and my friend Peg on the right. I had been thinking about Helen that morning because it was her birthday the next day, and Peg was part of it because he had been at the house as I took the mushrooms. We sat and watched the northern lights and just enjoyed the beauty all around us. Then we were in a space that felt like a sacred, holy space. I have no words to describe it other than warm, blue and grey - it was more of a feeling that we were somewhere special, and we just sat and took it all in. I felt a sense of utter peace and contentment.
Then I was back on the couch. That happened a few times - I’d see some amazing images and then all of a sudden be back on the couch. It was like the universe was telling me that all of these things are coming, they’re out there waiting for you, but for right now, your place is here in the real world. You’re still just on the couch in your friends’ basement, so don’t get ahead of yourself, girl!
I was also able to let go of my anxiety about treatments and surgery. I came out of the experience knowing that I had the wisdom and knowledge I need to make the tough decisions. I know in my heart what I want, and when the time comes to make those decisions, I’ll know what’s right. Until that time comes though, don’t worry about it, and for the most part, I’ve been able to do that.
I made the decision not to go through another surgery, and I haven’t questioned that. I decided that I didn’t want to join any clinical trials or do heavy chemotherapy again.
It was time to live life, to embrace it, so whether I'm here for another 30 days, weeks, months or years, that is what I have chosen to do...
More to come next week.
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