A timeline of the recent Thursdays in my life:
9 weeks ago: June 7th
Jo drove me to MD Anderson for my 90 day scan. The CT that revealed my new little friend. (Yeah, that's what I call the grapefruit-sized guy that cost me my spleen, a foot of my colon and the corner of my diaphragm. My left kidney was always gonna go, because it had been touched by too many tumors, but the other organs were impacted directly by my new little friend, aka: Tumor #4).
8 weeks ago: June 14th
I had dinner with my friend Kimmie. We laughed, we cried. We talked about cancer and boys and how glad we are that both of us have healthy enough self-esteems that we can eat an entire pizza and still feel awesome about ourselves. She is one of my happiest friends, and four hours with her - and Mama Spinato's spinach calzone - were exactly what I needed at that point in my life.
7 weeks ago: June 21st
Surgery. By which I mean: left nephrectomy, partial colectomy, splenectomy, excission of two liposarcoma tumors, hernia repair and a general removal of all fatty tissue on the left side of my body. Oh, and I also lost a 5x5 centimeter portion of my diaphragm. It was ugly. And it was painful. I mean, this surgery (and the recovery thereof) redefined the word pain. (And I really thought I'd known pain before. It turns out that I hadn't. At all.)
An aside: When I asked my friend Google how to spell nephrectomy (I'm just getting used to this word, and heaven forbid I commit the grievous sin of a typo here at Grammar Nazi Central), the following quote popped on one of the hits, "An open nephrectomy is highly invasive (as you can well imagine), and recovery is longer than if done laparoscopically." .... Uhhhhhh... ya think? I laughed out loud. (I can do that now. It's awesome!)
6 weeks ago: June 28th
I ate solid food for the first time, post-surgery. I don't even remember what it was, but I remember wishing that it was the Dilled Salmon from the hospital that I had my first two surgeries in. (Seriously, I loved that stupid fish. One of the best fish dishes I've ever had in my life, and it came out of a hospital cafeteria. That's nuts.)
5 weeks ago: July 5th
It stopped raining, and I could breathe again. ... It rained all day on the 4th, and my lungs were not doing well with the wet, humid air. The more it rained, the harder it was for me to take a breath. I went to bed that night, literally afraid for my life. (Not only because it was difficult to breath, but because the 4th of July is one of my Top Two Most Wanted Death Dates (the other is my birthday, because I love to see headstones with a birth and death date on the same day... makes it really easy to calculate how old a person was, and I love that), and I was a little nervous that I had survived surgery only to die on one of the Top Two Dates.
An aside: So, yes, I'm a little bit morbid, I know, with my Top Two Most Wanted Death Dates. (Also, my lifelong desire to have a wig made of my own hair if and when I should have to do chemo and have it all fall out.) But these are things that I think about, and let's face it... if I think about it, I write about it.
An additional aside: Yes, I like to walk cemeteries and look at headstones. Cemeteries are incredibly peaceful places to me. I love the history, the monuments, the epitaphs, the love that is all around me in a cemetery. (Two of my favorite vacation days ever were spent combing through historic cemeteries in Kentucky with my friend Shannon.)
A further aside: I know what songs I want to have sung at my funeral, and who I want to speak. (In my defense, this has nothing to do with the cancer. I've been planning my funeral for over 20 years. The musical numbers and speakers have rotated a little over time, but I've been planning The Big Event since I was a kid. It's up there with the wig, when it comes to life events that I want to control.)
4 weeks ago: July 12th
I had my follow-up with the surgeon. I got to read the pathology report. The margins were positive.
This is not what I had wanted to hear, but understood that Dr. G had done everything he could do. He is the second doctor who's saved my life by cutting cancer out of me, and I'll love him for that, forever. (Even if he did call me "punky". Punk.)
3 weeks ago: July 19th
Mom's birthday. Brea drove over to surprise her and we went to lunch at Logan's. I ordered a bowl of potato soup and ate almost half of it. ... Brea had brought over a container of those little lemon bite cakes from Costco (absolute heaven, I tell you!). I took two bites and almost gagged on the sugar that afternoon. Later that night, Mom was eating one and I asked for a bite, because I know that I love them. Again... gag. I haven't had sugar since. I don't even want it. (Who am I? I don't even know. But I will tell you that I am not throwing all of the frozen cake that's in my freezer out. I live in hope that there will come a day that I'll wake up craving chocolate Nothing Bundt cake, and I need it to be there for me when that day comes. Faith in every footstep. ... Or however that goes.)
2 weeks ago: July 26th
My nose started to run, my right ear hurt and my throat started to swell. How in the world I caught something when the only place I ever went was to the doctor's office is beyond me, but I was sick. I mean, S-I-C-K.
1 week ago: August 2nd
I (finally!) felt well enough to go on a walk. It was exhausting. It was really hard work. I could hardly breathe, and it took almost an hour to walk a mile (again). But I was outside, and I was walking. And both of those things made me really happy.
Today: August 9th
I'm driving. Not far, because it hurts my right shoulder like you would not believe to have to spin the steering wheel, but I am driving. I've only taken pain meds three times today. (Like, since I woke up at 6:00 AM. That's 17 hours and counting. This is amazing to me.) My stomach is still weak - both internally and externally. I have to be really careful what I eat, so as not to upset the very (VERY) delicate balance I have going with the wheat bagels and the fried chicken. I'm starting to do very (VERY) minimal exercises (as per my physical therapist) to strengthen the abdominal muscles that I lost seven weeks ago. I wake up feeling pretty good, usually between 6:00 and 7:00. I eat my first breakfast as soon as I wake up, and then I go for a walk. Sometimes my back starts to hurt while I'm walking, sometimes the back pain doesn't show up until about 10:00 AM. (Once the pain shows up, it stays until I'm able to go to sleep at night. It only leaves after a full night's sleep, and the most I have is four hours a day without it.) I'm able to get around my apartment pretty well in the morning, but by 1:00, I need to lie down. For the rest of the day. Most nights, I'm able to go on a walk in the evening, but it depends on both how much my back hurts and what I've eaten. (I try, once or twice a week, to vary from the bland diet and I'll eat something out of my current norm... just to see if I can handle it. On Tuesday, for example, I ate cilantro. Gigantic, huge, monstrous mistake. I was sick from about 2:00 in the afternoon until way past my normal bedtime. Lesson learned, and I am back to fried eggs and toast.)
The good news is... I like fried eggs and toast. As weird and limited as my diet is these days, and as much as I do not love the constant back pain, I know that my body is getting better and stronger every week. And I know that it will keep getting better, and it will keep getting stronger.
As I look back on the last several weeks of my life, I am so grateful for modern medicine, for the miracle of narcotics as pain relievers, for the doctors and nurses (and my own sweet mother) for taking care of me when I was in the hospital. I'm grateful for markers that show improvements from week to week. I'm grateful for friends and family who've gone way, way out of their way to serve me in so very many ways. I'm grateful to the www for helping me spread the word that I needed help, and for the many, many people who've shared their faith, their prayers, and sometimes their hard-earned dollars with me. I'm so grateful for the outpouring of love that I have been privileged to receive. I'm grateful for the sure knowledge that people are good and kind and generous. I am grateful that my heart has been changed, and that my capacity to feel, receive and share love has been enlarged.
I am grateful for the last nine weeks of my life. As hard - and as long - as some (okay, most ... just kidding, all) of those weeks have been, I would not give that time back or trade the experience for anything in the world. It has been hard. Recovering from surgery - and having to live with the reality of the C word - is hard. But the strengthening of my spirit and the overwhelming love and peace that I feel has been worth it. At the end of the day - at the end of this nine week juncture - I made it. ... Now, here's to hoping that the next nine weeks are all downhill!