It’s now ten days since my surgery, and the fact that I am here writing this is a very good sign. I never doubted I would be able to do it. But it all seems all the more miraculous to me, now that I am on the other side and realizing what I knew I was getting into, and what I didn’t know.
My team of surgeons prepped me well. They explained everything clearly and in a way a layperson like me could understand. And I did understand what they said. Then, just to be sure, as I was in the pre-op area getting ready for the surgery, at least 5 people came over to me and asked me why I was there and what I understood would be happening in that extremely well-lit room down the hall. I explained to each person in increasing detail what was going to be done and why. I explained about the cancer, what form it was. where it was, and what may potentially need to be done in order to remove it and effect a surgical cure. I showed off. Everyone was very impressed with the depth of my knowledge and my relative calm considering all that we knew might happen over the next several hours. At one point I closed my eyes, and then I opened them again and found that the surgery was over. The surgeons were happy. There were no nasty surprises. Now, I just needed to recover.
That is when I realized that despite all my knowledge about the procedure, I really didn’t understand the ramifications of it at all. I hadn’t a clue what ‘radical surgery’ meant. I had no idea what my body would really be put through when the surgeons were pushing all sorts of organs out of the way, snipping at some of them, in order to extract this tiny cancerous lump deep in my pelvis. I had no idea of the extent of the pain and fatigue, not to mention the reality of the array of secondary side effects which I had heard about and knew were possible, but which were now slowing my recovery and making me all the more miserable. Then, on day 2 post-surgery, I called one of my sisters and burst into tears. That’s when I understood that i finally really knew what had happened to me.
On that phone call, my brilliant-sister-the-lawyer said that my reaction made sense to her. She described it as like having two brains, a thinking one and an emotional one. In order to get through the operation with as much strength as possible, my ‘thinking brain’ had to take over and bully my ’emotional brain’ into silence for a while. Only after it was all done, could my emotional thought process, in some ways the one that really matters, take over and comprehend the experience. That process was not easily done, but I do believe that I had to wait to even begin to do that sort of processing until my rational brain had shepherded me through the ordeal. It’s one thing to know something. It’s another to know it.
So now I know, and I know that my journey with cancer is not yet complete. Although our optimism remains that the surgery would be all that is needed, I now understand that until the final pathology comes back next week, the course of treatment remains unknown. I suppose I had felt that if my cancer could be ‘cured’ by surgery alone, then that wasn’t so bad. As long as I could avoid chemo and radiation, then this was all a sort of junior varsity cancer. To steal a baseball metaphor, I now know that it is still possible for me to be called up to the show, ie that varsity league cancer full of chemicals and laser beams. I’m now back in the waiting game. But now that I’ve had the chance to allow my two brains to do their work, my knowledge of this whole experience feels more complete, and I feel once again able to face the next steps, whatever they may turn out to be.