January 18th, 2021
| Survivor: Colon and Rectal Cancer
It’s March 2017, and I’m anxiously waiting for the doctor. I'm excited to hear when I can have my colostomy taken down and get back to feeling normal. I’ve named my stoma Stu. I don’t know why really, other than it feels like a “he” and he definitely has a personality all on his own.
I got Stu two months prior after going through a 5-hour surgery due to severe abdominal pain. Going into surgery I was told it would only be an hour of laparoscopic surgery so the doctors could look inside and see what the problem was. When I awoke, I had staples from my navel to pubic bone and Stu. To say it was shocking would be an understatement. I lost my mind.
Stu and I never really got along. I was in a constant state of either constipation or diarrhea. Stu was like a lava lamp, some days completely filling the bag. I felt like I was unraveling from the inside out.
The doc came in and said that a take-down was not possible. A tumor on my left ovary had grown and was pushing against my spine, femoral artery, kidney & ureter and was pinching off my intestines, hence Stu’s behavior. I had to undergo 25 rounds of radiation to try and shrink the tumor so they could remove it.
It’s now June 2017 and I’m anxiously waiting for the doctor again.
“Hi doc, was radiation successful?” I ask.
“No,” he says.
“It did not shrink the tumor in the direction we had hoped. There is nothing more we can do other than surgically remove it. This surgery is life-threatening due to its size and location. Also, colon cancer is “sticky” which means it likes to attach itself to surrounding tissue & organs. We won’t know the extent to which that has happened until we get inside. Lastly, we don’t know to what extent radiation has damaged your rectum. We may not be able to reconnect you. If we can, you’ll have an ileostomy for the remainder of your chemotherapy treatments then we’ll reassess. I recommend you get your affairs in order in case the worst should happen. We’ll do everything we can to prevent that and leave you with as few bags as possible but we can’t promise anything.”
I was completely shell shocked. Are you fucking serious? I’m 41 years old. Is this all the time I get? God damn it! It’s not enough time. This is not how life was supposed to be.
As surgery day approached, I wrote letters to all my friends telling them what they meant to me. I apologized to my ex-husband for the pain I had caused him, thanked him for being in my life, wished him love, light, and happiness. I spent every moment I could with my family and my son. If I was on my way out, I wanted to leave with no regrets and the people in my life knowing what they meant to me.
A few days before the surgery, I had a dream that when the doctors cut me open, a yellow balloon simply floated out of my belly. The evening before the surgery, my friends threw a dinner party for me. I brought a yellow balloon for each of us and told them the story of my dream. We stood out on the lawn, said a prayer together that the surgery would go well, and released the balloons.
Yellow is the color of Joy.
I cried looking at my family as they wheeled me away.
I awoke to my whole family in the recovery room crying and laughing.
“The doctor said it was a miracle! They opened you up and the tumor just popped out. It wasn’t attached to anything and they simply lifted it out. You’ll have the ileostomy until you’re done with chemo then you can get put back together. Everything is fine. You are fine.”
Cancer taught me to find joy in everything. Chemo shifted from a terrible way to spend 4 hours to a super special one-on-one date with a loved one. Scary conversations turned into tender moments of speaking from the heart. Forgiveness, compassion, generosity, and abundance were now my mantras.
Before cancer I was a FOMO junkie, saying yes to everything and burning my candle at both ends. I am now three years in remission, bag free, and a JOMO junkie. Not because I’ve found the joy of missing out. No, that wasn’t for me.
I’ve found the Joy Of Moving On, that’s my JOMO.
Photo courtesy of author.
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