One word - part three

The "C" word isn't anything anyone wants to hear while they're sitting in a paper gown on an exam table.  You never know exactly how you're going to react until it actually happens.  A tidal wave of emotion threatens to pull you under, drowning in a combination of fear, denial, and disbelief.  When you finally come up for air, there doesn't seem to be enough of it any more.  

Photo by wgmbh/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by wgmbh/iStock / Getty Images

At least, that's what happened to me.  They discovered a form of soft tissue cancer in my leg, which is why it refused to heal after I cut it.  I was not sure how extensive the damage was or how much more of my calf they were going to have to take or if I would ever be able to walk without pain again.

I went into the third surgery with the attitude that no matter what happened, everything was going to be fine.  If I eventually lost my leg, then worrying and being angry about it wasn't going to change that.  I was prepared to wake up in immense pain, but I'd been through it before and I'd get through it again.  I refused to allow cancer to change who I was and how I dealt with things.  

When I awoke in the recovery room, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace.  Something was different.  But I wasn't about to count my proverbial chickens as of yet.  It would be two weeks before I knew either way.  

So I returned to the acreage, where the initial intended two week stay had turned into a month and counting.  I was bandaged from hip to ankle and instructed to remain as immobile as possible.  I spent the next few days stoned on pain killers, which helped me tremendously.  But I couldn't read, which was a bummer.  I would find myself staring at the same page for who knows how long and eventually gave up.  So I sat in my mom's big comfy chair, my leg propped up on the ottoman, enthralled with episode after episode of reality TV shows like "Gold Rush" and "Pawn Stars" and mowing down Lays plain potato chips like they were going out of style.  

Then the hallucinations started.  Four days post surgery, I woke up in the middle of the night and thought the ceiling fan was a giant white spider, it's legs reaching out for me, her voice calling out to me, trying to draw me into her shiny mouth.  Super fun.  Thankfully, I had enough presence of mind to ride out the bad trip I was having and vowed not to take any more of those "fun" little pills.

The nurses came and went.  I gazed at the birds outside the window, the seasons changing from autumn to winter.  I watched a "Game of Thrones" marathon with my dad.  I enjoyed fabulous meals made with love by my mom.  I waited to learn my fate.

At the first appointment, they removed my bandages and I made the mistake of looking at my leg.  It was horrific.  They removed about 6 inches all the way around, the edges trimmed in staples.  It was over an inch deep in some places, a huge crater that looked like something out of a Stephen King novel.  I cried so much I almost threw up.  

The nurses continued to come to the house for daily dressing changes, but made a note in my file to keep the wound as covered as possible as the sight of it upset me.  I gripped my pillow and turned my head, gazing out the window as they worked.  They kept assuring me that it "looked great".  I tried to believe them.

I went to yet another follow-up appointment.  As I lay on the exam room table, eReader in hand and a blanket keeping me warm, the nurses were gathered around the printer waiting for the test results.  

The surgeon appeared, file in hand.  She looked at me, smiled and simply said, "We got it!"  She showed me the file but even if I could read it through the tears in my eyes, none of it would have made much sense.  I just sat there, stunned.  I was waiting for the "but".  It didn't come.  Instead, she hugged me tight and I felt months of stress evaporate. 

There were hugs and high 5's, cheering and clapping in the waiting room.  All of the nurses gathered at the desk to share the good news.  No more surgery.  No more cancer.  Just go home and heal.

I did heal, and quite quickly.  Suddenly, the sight of my leg didn't bother me.  Not much at all bothered me anymore, to be honest.  I had a firm grasp on what was important.  That realization would be the first step in what would become a major change in my life that only a few months ago could have never seen coming.

One word - part two

"Just tell me the truth.  Am I going to lose my leg?"

"I don't think it will come to that, but I can't be sure."

I was sitting in the exam room, which was a regular routine by then.  I had been given the news that the second surgery was not successful and that they didn't get it all.  The cancer was not only still there, it was pissed.  I knew that because I was in a tremendous amount of pain and something felt very, very wrong.  I had been up all night worried, which didn't help my ability to hear what I was being told.  That they were going to schedule another surgery ASAP and that she was going to take all the tissue right down to the muscle.  

Photo by photographereddie/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by photographereddie/iStock / Getty Images

My Mom was out in the waiting room and as soon as she saw my face, she knew.  I sat down and started to cry.  She did, too.  In that moment, I wasn't thinking "F Cancer" or "I am gonna fight this."  I was scared, I was beaten down, and I was exhausted.  All I could think was, "Please don't let them take my leg."

So we returned to the acreage and broke the news to my dad.  Then we carried on as we had been, the homecare nurses coming daily to change my bandages, the hospital calling with a thousand and one questions, and waiting for the surgery date.  

I was able to hobble around, so I accompanied my Mom on short trips to the grocery store, which helped keep my mind off things.  I was feeling really depressed but didn't want to worry my parents, so I put on what I hoped was a brave face.  One night, I was laying in bed watching TV when a commercial came on for War Amps.  A little girl, no more than 8, had lost her leg in an accident.  There were clips of her swimming, riding a bike, playing with friends and always with a smile.  I suddenly thought, "If they have to take your leg, it's not going to end you.  You can't let it."

About a week and a half later, I was laying on a gurney waiting to be wheeled into the operating room for the third time.  For some reason, I was quite calm.  I reflected on my trip to Ireland, thinking that I was so grateful that I didn't know about the cancer then.  

I hadn't said much to anyone outside my family.  A few close friends knew and I had to tell my supervisor at work because I was on medical leave.  So I struggled with how much to share.  I didn't want a lot of attention, nor visitors.  I just wanted to be alone, to spend quiet time with my family and deal with how this was affecting me emotionally.

In spite of that, I decided to go ahead and post a request on FB for "healing vibes and positive energy".   So, on December 1st I made yet another early-morning trip to the hospital on an empty stomach and dressed in my favorite PJ's.