3 Years Down, 2 To Go

Last Wednesday I went in for my annual CT-Scan. This Wednesday, I went in to see my oncologist for what I affectionately refer to as the “results show.” And now, it is with a great sigh of relief that I can excitedly share, today marks the 3rd year I am blessed to say that I am, officially, cancer-free.

3 years ago to the date— after over a week of clear liquid ‘meals’, 1 endoscopy, 1 gallon of Golytely (ick), 1 colonoscopy, 2 CT scans, way too many vials of blood, 2 blood transfusions, 6 (maybe 7) IV’s, 1 diagnosis confirming I had a ‘monster of a tumor’ near my appendix, 1 other diagnosis confirming I also had a cancerous tumor in my colon and countless specialists, nurses, visitors, sedatives, tears, prayers and inception-type thoughts— I was wheeled into an operating room.

I was tired. I was cold. I was scared. And I was so incredibly hungry.

July 11 2011, I was admitted into the hospital weighing a hefty 113 lbs. By the time I checked-out on July 22nd, I left behind 17 lbs, 2 tumors, 12 inches of my intestines and 1/4 of my colon.

But they finally let me eat red jello… so there’s that.

If you haven’t already heard me talk about my surgeon, you must know that he is the kindest, sweetest, most loving doctor I have ever known. Dr. Maker is the only man who has, literally, touched me in ways no other man ever has or ever will. And he’s done it twice!

Way back in 2008, he removed my tumor-infested spleen. He thought I had cancer back then but the biopsy showed they were nothing but your plain-ole-run-of-the-mill vascular hemangiomas. Ok, Ok maybe it’s not so typical to have a spleen filled with them but, what can I say, I’m not your typical gal.

But I digress… until then, the doc and I thought that was the sickest I was ever going to be ever again for a very, very, very long while. As a matter of fact, on my last post-op visit, as I was about to leave, he pulled my face close to his, kissed my forehead and told me, “Skinny, I never want to see you again.”

I wish I took all rejection in my life as well as I took that one.

Little did either of us know that, 3 years later, our paths would cross again.

That fine July morning in 2011, I rushed to the hospital thinking I was having an appendicitis. As I laid in the fetal position in the small ER room waiting to be carted off to surgery, the door opened and I heard his voice and peered up to see his shiny, bald head and I knew something was very wrong.

“Skinny! I thought I told you I never wanted to see you again.”

“Obviously, I’m going through a rebellious phase right now.”

Despite any pain I may be in, my mind and mouth hardly ever take a sick day.

The 1st best thing about Dr. Maker is that he doesn’t beat around the bush. He wasn’t in the room 30 seconds before he was telling me about the ‘monster of a tumor’ I had near my appendix.

The 2nd best thing about Dr. Maker is that, for some reason, he’s taken a real liking to me. For the record, if you ever find yourself with no insurance and rare forms of anything growing in your body, you want the chief of surgery to have a soft spot for you.

With one hand, he held mine. With his other hand, he smoothed the top of my hair.

“Skinny, I’m going to take care of you.”

Granted, his version of taking care of me required needles, blades, lots and lots of pain and scars… oh, the scars. But, he kept his word. And, today, I am fine. A little worse for the wear but fine.

Last week, I went in for my ct-scan a/k/a Scanxious Day. The jitters showed up on que as they have for the two years prior. Typically, they only last until the IV contrast runs through my veins. At which point, the ‘heat’ sensation of the contrast takes over. Once that happens, I forget to be jittery about any unknowns that may be sighted by the test because I suddenly become jittery about a horrific side-effect from the contrast. As much as I know it’s not really happening, it always feels like I’m peeing on myself. And it always happens at the exact moment the machine tells me to take a deep breath and hold it.

Ummm…. machine voice, I stop breathing at the first tingly sensation.

As I was psyching myself up for what the next 20 minutes had in store for me, the tech comes into the tiny waiting area and tells me it’ll be a few more minutes because the machine was having ‘issues’ (insert oh-hell-naw facial expression here). So there I sat on the freezing pleather chair, shivering in the barely-there hospital gown, kicking myself because I had forgotten my socks— somehow I’ve managed to convince my body that it’s only really cold if my feet are cold (don’t judge. it works for me).

Finally, after 35 minutes, the tech comes back and walks me into the scan room. Behind her was another person. A nurse. She had a really big smile on her face. One that ‘said’ she knew me. I kinda, sorta recognized her but not really.

“Tania. My name is Kerri. I was one of the nurses who took care of you 3 years ago. You’ll probably think this is so strange but I’ve always wondered how you were doing. I just had to come see you.”

I was caught off guard. I was prepared for the anxiousness of the test or the real possibility of freezing to death in the waiting room. I was even as prepared as one can be for the sensation of peeing on myself. But I wasn’t prepared for this.

She really was so happy to see me.

I walked up to her and hugged her and thanked her for taking care of me.

“I wasn’t one of your regular nurses. I was Dr. Sundaresan’s nurse. He was your gastroentonogists at the time. Before your procedure, you and I talked for a few minutes before the sedative took effect and you left an impression on me.”

And then she said the words that, for some unexplainable reason, almost hurt to hear, “You were so sick. You’re such a fighter.”

As she spoke, my eyes welled up with tears. If only she knew how so very weak I was that entire time. As the staff worked so hard to make me better, there were moments when I prayed for death.

I hugged her again and promised to keep in touch with her. She left me her email address. She squeezed my hand and left and I climbed up onto the bed of the ct-scan. As the bed slowly edged its way into the opening of the scan machine, I hardly noticed the IV contrast sensation or the whirling sounds of the machine itself.

I closed my eyes and forced myself to remember the details of that day.

Just that one day.

The day nurse Kerri came to say she’d come back after the surgery to check up on me. The day the anesthesiologist rubbed my back after administering the epideral and told me he’d been praying for me all night. The day Dr. Maker bear-hugged me and whispered in my ear that he hadn’t lost a patient on the table in 14 years and didn’t plan on doing so that day. The day I wondered if I’d see my kids grow up. The day I wondered if my parents could handle anything other than me being fine. The day I wondered where he was. The day I wondered where HE was. The day I wondered if I’d ever really be ok again.

Oh what a day.

That was 3 very long, short years ago.

I don’t pretend to know why all of that had to happen. In the midst of my most troubling times, I hash it out with God. Which, inevitably, leads to that kinda peace that surpasses all understanding and the 5 simple words that put it all into perspective for me, “it is what it is.”

And what it is today, is fine.

How can it not be? It’s my 3rd annual cancer-free Cancerversary.




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