Thursday was the three-year anniversary of my final cancer treatment, an infusion of two chemo drugs, Taxol and 5FU. Considering that I was at the end of ten months of heavy-duty cancer treatments, I really didn’t feel too bad three years ago. I looked like hell – skinny, pale, and hairless – but the final four months of treatment weren’t hard on me, and I actually recouped some during that time.
So, I celebrated this milestone with a little same-day surgery on Friday. I went back to The Valley Hospital, where I got all of my cancer care, and had Dr. Mark Pizzurro fix the shredded cartilage in my left knee. This was my tenth lifetime surgery, and my third in nine months – the other two were emergencies.
It’s always a bit weird being back in the hospital since my cancer. Of course, it brings that time back vividly, just being there again, but it also reminds me how completely my body was changed by esophageal cancer. Even for a relatively simple procedure like yesterday’s, I have to make sure that everyone who takes care of me, doctors and nurses alike, understand my history and its implications
Because my esophagus and part of my stomach were removed, I cannot lie flat, unless I am fully conscious and free to move, because it’s very easy for my digestive secretions to get into my throat, airway, and lungs, and to burn them. (On Monday, while standing up, I burped bile into my throat and burned it. Wednesday night, while sleeping on an incline, I burped bile into my throat, larynx, and trachea, and it burned all the way.) And because my cancer surgeries left me with a history of post-surgical pulmonary embolism, we have to take extraordinary precautions against emboli every time I have surgery.
I never wanted to be “an interesting case.” It’s the last thing anyone should want, but I learned some interesting things along the way.
I’ve learned how to be a good patient. I can give a good, clear, and complete account of my medical history without wasted time or questions. I’ve learned how to really trust my doctors and nurses, because I’ve learned to form genuine friendships with them. Or maybe it’s vice versa. In any case, it makes being an interesting case so much more pleasant.
I’ve learned what compassion feels like on the receiving end. I’ve learned humility. I’ve learned gratitude. I’ve learned that love changes everything.
I’ll be working on a post about that lesson. It’s going to be a fairly long post, so it may take a bit, and it may or may not be the very next post, but it’s coming.