Monday, December 8, 2014
The day before surgery, I generally do a number of chores to get ready for a convalescence of indeterminate length. I clean the house, that is to say I vacuum up cat hairballs larger than my fist and I empty the fridge of six-months-old veggies. I buy flowers, the cheaper bouquet from Trader Joe. I also get basic necessities like water, at least one half-pound bar of 74% cacao dark chocolate, coconut-covered cashews, Thai soup and turkey meatballs, some fruit so I can feel virtuous, and a box of Petite Seat Salt Brownies that may or not make it through tonight. I also make sure there’s enough toilet paper in both bathrooms.
I get stuff to read from the library and bring out my collection of DMZ graphic novels and all 18 volumes of Fables. I write a blog which, after eight writings, tends to get repetitious. Sorry.
I do the laundry and run the dishwasher, select movies to watch, and catch up on my emails. There’s no comfortable position when catheters are involved; I know from experience that sitting at the computer will be near impossible, so I tell my friends what’s going on ahead of time and they’ll know to check on me if there’s silence for more than a week.
I cook. In the winter, I make a stew that will last three or four days, as well as a pot of brown rice and peas (virtuous, again). In the spring or summer, I make a giant bowl of gazpacho.
Tomorrow at 10:15 a.m. will be the eighth surgery in three years, so I know the drill. I’m not enthused. The last two checkups came out clean but then three weeks ago there was blood in my urine, so it’s back to the drawing board. That, unfortunately, is often the way bladder cancer works, reoccurring after a period of remission. The good thing is that if I and the doctor keep on top of it with tests every three months or so, it’s possible to fight it to a standstill.
Yet I do worry. I’m completely aware that cancer is the illness of this millennium, and that more and more people are falling victim to it. There have been vast advances in the battle against many forms of the disease, and only a few types are now considered irremediably fatal. Lung and bronchial cancer kill almost three-quarters of a million Americans a year. Colon and rectal cancer are good for another 250,000. Bladder cancer isn’t among the top ten killers, but it nevertheless caused the death of my oldest sister a decade ago. Luckily, if spotted early, as was my case, the chances of survival are excellent.
My concerns center more on the operation itself. Being fully anesthetized eight times in a couple of years can’t be healthy. There are brain cells involved, and some expire each time I have to go under. The fact that during the procedures, my body is pumped full of opioids isn’t good either.
And then there’s the mental and emotional component. This is just no fun at all. It saps my vitality and makes me feel old and ugly. I wrote at some length before about the shaming effect cancer seems to have on people who get it. I’ve talked with others in my situation. Most of fun can joke about the disease, but deep down it makes us feel dirty and unattractive, as if we’ve done something wrong and are being punished. Personally, I blame it on religion, which would have us believe in the karmic nature of cancer cells.
Today I try to take stock, to deal with the positive stuff. I have a warm home, food, friends, good stuff to read and listen to. It’s not snowing. The cat is asleep upstairs and will probably nest on my bed for the next few days. By this time tomorrow whatever’s going to happen will have happened and that’s exactly as things should be.