Coming Home Again.

Posted on December 17, 2014

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I’m celebrating my 6- week surgery-versary. It doesn’t sound like a much time, but feels like ten times that. I’m progressing surprisingly well, though everyday continues to be filled with monitoring and problem solving.

Once I go the A.O.K from my surgeon, I packed up my colostomy bags and pointed my steering wheel due-west. I am so blessed to have been able to spend more time with the Wick side of my family than I have since high school, hanging out with some rad little nephews, and healing my unholy ass on my brother’s couch… bittersweet, I believe is the word among which I left.

Though, the mountains are calling, and I must go.

20141204_152120_1I was nearing Butte, two days after leaving the hawkeye state, in the early afternoon; descending into the valley from the Continental Divide, past thick clouds dripping of motivation and rationale. The pavement was wet from a recent snow. I pulled off the exit and headed into the Safeway parking lot, I wanted to bring Cassie some flowers at work. I hadn’t seen her in a couple weeks and I wanted to mask the growing stank of a two-day road trip.

It was a beautiful scene. Fresh snow had blanketed the East Ridge, and the precipitation had given the world a renewed, saturated hue. The mid-afternoon Harrison Ave. traffic sounds, the slushy puddles, and the grittiness of it all was instantly familiar again. I’ve been gone over a month, but finally I was home. It felt, momentarily, as if the worst was behind me.

I opened the door, put my Croc’d feet on the wet asphalt, and I rose from my seat.

Essentially, my insides (minus the lower portions). Photo:Wikipedia

Essentially, my insides (minus the lower portions). Photo:Wikipedia

Since surgery, I’ve learned that sitting and getting up from a seated position was challenging. It feels (and was ‘generally’ corroborated by my surgeon) that the release of pressure on my bottom causes my intestines to drop into the void that was previously occupied by my lower colon, rectum, and anal structures. The pain manifests near my ribcage, as if the stretching to find their new place pulls at my diaphragm. Conversely, when I sit and pressure increases, the organs get pushed or packed back upwards. I expected pain after such a large procedure, aches in deep places I hadn’t ever paid attention to, even a feeling of inadequacy due to a venture through impotency, but no matter how often I feel this pressure-hurt, it seems foreign, strange, simply unnatural.

Excitedly, I rose to my feet in the parking lot when my guts decided to let me know who was boss.

“Oh, hell… here we go again,” I thought, doubled-over, breathing deeply. It wasn’t the piercing cramps that have (thankfully) started to subside. It was that familiar breath-stealing ache.

Once I gathered myself, I was struck with a realization that my entire paradigm has changed. I looked around at my familiar surroundings-the very same things that comforted me about being home-in an instant I knew I had to look at those things differently now.

Perspective. Insight. Enlightenment. New eyes.

Leave.Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn’t it? So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be. And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don’t worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed.” —  Donald Miller

The “new normal” that you hear colorectal cancer survivors and stomates talk about is more than just getting used to pooping in a bag attached to your stomach. What really happened was the realization that I need to relearn what it means to be ‘at home’ again. It’s an exercise in semiotics, really, changing and adapting how I behave and make meaning of the signals in my environment that have historically told you to do something else (I wish I had more time in my grad studies to learn semiotics-so please correct me if I’m wrong anywhere).

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Rocking the electric cart at Cosco. One of my first ventures out of the house post-surgery.

For example, in Iowa I was immersed the healing process; all signals told me and reinforced my behavior to move slowly, to be aware of my fatigue and need for rest, monitor my colostomy bag, don’t get up too fast. All the signals in my world reminded me to do those things, it became habitual.

In the course two days, like a Super Mario time-warp through those green pipes, I found myself back home. Though I evolved into a lifestyle of healing in Iowa, I very quickly found myself once again surrounded by the signals of my past life, all telling me it’s time to carry on like so. The East Ridge, the puddles, the traffic noises, the patterns of life, the people, their clothes, the buildings and bricks…

But I’m much different than I was a month ago. My ‘Butte’ is suddenly a new world demanding different interpretations and nuances in which I need to relearn. I can’t simply jump out of my car and run to the store like I had… fortunately, I am certainly still able to do those things, but I must do them differently.

Like the gift of travel upon returning home, the suddenness of this dissonance has given me new eyes to approach the world.

Interestingly, as I look back over the course of my journey to and through cancer, I’ve truly had several distinct spheres of existence, all of which required (and require) this perspective.

p2pSphere 1: Pre-diagnosis. I was as happy and ‘healthy’ as I’d ever been. In fact, only six weeks before my diagnosis, I finished as the ninth fastest kayaker in the entire Peaks to Prairie triathlon.

20140821_100951Sphere 2: Chemo/Radiation. As soon as treatments begin, your world becomes small; internal.

IMG_4689Sphere 3: Pre-surgery. The parting of the clouds after treatments was significant. I felt better, had more energy, felt healthy again, and began seeing how fragile we are. Colors became more vivid, people more valuable, connections deeper. I strived to be my best self for all those around me. Just as important, the sad times and emotions seem just as poignant.

IMG_2141Sphere 4: Surgery seemed to press the pause button on the world, as well as, reconstruct my physical self and much of the way I need to approach the world, both internally and externally. I am still in a constant state of monitoring, either it’s the seal of my colostomy bag, my fatigue, amount of steps, the food I eat, or the speed of life.

The next sphere will begin on January 7, when I will go back to the chemotherapy room for another four months of treatment. I will have a different potion of drugs this go-around, called FOLFOX, which has its own set of possible side effects (neuropothy, cold sensitivity, fatigue, among others-I think my hair will be spared again) and its own procedure of infusion (one four-hour infusion combined with a 48-hour pump).

I wish I knew more about what was ahead of me; however, the future’s uncertainty is an arena in which no one can escape. It is a shared human experience. Even in coming home again, with new eyes, to a place simultaneously familiar and now perplexing, holds a value and beauty of presence that cannot be measured.

Happy Holidays to all of you! Be well!

Happy Holidays to all of you! Be well!

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Posted in: Cancer, Think