Sunday, November 21, 2010

The one month anniversary of...well, of waking up, I guess.

I was hunting through my "All Mail" box tonight and found emails that Beloved Lotion Slut Pens had sent out to sundry friends and family on the day that I had surgery. Reading them, I cried and cried, unexpectedly, because I hadn't thought of how what had happened would look from somebody else's point of view. I also hadn't realized how incredibly comforting and calm Pens was about the whole thing, and how much I owe her for her levelheaded stability in the week after surgery.

A month ago I woke up in the morning in a hospital bed as somebody from the front desk delivered flowers. There was a bunch of orange lilies and fall leaves from my uncle, and a lovely pink arrangement with stock and roses and a daisy from The Brother In Beer. A couple of my coworkers came in to see how I was doing, and then two of the otolaryngology residents stopped by to see how I was healing. That's really all I remember.

Two days ago I stood at the bedside of one of my patients as one of those otolaryngology residents scoped her sinuses. *I* knew who *she* was, but I wasn't sure she recognized me as the person whose throat and oropharynx she had cauterized. I didn't say anything.

As she was rolling up the scope tubing, she glanced at me and said, "You look good. You sound good. Do you feel okay?" I just nodded, and thanked her for doing such a good job on my mouth.

My last words before surgery were "Gosh, it sure does, doesn't it?" after the anesthesiologist told me that the gas he was giving me would make me dizzy. My first words after surgery were "I am not going to work today. I just had surgery!" to my boss, whom I saw standing in the post-op bay at the foot of my bed.

A month ago, I freshly didn't-have-cancer-any-more, though I didn't know it. I knew I wasn't wearing the silver Braille ring I normally do, so I stretched my hand out for it and Pens gave it to me. I knew I hurt, so I pushed the magical button that Nurse Carolita had put into my paw. I tried to blog, just enough to let everybody know I was okay.

A month later, I'm still learning that I have to wear a plastic thing in my mouth to be intelligible. I leave the house occasionally without it on, and have to turn 'round and come back and grab it off the kitchen counter. I still get surgical slough out of my sinuses or throat, though it's not as bad as it was--not by a long shot--in the first two weeks after surgery. I can talk, pretty well, actually--most people think I'm at the tail end of a cold unless I'm really tired, in which case they think my cold is a bad one.

Today I'm aware that things haven't really changed all that much, unless you count the ways that they've changed completely. I'll have a plastic thing to deal with for the rest of my life. Friend Lara has just started the long road to being an ex-cancer-patient, and Friend Pens is looking forward to her own surgery later next month. My uncle is still obsessed with shooting the (highly illegal) twenty-gauge shotgun I keep in the house, and the Brother in Beer is still brewing.

I can't work as much as I'd like to, yet, and I can't eat crunchy dry stuff. My upper jaw hurts, still, where that tooth was sawed off and the bone avulsed. There's still an enormous hole in my upper jaw that leads directly sinuses, I guess, that has to heal by granulation and is doing so slowly. I'm tired most of the time.

But I no longer have cancer. I have a scan coming up in January, to see how the bone in my head is healing, and an appointment tomorrow with the prosthodontist to try to make my speech even more perfect. Next September or October I'll have the first official follow-up scan to make sure there has been no recurrance of cancer.

In a year, when I get the word that that first follow-up scan is clean, I'll change my birthday as Lara suggests. It's no longer a big deal to me to celebrate the day I get a year older; I'd rather celebrate the day I got another chance. Again.


Jenn said...

I love the idea of celebrating your second chance. Lara is brilliant, I will have to suggest that to my mother for her to celebrate her second chance instead of her birthday.

bobbie said...

I hope you have a wonderful birthday ~~~

Unknown said...

I like how you phrased it: second chance. Much better than cancer-versary. I'm going to steal your wording.

messymimi said...

You already make every day count. Celebrate how much you do for the world while you are at it.

Elyse said...

Has it only been a month? Wow! That's a whole bunch of whipsawing of the bod and the psyche in 4 weeks! Yet somehow through all that you managed to write elegantly symmetrical posts -- funny, sad, educational, silly, profound, grateful, vulnerable and really f-ing twisted. How did you do that?
**** I must ask, because you said it was OK to be insensitive, how is the schnozzing? I love it when people make up names for stuff many times more accurate than the correct jargon. Another oral cancer pt calls the area that used to be the roof of her mouth "the void". Her husband-"do you have to call it that??" I guess she does, as she discusses her void with the same candor one would when talking about their feet. The doctor checked my void today. . .y'all are awesome.

Anonymous said...

Love you a lot, Jo. Thanks for this beautiful post.


thursdaynextgal said...

This is just lovely, Jo.

Penny Mitchell said...

In utter seriousness, you owe me NOTHING. This Two Way Street has been heavily traveled in both directions, lovey.

On a non-serious note, this is the first time (and the last, I'm sure) I've ever seen the words, "levelheaded stability" used in association with myself. I think I shall print this.

Love you ALL the things.

Shannon said...

Bravo. You 'sound' good.


Middle-aged Diva (Carol) said...

yeah. perfect post. so beauty-ful. Thanks for sharing...glad you are doing well.

Brooksie said...

Thanks for reminding me that even in my only little private pity party I have something to be grateful for...another chance.

Today I am facing my fourth go round with oral cancer (some salivary gland cancer that if it were intelligence would qualify me in it's rarity for Mensa). The first time, like you, I was at the dentist when it was found, and I was about 23 years old. Round two I was 41 and my husband had died 6 weeks prior, leaving me with a 5 year old and a lump in a lymph node in my neck. A neck dissection (beautifully done modified version), removal of all sorts of mouth throat bits, and radiation later I was feeling like I had made it through the gauntlet and was free and clear. At 47, another lump in the neck sent me back to the surgeon. And now a year later, a recurrence in my mouth. First surgery took a huge hunk of the soft tissue of both my palates, two holes have broken through to my sinuses (so much fun). Right after Thanksgiving I go in for a palatectomy, and am currently being fitted for my first obturator so I can start wearing it now to close off the two little holes, before I get my own version of Free Space up there. Found your blog last night and sat here in front of the computer alternately laughing out loud and crying. My loving SO was wondering what (else) was wrong with me! I've pointed him to your blog to help explain to him so many of the things that I am just too tired and sore to say out loud, how it is scary, and annoying, and exhausting, and just plain a pain in the keister. So from my own little Wayoutthere Texas town I send you my heartfelt thanks for reminding me that whatever else all this is, it is also another chance. I'm not dead, and don't plan to let this crap kill me, and that is something for which to be thankful! FU Cancer!