Hello folks, coming to you live from the couch today, and for the next two weeks actually. Yep, extreme rest required to get my strength back after my operation. My first order of business today is to send all of you big hugs and kisses for your kind prayers, thoughts, and wishes. I was wrapped in a soft cloud of love and luck as I was wheeled into the operating room, and it kept me going through some long dark nights in my hospital room. I have all of you, friends in real life, and friends online, to thank for that. You filled my heart with hope and reassurance. I have nothing but love for every one of you, and I wish I could package up a hug and a cookie and send it to all the corners of the earth that you sent your love from. I thought today I would give you a little journey through what went on while I was in hospital. I hope that this post might help someone else who might be afraid or going through a scary health journey too.
Chris and my Mum took me up to the hospital and we did the admin dance. Once I was admitted Mum went off and Chris stayed with me all the way until they wheeled me off to theater. As you can see from my sexy outfit I was dressed in my finest for this performance. I have to say that the twenty minutes before the anaesthetic carried me off to dreamland, and the twenty-four hours after I woke up from the anaesthetic were the scariest hours of my life. Being alone in a white room, in a cold bed, with nothing to look at but a clock leads to some serious introspection. When I woke up I felt like I was drowning. I couldn’t catch my breath or open my eyes. But worse than my fear was that I put my family through those hours of apprehension and distress. I hate that Chris, my parents, and my sister had to spend six hours waiting to hear anything from the doctors, and then a night of dread while I was in the Intensive Care Unit. My ICU nurse overnight was the kindest, gentlest soul and soothed me through the rough first hours after surgery. I will forever be grateful for Christina’s care and kindness.
I spent most of my birthday in the ICU. While it wasn’t the 30th birthday I had imagined – no champagne, but lots of drugs – it certainly was one to remember. I had lots of visitors: Casey and Matt, my Mum and Jess, Chris, my Dad, and some workmates. All of them brought beautiful flowers, balloons, smiles, and love – that room was overflowing with love. I celebrated my birthday evening with a move to a beautiful private room on a ward. The nurses and staff of ward 35 were all amazing. Valerie, the lovely lady on the front desk, all of my skilled and caring nurses, and the patient care assistants were professional, kind and compassionate. I woke up on the ward the next morning with a little more awareness of what was going on. Situation report: a central line and drain in my neck, oxygen nasal prongs, a cannula to draw blood from in one arm, a cannula in the other to administer drugs, a 12-inch wound running from my sternum around to my waist and another 3-inch one from my belly button down, a drain in my abdomen, and a catheter. I was a bionic woman! In the end the surgeons removed the entire right lobe of my liver (with five tumours) and six inches of small intestine (with lymph nodes).
Over the next few days so many people showed up to cheer me up, bring flowers, and share their love with me. My room ended up looking like a florist! I have to say a deep thank you to every single friend who came to visit. I may not have been able to keep my eyes open for very long, or hold a conversation, but my heart was brimming with happiness and gratitude that you all showed you cared for me. I know in the future whenever I am lonely or the road is dark all I have to do is think about those moments, those flowers, and I will have a light to guide my way.
Over the next few days I progressed from a bed-bound, tube-filled woman to short walks with the physiotherapist, and even a shower! There is nothing like that first shower after surgery. I felt renewed – and exhausted! My Mum came to visit me every morning; Chris, Dad and Jess came every evening; and my friends showed up in between to keep me entertained. Casey brought me lunch so I didn’t have to rely on hospital meals. My first post-surgery meal (well, the first one that stayed down) was a tasty vegetable soup, creme brulee and strawberry and fig skewers – gourmet hospital lunch courtesy of Casey! She even set the ‘table’ with a linen tablecloth and napkin, crystal water glass, and LED candle. Fancy! Thank you sweet lady! The nurses took out my neck drain and central line so I could rest more easily in bed, and replaced my two cannulas with one in a more comfortable place in my arm. I still couldn’t bring myself to look at my torso until they finally took my drain out though. As one nurse said, once they are healed they will be ‘pretty scars’. I beat cancer. I earned those scars. If I don’t feel like telling the whole story my plan is to tell people I got bitten by a crocodile. I think it works.
The nights were the hardest. Once my visitors had gone home, and Chris had left for the evening I was all by myself with just my thoughts, a TV, and social media for company. I haven’t slept more than one night apart from Chris in three years. I missed his breathing, our feet touching the way they do in the middle of the night, and waking up next to him. On my second last day I managed to walk outside for a little while with Mum. I realised I hadn’t felt the sun in six days. After that I made it my mission to get home. While I was up and walking I had one last hurdle: crippling nausea. I was lucky that my nurses took it very seriously and my surgeons figured out that I am extra sensitive to the pain medication they had me on. Once my pain meds were lowered and I had some strong anti-emetics my stomach was good to go.
Some notes on nausea: refined sugar is your friend. One day my diet consisted of two lemonade ice blocks, and a handful of jelly beans. (Thanks Aunty Lone for the jelly beans, and thanks for taking care of eating the black ones Caro…). You gotta give your body what it needs to support recovery. Whatever it takes.
By Thursday morning (at about 2 a.m.), a week after I had been admitted, I was ready to go home, so I made it my mission to get there. I laid awake watching the rain falling and I knew it was time for me to go home, and that I needed to be there to heal faster. Before my doctors made their rounds I was up, dressed in pants (and a bra! If you’ve ever been a lady in hospital you know this is a big step) with clean hair, and all my bags packed. I had a point to make. And….they agreed that I was ready to go! I called Chris and he was there in a moment! I let him pose on the bed after he had carried four loads of flowers and balloons to the car. We waited around for a few hours so I could have my final blood test cleared – and then we were homeward bound! Penny almost lost her mind when she saw us pull up in the driveway. She hasn’t left my side in the last week and a half. She’s much better than a hot water bottle, and very good company for a lady who naps at least twice a day. Since I’ve been home I have progressed by the day. I have had meals brought to me (thanks Caro and Casey), my Mum has been here every day helping me with housework and taking Penny and I for walks, my sister took time off to ferry me to a doctor’s appointment and spend time with me, my Dad has shown up to wash my car and have cups of tea, and Chris has been shouldering all the responsibilities of the house as well as caring for me. I am grateful for all the effort my family and friends have made to help Chris and I with keeping our life on track and our house from falling down around us. I appreciate all the loads of washing, the dishes, the walks, the meals, and the company. I am grateful for the hours you have taken from your own busy lives to make ours easier. I will never repay my debt, but there are a lot of cookies and free manual labour available when you need them.
And just like that my cancer journey has nearly come to an end. Although I will have to be tested regularly for the next decade, for now my cancer is gone. All I have left are the scars that tell my tale of survival on my body. Healing is going to be a slow process, and I have more feelings to sift through and deal with, but most of all I’m grateful my cancer journey was so brief. A major operation is no small thing, and my road back to full vigor will take a while, but I have seen the hell other cancer patients and survivors have endured and my scars are nothing compared to that. This journey has made me more aware of the incredible job our bodies do everyday just keeping us alive, and the way they will drag us through the fire and come out the other side like a phoenix. I am grateful that my body is strong, that I kept my eyes on gratitude and hope during this journey, and that I never walked the road alone for even a moment. I’m alive. I’m here to stay. I can’t wait to see what happens next.