Credit: Sheelagh Perry
And so it begins. Memories of the past months unreel in film noir flashes; sometimes in night dreams or unbidden during the day. They are the crystallized moments of my journey along this dark road.
As I insist on a colonoscopy, my General Practitioner says with irritation, “You don’t have colon cancer! You’re just seeing food colouring. I’ve never seen anyone who looks so healthy and have cancer!” She is irritated with me for pushing this investigation. Only one of the nine Occult Blood Smears has read positive. I feel very small and troublesome and duly reprimanded. I also pray she is right. I so want to believe her.
Students are present in the Endoscopy Suite the day of my Colonoscopy. A lot of banter is going on. The Gastroenterologist manipulates the scope and suddenly says, “There it is!” as she intently watches the screen. The entire suite falls silent. The students avert their eyes as they porter me back to my cubicle. The unit clerk’s smile is strained and sympathetic. The doctor speaks to me later as I stand shakily outside the Endo Suite door and I only hear the words, “it’s big.” Then, in a misguided attempt to comfort me, a bright and cheery, “but you might not even need a colostomy!” I had never even considered the possibility of one until that moment.
A scheduled call from my Gastroenterologist is planned in order to discuss the biopsy findings. I have arranged to have support present. But when I casually answer the phone the evening prior, I find my GP on the line informing me of my results, “It’s bad.” I have adenocarcinoma of the distal colon. I insist she pull up the report on her screen again to tell me if the cancer has perforated the wall of my colon. It has. Bad news. I am alone and evening is falling. I start to weep uncontrollably and then phone family and friends.
My first CT scan. I am jumpy, jangled and freaked at what the augmented CT scan may find elsewhere in my body. Lying in the scanner, my mind desperately searches for something else to fix on. Staying inside the scanner takes all my will power and a full recitation of all the facts I know about my favourite obsession, the TV medical series House.
Over the next days and weeks I contact anyone I know who might be a source of support or information. One very knowledgeable source backfires. Words like “palliative” and “end-of-life care” are tossed into our conversation. She draws her breath in sharply when my tumour pathology is described. I have to terminate the phone call in order to breathe, and find myself on my knees gasping & weeping. But being a tidy person, I go and do my retching over the kitchen sink.
I am in the OR sitting on the side of the table, hunched over while having the spinal epidural inserted. I am exposed and I am shivering. Everyone else is masked and gowned. Only their eyes show. I feel as fragile as crystal and just as translucent. A nurse brings a warm towel to drape over my shoulders. I shoot her an appreciative smile. People come and go, count instruments and make surgical marks on my body. I am very close to bolting. I can feel my mind seizing up in panic.
The female anaesthetist keeps calling me “dear” and ” sweetie” and telling me how well I am doing. As Registered Nurses we were always admonished not to address patients in this manner. But I just want to hug her.
I am having a Central Line, a thin flexible catheter, inserted into my chest to serve as the main deliver port for the duration of my chemotherapy. It’s a scary experience; a mini OR while under local anaesthetic. My face is screened off, while a physician makes a small incision below my collarbone and pushes so hard on my chest to thread the catheter down towards my heart, that I wonder if he’ll push right through me. But the line gets inserted and the site heals around it and I learn to manage its care.
Will this dark road end with this cycle of Chemotherapy, or will my health be challenged again and again until the cancer wins?
The days of anticipating the future with any degree of serenity seem gone forever.