This is the first day where I have the space, the silence, to really sit down and have a talk with myself about recent events.
So self… How are you? And no, “I’m fine,” isn’t an ok answer between us. I’m here for you. I will always be here for you and I need you to be honest with me; with us.
How are you feeling about having cancer?
Having cancer isn’t really the thing that bothers me. The thought of having surgery bothers me. The thought of my life depending on a daily medication bothers me. What happens if there’s a zombie apocalypse? A nuclear bomb? What happens if I’m kidnapped or taken hostage and I’m denied access to my medication? What happens if I can no longer obtain it?
Having my thyroid removed will keep me alive. I get it. There’s something inside my body that while yes, it is slow-growing, doesn’t spread, blah blah blah… it’s still trying to kill me and will succeed if I don’t remove it. I accept that. I have to have surgery in order to stay alive. But after surgery, the only reason I can keep living a “normal” life is because I live in a place, in a time, where I can give my body the thing it will no longer be able to create on its own.
So what happens if that changes? What happens if the time and place no longer work the way they currently do and I’m left without what I need to live?
Ox and I have an understanding. I called him on my lunch break at work on Friday. We talked about this. I know for a lot of people it may seem silly, stupid, to entertain such far-fetched ideas; things that will “never” happen. But I need to know. If.. IF… they did happen, what would we do?
I told him that I needed him to promise me, if this became a legitimate issue that he would take me out, or if he couldn’t do it himself, to let me do it myself.
Of course, I was in tears as I made him promise me.
If I have no control over my need for this medication, then I want to have the control to at least not suffer if I’ll never be able to get it again. I need the people in my life to understand not only is this the type of issues I’m having to contend with and reconcile within myself, I need them to understand that these are my wishes, while I’m still of sound mind and body.
Me: Don’t let me suffer.
I’ve talked to Jon and he’s agreed to be who I name in my living will, because there are no guarantees in life. This surgery is safe and very rarely are there complications… more blah blah blah blah…
Mom was about to be discharged to go to rehab when she had a pumonary emolism, ok? Don’t give me your bullshit about everythings going to be fine and I don’t need to worry about things like that.
Yeah… I fucking do because unless you can show me my contract where it says I’ll have no complications and go on to live a full life and die many, many years later, then you can’t tell me this isn’t something I need to worry about. You’re not the one literally having your throat cut open by a stranger who’s an asshole and didn’t even have time to answer your questions.
I want to have things in place just in case there’s a complication after surgery. That way the people I love aren’t left not knowing what to do because we never talked about the real shit that mattered. I’ve already started looking into a last will and who would get the hope chest my grandfather made for me and mom’s china hutch and china set and my cross stitch stuff or my magic cards. I’ve already asked Ox what would happen to the kittens if I were to die because I need to know they’ll be ok.
That’s the type of shit I’m having to think about while my patients ask me how my Thanksgiving was.
Me: Do collectors get to take their due out of the life insurance I’ve left for my brothers? Oh, yeah… Thanksgiving was nice. Not a lot happened…
Except everything happened. I was diagnosed with cancer and have had to have non-stop conversations with countless people about it and I still don’t have a surgery date because my insurance has to “approve” my surgery.
What the actual fuck?
Are you saying it’s possible to be denied a life-saving operation? Should this be something I actually put energy into worrying about because it’s a thing? I need approval for a medical procedure when I’ve paid thousands of dollars on health insurance from when I first started working until now? Thousands of dollars that I’ve never actually used for anything other than yearly checkups?
No wonder so many people have fucking issues with our health system. I’ve done more than my part and yet I need “approval”?
Go fuck yourselves.
I’m having to think about things like, “if I were to die should I be buried or cremated? If I’m buried, where should I be buried so the people who would want to visit my grave can do so without having to spend thousands of dollars to do it? If I die somewhere far away from my burial site, how expensive would it be to send my body to the burial location? Is that even a thing? If so do I have to be imbalmed to do it?”
God. So many fucking questions. And I have a group project I haven’t even really touched for school this coming week. Not to mention all of the reading for this unit that I haven’t done. Not going to feel bad about prioritizing reassuring family and friends that I’m not dying as I prepare for the possibility of my death over reading nursing school BS assignments that haven’t helped me score better on the tests because your tests are BS to begin with. Arg… >.<
There’s so much going on inside of my head that I don’t even know where to begin.
Does having surgery make you less of a cancer survivor? I mean… It’s not like I’m fighting it. I’m not going through chemo. I’m not having to do a lot of stuff that most people diagnosed with cancer have to go through. I have this surgery. It’s removed. I go about my life… That’s not heroic. That’s not really “fighting”, is it? I’m having someone else cut me open. They’re doing all the work and I’m hoping they do it well enough to not fuck up.
That seems sort of like a cheap way of fighting cancer. Not cheap as in “not expensive”. But cheap as in, “I’m not having to face the same hardships as others”, so does my experience really count? Would I really be a cancer survivor?
So that brings into question, how do I feel about mom? She had cancer. The same cancer, in fact. Do I think of her as a cancer survivor?
Honestly, I never really thought about it. I knew she had thyroid cancer at some point; before I was born. I knew she had surgery. I knew she took medication. But I never talked to her about it. I never questioned it. She was mom. She was awesome. I didn’t think to talk to her about it. I didn’t think to explore that experience, that side of her. And now that I’m facing it myself, there’s no way to go back and have those conversations.
There was this whole side of her that I never knew anything about and I’ll never know it because I never thought to ask.
I do think of her as a survivor. I do think of her as a badass; even more badass now since I’m facing something she went through. So if I think of her that way, why am I different? Why wouldn’t I think of myself in the same way, the same light, as someone who went through literally the same thing I’m going through?
That’s not fair. That’s not logically. What is it about me that makes me unworthy of the same mentality? Why am I put into a different box of “non-survivor” status?
I don’t have an answer for that. At least not yet. But I know it’s there so that’s at least a step in the right direction.
The surgeon himself is a jerk. I had to dig out my surprised face for that one… He came into the room and didn’t even know what I was there for. He “believed” I was there for thyroid issues… yeah, because the last time I checked cancer is sort of an issue… He didn’t know if I should have a partial removal or a full removal… Well… based on the information from my endocrinologist, there’s a questionable nodule less than a centimeter big in my left lobe, so her recommendation was for a full removal instead of a partial… You know, taking out everything since you’ll already have to take out the right side. It would be better to have a baseline of ok rather than a baseline of “what’s this weird shit over here going to do later down the road,” sort of a thing…
It felt like I was doing his job for him because he knew nothing about my case.
He gave me his sales pitch, telling me how experienced he was and how post-surgery would go then stood to leave. I mentioned that I still had questions, not mentioning that it was four pages worth of questions since some of them had already been covered.
Surgeon: Well, I’m already 30 minutes late for a surgery so I really can’t stay.
Fuck you, dude. If your nurse practitioner wasn’t amazing I would be looking for someone else to cut me open. Actually, I dislike you so much I almost would rather die of cancer than let you save me. Seriously. I came to this appointment because you were supposed to have time for me and to know my case, which apparently you couldn’t do either of those things.
I flipped him off when he closed the door, leaving me and Ox alone in the room, waiting, as he flagged down his NP to come clean up his mess.
The NP is amazing, though, and literally the only reason I’m staying with this particular surgeon. One of my coworkers knows of him. She used to work at the same hospital. She said even the other doctors think he’s an asshole, which is saying something. If other doctors, who are assholes, think you’re an asshole, then you must be a special type of special.
But yeah, his NP is fantastic. She was so kind and compassionate. She understood when I explained the situation about mom and how at the moment I felt relatively fine but that pre-surgery would most likely be extremely hard for me. She assured me she would be in the surgery room with me, helping the surgeon, and that she could even be with me pre-surgery if it would help. Knowing she’ll be there makes it seem more doable. I won’t be alone. I’ll know someone. She said she would most likely be the person checking on me post-surgery as well since they’ll have to keep me overnight to make sure there aren’t complications. She even answered all the questions I had in my notebook, never indicating that any of them were stupid or silly. Even my question about “Will it being winter affect my recovery?” was answered with kindness and compassion and an informative response; which depression is a big worry about surgeries in winter, in case you were wondering.
If I’m unconscious for the whole time I’m around Mr. Asshole and conscious for all the other times with the NP, then I think I’ll be ok.
The NP actually had a thyroidectomy herself… when she was 20… Holy fuck? You had just graduated high school and were told you had cancer? What the actual fuck, Universe? I want to talk more to her and hear her perspective. How did you feel being told that young that you had cancer? How do you feel now? Do you feel like a cancer survivor? Do you ever feel vulnerable or less than or unworthy because you’re missing part of yourself?
Jon, Jason, and my dad have wanted to know if I want them there. I’m not sure yet. I’m hoping to have the surgery between the 18th of December and the 9th of January. There’s a part of me who’s hoping for the 20th of December so I can avoid all of the birthday stuff…
Me: Sorry guys, I would love to have a party… but, you know… cancer… so I can’t… Maybe next year, though. Love you. Bye. : D
Oh, and trust me… I’ve been making a ton of cancer jokes. I mean… if my choices are crying about it or making extremely inapproiate jokes about it… I’m totally going to joke and laugh.
I want to have the surgery before my winter break from school ends. Though, I still don’t know what I want to do with school yet. I haven’t told my instructors since it’s been holiday break.
At the moment I’m inclined to tell my family, “No. Don’t come”. It’s the holidays. Traveling is going to be a nightmare and ridiculously expensive for something that is a borderline outpatient surgery. I mean… everyone keeps making it sound like, “You’re sick. You go to the doctor. They make you better. You go home.” Why would I have people waste time and money to be there for something when in two to three days I’ll be back at work? Shouldn’t I be able to handle that alone without having to drag everyone through that emotional and financial expense?
It’s confusing. My friend Allison, who just had a baby not even two weeks ago, talked to me a bit about that part of the situation. Which, you want to talk about raining on someone’s parade…?
Me: Congratulations! By the way, I have cancer. How was childbirth?
She said that maybe Jason, Jon, and my dad WANT to be there. That it would make them feel better TO be there, rather than being home, by themselves, no knowing what’s going on. Not being able to see me before or after surgery.
She has a point. It’s not fair of me to make decisions for them. They’re adults. They can decide if seeing me in a hospital is something they can or cannot handle. It’s not my place to say if it is or isn’t. It’s not my place to take the choice away from them.
I won’t know until early this coming week when surgery will be. I have to make it through at least another day of work, maybe a day of school, with not knowing. What if it ends up being Christmas week when it’s my turn to work Sunday at the clinic since New Tech covered this past Sunday for the Thanksgiving holiday? What if I’m unable to cover my three days at the clinic?
Even though I’ve been told by my boss, who has also gone through something similar with her thyroid, not to worry about work, I’m me and I’m going to fucking worry, ok? Telling me not to worry is like telling me not to breathe. Let me get right on that…
I worry about my team. I love my team and this is going to affect them just as much as Ox or anyone else in my life. Maybe more so since I spend so much time working beside them.
It is going to take a bit of time to figure out the dosage of medication I’m supposed to be on. There’s math and stuff to help figure out a “right” dose but that’s more of a starting point rather than a miracle number. Every person is different and every person responds differently. We won’t know until about six weeks post-surgery if their numbers are working. If they aren’t, does the dose need to be increased or decreased? After the adjustment is made it will be another six weeks before lab work and be redone to see if the dosage is better or worse. Finding the right dosage is going to be a process, a long one, and during this time because the thyroid controls your metabolism and energy levels, my moods are going to be all over the place.
If my dosage is too low, I’ll be tired and fatigued, and not the kind that coffee and a shit ton of caffeine will help with. I will be physically, bone-achingly tired because my body can’t process energy the way it’s supposed to. If my dose is too high, I basically feel like I’m on speed, unable to sleep or focus. Unable to stop or sit still. Not all that awful aside from the health complications that go along with not sleeping and the potential heart arrhythmias… At least the apartment will be clean when I die? That’s a bright side, right?
So I’m supposed to go six to 12 weeks of potential “wtf” inside my body that I have absolutely no control over while going to nursing school three days a week and working another three at the clinic and only have Sunday off, ever, to do the rest of the shit that needs to happen in my life, like paying bills and laundry, food shopping and cooking, followup appointments, vet visits, mental and emotional breakdowns…
Yeah, all of life gets regulated to a single day next semester. How am I supposed to be successful at anything with everything I have going on?
I don’t have an answer for that either, at least not yet.
I want to talk to the head of the LPN program to see what my options are as far as school is concerned. I’ve already taken out loans for the program. What happens if I stop? Does the school refund the money? It’s not like I’m, “Naw. I’m not feeling this whole nursing thing. I’m going to go be couch potato instead.” I literally have cancer and I don’t want to have to worry about school assignments while I’m trying to be mentally and emotionally ok because I’m really not mentally and emotionally ok right now.
Can I sit out this coming semester? Maybe take a prerequisite for the RN program like Microbiology? Something online so I don’t have to worry about traveling anywhere on my days off from work but still something moving me in a forward direction and keeping me “active”? Could I hop back into the LPN program but do it full-time instead of part-time? I mean… I was already having to look at cutting back my time at work anyway since the part-time program meets Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. If I’m having to cut back at work anyway, why not get it done faster? If I can’t reenter the program full-time can I wait until the next occurrence of the part-time program? Would I have to redo the first semester even if I pass it? Would I have to pay for anything if I step back for a little while or would you guys hold onto the money I already gave you? How does all of this work? Am I fucked and I have to do next semester even though in any other situation I’m sure this would be a “qualifying life event”?
Why are all of these systems so fucking broken? Why are half of my worries even fucking worries? I’m worried about not dying and who will take care of my cats if I do. I shouldn’t have to worry about approval for the surgery and how fucked am I if I don’t keep trucking along at school.
And yet, here I am, having to figure all of it out because that’s how our systems work. I have to have approval to live.
I still need to cook meals for the week. I still haven’t put my clothes away from this past Monday. I haven’t touched schoolwork in a week, which luckily, it’s been the holiday break so there wasn’t really anything major to worry about. Still… I was hoping to use this week to get ahead for the final exam. Totally did not go how I thought it would and I can’t bring myself to care. I’ll figure it out somehow, just like I’m having to figure everything else out.
For now, I’m going to go and cook since I’m hungry and after that, I’m going to cross stitch because fuck it. It’s my only day off. The only day I haven’t had to call people and tell them, “Hey, funny story… I promise it’s really not that bad, but really I’m trying to convince myself of that, too, so hopefully, you believe me because I don’t have any energy left to convince myself.”
All of my problems and questions will still be there, waiting for me, regardless if I cross-stitch or not, so I’m going to because I want to feel like I did at least one thing for myself this whole week.
Fuck you, Cancer Kevin. You’re an asshole.