My post-surgery follow-up appointment finally arrived on March 31st.
One month after my surgery. It was also my first day driving the car and I drove myself all the way into Vancouver to VGH. I’d thought the surgeon was just going to have a look at the scar to make sure it was healing nicely. After all, I’d only had the final few staples removed two days prior to the appointment. I waited in the examination room for my surgeon, Dr. Kim to arrive. A few minutes later, he threw open the door with a big smile saying, “Wow! You look great!” Granted, I’d just refreshed my hair color and was wearing more makeup than normal as I was going directly from the appointment to my first “gig” since surgery (a little singing telegram as a sassy clownfish) but it was still nice to hear.
He took a look at the scar, was happy with the progress, and proceeded to sit down at his computer. “I have the pathology reports from your surgery to go over” he said. Yikes. I hadn’t realized this would be occurring at this appointment and immediately became a bit nervous. Dr. Kim went over each item which had been removed and biopsied. I hadn’t realized it was more than the liver area and my right ovary which I’d asked them to remove proactively due to my BRCA2 genetic mutation and my mom’s death from ovarian cancer. The left ovary having been removed at my prior surgery. But it made sense that while they were in there, and had to open me up so widely due to the double surgery, they’d have a look around for anything else anomalous.
As I already knew, the right lobe of the liver was removed and analyzed. There were no further cancerous cells outside the two small areas which they’d been targeting, meaning it hadn’t spread. Same for the tiny bit in the left lobe. All clear margins.
My ovary was also analyzed, and aside from some endometrial damage and a small standard cyst, there were no cancerous cells anywhere in the ovary. Whew.
He told me they had found two small polyps on my stomach area which looked suspicious, as well as one lymph node near the liver which looked odd, so those were also removed and biopsied, showing no problems, no malignancy whatsoever.
But one thing I DIDN’T know is that with liver resection surgery, they also remove your gallbladder. I honestly don’t recall anyone ever mentioning this to me, but there was a lot of paperwork to read through before surgery, so perhaps I missed it? Seems like something you might want to MENTION to your patient, though. They biopsied that as well and found no issues whatsoever. But hey – now I don’t have a gallbladder. What the what? I asked if there were any dietary restrictions I needed to follow now that I was lacking a gallbladder, but Dr. Kim said nope, just eat normally. Huh? I was a bit shocked by that, but since I don’t eat a lot of greasy or fatty foods, perhaps he’s right? Still, I mean to ask my naturopath’s advice on that one…
To sum things up, he was smiling ear-to-ear and said he was “extremely pleased” with the success of the surgery and my recovery. I still feel like I have a way to go on the “recovery” aspect, but I’ll take it. In Dr. Kim’s mind, I was now essentially “cancer-free”. For me, that idea was going to take some time to sink in.
The following morning, I had a phone follow-up with my oncologist, who was also “extremely pleased” with the pathology report. He told me that from now on, we would simply monitor my situation with scans and bloodwork every six months. He said that this type of cancer does has a tendency to re-appear in many patients, but both he and Dr. Kim are hoping that because I responded so well to my surgeries and treatments, that I’ll be in the percentile in which it DOESN’T return (Goddess willing). My first scan is scheduled for June 22nd . If all looks good, they will be able to remove my chemo port which has been getting really itchy and uncomfortable as of late – most likely because I’m so damn thin right now.
After all I’ve gone through this past year, it’s difficult to get TOO excited about the prognosis until that scan, but until then, I’m trying to rest, heal physically and emotionally and get back to as much of “normal life” as possible.
These past weeks since surgery have been some of the most difficult in my journey. I’ve felt so weak and useless. My body just wouldn’t do the most basic tasks. Simply standing up one day at my counter cutting out fabric pieces for a sewing project sent my back into horrible spasms of pain. My shoulder and rib-cage on the right side locked up in absolute pain so severe I couldn’t sleep for days. The only relief I could get was by sitting on the couch and leaning forward onto a table stacked high with pillows. I’d be able to get about a half hour of sleep that way, but that wasn’t nearly enough. My pain and exhaustion debilitated me and dissolved me into deep despair and constant tears. I couldn’t take a bath to relieve the pain because my incision wasn’t healed. Likewise, I couldn’t get a massage because I couldn’t lie on my stomach – and I had to be extremely careful of any extra pressure near my liver.
And that liver was growing – some days when I over-exerted myself even slightly, I could see it protruding, swollen under my skin. I took to icing it with ice packs to bring down the swelling and get a bit of relief. Meanwhile, my stomach was still over-producing acid, and barely any food appealed to me, so I wasn’t gaining any strength from nourishment. I felt utterly useless and hopeless so often that I feared I’d never recover.
A huge part of what’s been damaged is my confidence. In fact, my confidence and sense of self was deeply damaged by ongoing terrorizing and slandering of my work and name by one very sad, disturbed and incredibly jealous woman who made it her mission to turn my little artistic community against me. I was in hibernation for many years because of this abuse, and through the self-imposed prison of my fear, I couldn’t see all the love in my life that was always within reach.
I had an epiphany akin to Dorothy waking up in Kansas and realizing, “there’s no place like home”. For that realization, I thank you all, and in a strange way, I thank this journey.
Over the course of my journey, I worked on a lot of aspects of my self. I’d determined to have no stone left unturned in the quest for my healing. So there was the conventional medical treatment, my naturopathic supplements and nutrition, the yoga and – ok, I’m going to get a little “hippie” on you now – meditation work, cord-cutting and clearing of my chakras. Zinnnngggg!!!
I know the whole chakra thing isn’t for everyone, but bear with me.
Through guided meditations, I identified blockages in the areas that were being affected by the cancer and worked through them. Some of these exercises involved forgiving my enemies and cutting loose people who no longer served me: stuck relationships which had nothing more to offer other than pain. As I moved up to my solar plexus chakra – where my liver lives – I was faced with trying to recover what my enemy had stolen from me: my confidence.
It may have seemed premature of me to get back to performing so soon after my surgery, but you see, I HAD to do it. I needed to find out if I could still find joy in the work which I’d once devoted so many years of my life to before I was robbed of my legacy by jealousy, threats and cruelty.
Happily, I found that place again. The old adage “go where the love is” rang true. I realized that a few unhappy people couldn’t take away my gifts, my joy, my big heart nor the vast army of friends and admirers who I now realize I’ve touched throughout the years through my work. My mojo was returning at long last, and that golden light filled me to bursting!
On top of that, the bully who had tried to tear my life away from me was finally called out by the rest of my former artistic community as the hateful, hurtful, venomous woman she is. Her reign of terror was finally ended – although much damage has been done which may never be healed, though I’ve forgiven her in my heart.
And here was me, still working on the ol’ chakras. Working my way up to the throat chakra: the ability to speak your truth. After feeling silenced for years, I finally felt strong enough to tell my story publicly. And after much painful dredging up of past injustices, a profoundly tearful counseling session and many, many re-writes proofed by many dear friends, I let my voice loose on the world. At least the world I was formerly a part of.
And it felt so good.
To finally have this immense burden of silence and fear lifted from my shoulders after bearing it for over a decade was immeasurably wonderful. I could feel my confidence begin to burn again with a brilliant flame, my heart to open up and shine more brightly and my voice to finally start to open itself freely again without fear. That’s the moment when I felt I would truly be OK. Scan or no scan. A convergence of two journeys; both tragic, both terrifying, and both coming to a long-awaited close.
None of us can know what the future holds. But for now, I feel as if the past no longer has its razor-sharp clutches in me. Yes, I will be medically monitored for the rest of my life. And yes, other bad people may come into my life. But I’m feeling as if my newly honed, loving, giving warrior-self now has the tools and confidence to do battle and win against any adversity which may come. With your help of course.
Because love truly is the answer to everything.