I am suspended between two worlds.
A woman created by God’s golden aura.
Now I am descending between the world of light and evil.
The spirit guide will hold me like a warrior reflecting pockets of light.
My body will be free again.
My body will rise like a shield.
I will ascend away from you, cancer.
April 22nd, I see my gastroenterologist walking toward me down a long hall with a somber
look upon his face. I feel my body shiver and lock in a straight upward position. Then came the words, “We found something.”

I feel like I am falling rapidly to hell. Rectum cancer is a family legacy. My mom had it in her fifties but survived it with surgery.

My maternal aunt had it but died shortly after surgery. Now it seems I am going have it in my
fifties depending upon the upcoming biopsy results. I just can’t believe it.

The biopsy was sent away. A call comes at a work retreat that there is a quarter size mass in my rectum and it is indeed cancerous. My heart is beating so loud as I walk down the long halls
outside the retreat door.  At the time, my colleagues and supervisor are sympatric with shock and disbelief.  All I can really say, “I am scared.”

At the oncologist’s office, I feel overwhelmed by the treatment news. There is an oncologist
sitting at a computer typing while her assistant stood on the other side of the room. There is
8 weeks of chemotherapy, then a short break with 4 weeks of radiation. Surgery will be in
January with a temporary ileostomy.

I was overwhelmed by the cancer journey so I put my frustrations into my writing which has always been therapeutic. This poem came out of me:

 

When the tourists, residents, and life guards dwell in bar hub
Lovers hold hands and wandering aimlessly down harbor piers.
The ocean is lonely
Half-moon with white mist
Perhaps a walk in the rowdy water waves
Seaweed wrapping around my ankles and legs
Just keeping walking with the water caressing up my body and sucking up the cancer inside.
Meet Jesus walking on the water and take his hands to the rainbow bridge.
Blazing and glowing light around us.
His embrace eliminates the cancer mass 
No more chemo nausea, no more radiation diarrhea, no surgery pain or aftermath results.
No fearing hair lost and skin discoloration. 
My mom’s eyes glowing as they did when I would come home to her on earth
Now I would be truly home with her.
My aunt saying, “we got you honey.”
My dad saying, “we sure do love you.”
The world would say I gave up the easy way.
Eulogize me with cancer and how it made me give up 
My underground, lost people will come out of their holes
Saying “if they had only known,” They always loved me.”
But that is the day I truly owned my dignity and my journey.
As Jesus said on the cross before his death goodbye 
“It is done.” God’s ocean is ascending me to life beyond this earth.

 

It is a double edge sword. I am afraid of death and my immortality but am afraid of the power of cancer and what it can do to a human being as it is stealing the body and taking life from the person it invades. I drive by cemeteries and knowing what my fate might be with no choice or to “save face” with choice.

All along, I had insisted on a female surgery so my GI doctor recommended Dr. Roth.  My first appointment with Dr. Roth is less overwhelming. She comes in, sits down across from me, and asks, “what I remember about what I had been told concerning my cancer thus far?” She is very gentle and compassionate in presence.

I say to her “stage 3, quarter size, in the rectum, curable, and treatable”. She says to me “good memory.” Also, I mention my mom’s surgery and rectum cancer. Dr. Roth asks “what I remember about it that concerns me?” I tell her I remember, “my mom screaming after
she woke up from surgery.” She assures me none of her patients have screamed after waking up from surgery and that patients are well taken care of post-surgery.

The journey began with chemotherapy every other week for 8 weeks. Nausea, stomach aches, fatigue, and no appetite. While in chemotherapy, I am working a full time administrative manager position with high demands. I am answering e-mails and setting up staff meetings while taking my dozes of chemotherapy in the chair. Then came radiation after a two week break, and I am taking up to 6 oral chemo pills during the week days after radiation. I am driving down the freeway at 6:45 a.m. for ten-minute sessions and off to work for meetings, e-mails, and work sponsored programs. Radiation ended before Thanksgiving so my break is until surgery on January 30th. There I am coming down a flight of stairs on January 19th, a week before my rectum surgery. Medical leave from work has begun so I could prepare for my surgery. Suddenly, I find myself falling 8 feet from my rental home stairs that has no banister. I break my left arm from the wrist to the elbow. Surgery to repair my arm is January 20th. Because the amount of time that has lapse between cancer treatments, my rectum surgery must stay scheduled on January 30th otherwise I risk the mass growing again and increase the odds I will have a permanent colostomy instead of a temporary ileostomy.

The ileostomy is rough with my left arm molded into a cast. The medical staff want me to go into a rehabilitation center but I cannot see myself losing my independence completely so I go with home health care and a private home aid service to assist with daily household chores and body care. I demonstrate to the ileostomy nurse educator that I can stand over the stool and empty the bag with a clip across the top to close it.

February 2018 is a horrible month as the ileostomy bags does not adjust well to my skin. The adhesive tape keeps breaking and discharging the content. The home nursing services must sometimes come three times a day even though their normal rule is every three days and no weekends. I call for emergency home nursing services on weekends. Health care professionals will tell me how beautiful my stoma is, but I am afraid of it. I cry when the bags came a loose and try to control the discharging stoma with towels and only one hand alone in my bathroom. I try to cut medical tape with one hand or with my teeth to keep bags on me. Nothing seems to work. I call the ileostomy nurse educator at the hospital twice who helps me get some control and relief from breaking bags for a few days.

During late March, some control has come back to my hand and with the help of both the ileostomy nurse educator and Wound Center, bags begin to hold on my skin. It is the Wound Center that teaches me to keep an ileostomy kit with extra bags and supplies in case there was “an accident.” I also learned to have a change of clothes with me.  

My left hand is working well enough to help the right-hand change bags and keep the bags clean at the discharge point after emptying the content.

In April, I am back to work, but it is the 4th month and I am counting down to the surgery to
reverse the ileostomy. It is mid-April when I take the scan and learn my colon has healed. The reversal surgery could be scheduled. I cry for an hour when the hospital staff released a liquid in my colon and the colon discharged it. My colon is still with me and it wants to come back to me.

The ileostomy taught me about being present and moving with vulnerability. No one can guarantee that a bag will not break at the “wrong place and time”. Or even with “the wrong person”. It happened. A bag came open at work while I am with my administrative coordinator. But fortunately, she is a loving and caring person.  She says, “It is fine Barbara. No worries. Do what you need to do. It’s time to go home anyway.” I cry when I got home. A text comes from her saying, “Just checking on you. Everything okay? Are you home? Remember you are a very strong woman”.

June 5th, 2018, Dr. Roth reverses the ileostomy and during the same surgery, my orthopedic doctor removes a screw from my wrist that has come a loose. Upon drinking liquids, the gas returns quickly. I keep rubbing my stomach and abdomen saying “Please come back to me. Just come back to me.” Once I can eat and retain food along with expelling gas, the doctor let me leave the hospital on a Saturday. By Monday, the bowels are back as diarrhea, but I am fine with it. My body is releasing bowels again.

My vision as a survivor seems to be coming true at that moment. A sunny day. Sea gulls singing. Wet sand upon my bare feet and I am writing “freedom” in the wet sand with a stick. My body is at last free. I am walking the shore toward land. A survivor walking toward a new direction. A transformed life.