“There is a mass on the head of your pancreas and it looks like cancer.” I look over and my husband’s elbows are on his knees. His hands are cradling his head. He is shaking. Is he crying?
The doctor speaks again “You are lucky, you qualify for surgery. The Whipple Procedure is complicated but…” my mind trails off. I hear words I don’t understand “duodenum, reconnecting remaining intestine, bile duct”.
I don’t have time for this, I have three teenage daughters who need me. I have voluntarily entered this room and I am free to leave. I will deal with this later. I have a new job, my daughter’s 16th birthday party is next month.
I thank him and promise to follow up when things settle down. He is calm but direct. “You need to have surgery as soon as possible. I will have my nurse check my calendar for next week. Plan to be in the hospital for 10-12 days.”
We explain it to the girls. We know they are concerned because their cellphones remain on their laps untouched. They are making eye contact with us. They are listening.
My Mom comes to stay. She steps into my role and takes care of the family.
I lay in a hospital bed surrounded by smiling nurses. I fall into a deep sleep. I wake and there is no pain. I am happy; it is over. I sleep again. The pain slowly creeps in as the medicine wears off. I can’t sit up. I can’t walk. Last week I was running, my body has betrayed me.
My doctor enters the room.
He tells me the monster is gone. Except it isn’t. A piece off it still floats in my lymph nodes patiently waiting to attack again.
A few days pass. It is my 43rd birthday. I wake up in the hospital bed. The room is filled with cards and flowers.
I sit up. I walk. I go home. I am happy to be home but overwhelmed at all that I am unable to do. Eating is painful. I take enzymes with food to help digestion. There is a drain attached to my stomach. I do not want visitors. Dinners appear, my kids are driven to and from practices, family and friends help in every way.
I lay in my bed. My mind slowly processing all that my body has been though. Depression and self-pity wash over me. The internet is my enemy. It makes me a statistic. I obsess over which side of the percent I will be, how much time I have left.
Anger visits and quickly replaces depression and self-pity.
I have always been a planner and this was not the plan.
I would raise my kids and watch them grow into young adults. My husband and I would become empty nesters. We would travel all the places we talked about and begin a new chapter of our lives. There were so many more things I wanted to do.
One day I would write again.
One day I would travel, hike and climb a mountain.
One day I would listen to the sounds of the ocean and read a book.
One day the stories I have been carrying in my head would be a novel.
One day I would be a grandmother.
One day I would have white hair and guiltlessly eat pastries.
I remember the saying “Becoming old is a privilege” and now I understand.
I sit in darkness. The blackness lasts a while but then a ray of sunlight shines in my window. I get up. I stare cancer in the eye and dare it to try and stop me.
I decide to live.
Today I will write. Today I will travel, hike and climb a mountain. Today I will listen to the sound of the ocean and read.
Today I will begin my novel. Today I will love deeply and enjoy my time. Today I will forgive. Today I will make every minute count.
Today I will live.