[This entire week I'm posting snapshots of my cancer story. The entire story, along with thoughts, insights, devotionals, and all the honest-to-goodness truth about dealing with cancer can be found in my memoir, Finding My Way.]
Because of the surgery I had where they removed the tumor and part of my colon I was left with a temporary ileostomy. For those who don't know, a colostomy has to do with the large intestine, an ileostomy with the small intestine. Part of my small intestine was now on the outside of my body (not where it was intended to be), and a bag attached to the skin around it caught everything that came out. Note: the bag adhered with adhesive which, yes, sometimes failed. Not good.
Pretty gross stuff, really.
The protruding intestine is called a stoma, or more sentimentally referred to as a "rosebud" because someone somewhere thought it resembled one. It doesn't. If it did no one would ever stop to smell the roses.
Let it be clear, I hated the ileostomy and everything about it. The bag was a nuisance, it was difficult to conceal under my clothes, the odor was anything but rosey, and it needed to be emptied at the most inconvenient times and places. The stoma was gross, it, too, didn't exactly smell pleasant, it was sensitive to touch and developed a nasty rash around it from the adhesive. Did I mention I hated it?
But. BUT . . . that ileostomy gave my damaged and traumatized colon the time to heal that it needed. It served a purpose and one that was ultimately for the good. And because of that nuisance I learned to deal better with the discomforts of life.
This taught me that the most important lessons in life aren't learned on the mountain tops, but rather in the valley.
If we're paying attention, we can learn something from hardships and trials. But we have to go through the darkness with our eyes open so we can see the pinpoints of light that show us the way through. To cover our eyes and hold them shut in an attempt to block out the shadows and obstacles that surround us is only to prolong our stay and set us up for certain misery.
I've tried recollecting my journey through cancer a few times now over the past six years. I have no problem telling about the pre-cancer tests and anxieties, the surgery and post-surgery gloom. Talking about the ileostomy comes easy. But the next nine months, those months when I endured chemo and it's dark side effects, that's another story.
It's a rocky story, one of faith and doubt, courage and fear, strength and weakness. Truthfully, much of those months is a blur to me. There are moments I remember, images, feelings, but mostly, the events of those months reside in a fog, the kind that rolls in off the ocean and distorts the landscape, blurs the fine edges.
I received chemo every other week. It was on Wednesdays and the infusion took about three hours. The nurse would them hook me up to a portable chemo pump and send me home. I'd then receive a steady infusion of chemo over the next 48 hours. On Friday's I'd return to the doctor's office to have the pump removed and I'd be free for another week and a half.
The side effects of chemo included numbness in my fingers and feet, an extreme sensitivity to cold, decreased ability to taste, fatigue like I'd never felt before, and nausea. Lots of nausea. After every chemo session the side effects would be worse for a few days, then would taper to barely noticeable. Each round they got worse and lasted longer, though. By the end, I had the side effects the entire two weeks.
I was working during those days, too. I'd have off on chemo days then just work a half day on Thursday, go home and sleep. Friday I'd be back at it but would have to take time off to have the chemo pump removed.
Thus was my schedule for the nine months I received chemotherapy. It was a steady spiral down both physically and emotionally and psychologically.
Looking back on it, those were dark days. Tears came easily. I did a lot of staring, a lot of thinking. My emotions sat on a knife's edge. But in spite of the darkness the Light was always there. I felt Him, heard Him. I'm not crazy. I did. And in many ways I've never felt closer to Him.
The valley has a funny way of pushing us closer to our Father, doesn't it?
All this month my memoir, Finding My Way, is on sale. The ebook is only 99 cents and the paperback is $7.70. It's so much more than a story about cancer. It's a story about life, about trials and struggles and finding hope in the midst of ever storm.