From the morning after...
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
The Morning After
I woke up this morning a thankful man. I remember taking a course on cancer massage back in 2001 at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City. We toured the floor where people were being treated for oral cancers and were able to meet several patients during "rounds." As we walked into the room of an elderly man, the nurse leading the tour asked him how he was doing. He clearly was recovering from surgery that took part of his throat and was clearly in pain. It took the better part of 20-seconds for him to clear his throat and position himself to be able to give an answer that impacted my life... with a gentle smile, he simply said, "I am blessed."
I never realized that the elderly man's words would be the example that I would try to rise to with my own cancer experience one day. I did decide that day that if I were ever to be in his shoes, I would want to find the blessings in my situation. So here I am, the morning after a surgery that has forever transformed my body, the look of my neck and the sound of my voice. I look at my life and all I can say is, I am blessed.
This past weekend I gave the last seminar I will be personally presenting this year. It was surreal hearing me speak words in a way that I had spoken them so many times before, knowing that how I spoke those words would likely be changed forever. Telling my students what was to come was not easy. I looked perfectly healthy to them. How could this voice change? I don't think I have ever received such amazing evaluations after a seminar. My Bellingham students were thankful. They knew that every word I spoke caused me pain, but I was thankful that I was able to speak them.
After the class, my amazing assistant, Charity Lisherness, drove me from Bellingham to the Inn at Virginia Mason. She was trying to keep it together, knowing what awaited me the next morning. So instead of talking about how scary it was, we did what we always do on our trips. We told stories and talked about things that make us laugh.
My father greeted us at the Inn. I gave Charity a hug goodbye, grabbed my bags, and headed to my room. I had intended to get a good night's sleep, but with all of the "final phone calls," texts and emails, I didn't get to sleep until after midnight. I didn't mind. I even received a call from a friend who needed to clear the air. It wasn't what he expected, but I asked forgiveness for offending him. It was a great evening.
Yesterday, I woke up before my alarm went off and got ready. It didn't take long as I wasn't allowed to shave prior to the surgery. My two oldest daughters, Ashley and Sara, came up to my room prior to walking me over to spend a little time talking. They tried to stay strong. Not wearing makeup told me they had been crying and had plans of likely crying more during the day. Their pre-surgery hugs were the best part. I love my three daughters with all of my heart. Holly, my youngest, felt badly that her college schedule made it impossible to be there with me. I didn't mind as she will see me the most when I return to my home after I am discharged.
It was 6:35am when Ashley, Sara and I began our walk to the surgery center, literally around the corner from my room. Not long after I had checked in and we found a seat to wait, my parents joined us. Dad was wearing his quiet comforting smile, gave me a hug and said his favorite words while squeezing me... "Bless ya." Mom gave me her usual hug, but it was a little longer than normal. Mom is an encourager; a cheer leader at heart. She brought a bag of candy and goodies to share with the girls as part of her way of blessing others. Sara's boyfriend, Konner, showed up in his scrubs. He is the person responsible for making sure the diagnostic equipment in the surgery suites remains in working order. I asked if he could bring his camera phone into my surgery and "photo bomb" me, but that is apparently a "no-no." It would have been funny though.
I was called back to get my gown on and check my orders. Sure enough, the orders said to remove the right side of my tongue versus my left side. The nurse looked horrified to realize there was a mistake. Shortly after, the surgeon came in, took out a marking pen, and wrote "YES" on my left cheek. All was well.
One at a time my girls, mother and father took turns visiting with me. Then Debbie Houston, my girls’ mother came in. I am so blessed the two of us have forgiven our past and still care about each other. The tears in her eyes showed me once again that was true. I call her "my girls’ mother" out of respect. She's no "ex." She's an amazing woman who blesses everyone she meets. If she's met you, she's likely praying for you.
The last to come back and visit me for a second time was my mother. Up until that point, it was "tag team" with each person overlapping as they replaced the previous visitor. Then Konner stopped in with a straight face. Konner usually smiles. He said, "Violet, Ashley needs to talk to you. She has a question." Konner is an honest man. But my spirit knew he was lying to protect me. I knew something was wrong. If you know me, you know God gives me "insights" on things from time to time. I knew my father had an incident. Something was wrong with my father. Nobody was sitting with me anymore and I was alone for about 10-minutes. The nurse came back to check on me and I asked her what was going on. She said, "I don't have all of the information, but there was an incident with someone in the waiting area. A man collapsed and there is a lot of confusion. I do know that it isn't anyone in your family. "You're sure?" I clarified. "I'm sure," she said. "It's my father" I said with certainty. "How do you know that?" she asked with her eyebrows raised. "I just know. It's hard to explain, but I know."
Moments later the information was corrected. It was my father. He was being rushed to the emergency room and my family was helping him. "Do you want to delay the surgery?" asked the nurse. "No. He will be fine." The surgeon came in at that moment and said, "Your father will be fine. We have our best with him and he is alert and joking." Yep. Dad was fine and being the man I love. They wheeled me back to the surgery suite. I said to the surgery staff, "This looks like the room I used to do autopsies in for the Thurston County Coroner." Their eyes enlarged. I don't think they appreciated my humor.
Moments later I woke up in the recovery room. I was there for much longer than expected and floated in and out of consciousness for a while. I was waiting to speak to my surgeon. Dr. Bayles finally came in to talk with me. The tumor had grown much bigger than I thought, explaining why it was so difficult to teach the day before in Bellingham. In my last surgery on September 4th, the tumor was about 2/3" by about 1/4", 50% bigger than the CT scan revealed it to be just three weeks before. He showed me how big it was. With raised eyebrows he said, "It was big, about 1-1/4 inch by 3/4" in size. The left half of my tongue is now gone, along with the cancer. There is also a "dent" in my neck now where the lymph nodes were removed.
I was wheeled to my hospital room. My family, my best friend, Cory, Debbie and her husband were waiting for me. Cory brought me two shots of Maker's Mark. I'm guessing I can't drink those for a while.
In the afternoon, one of my college roommates, Steve Fuchs, surprised me and went on a walk with my girls, Konner and me. Thanks for pushing my cart, Steve. I had to stop in the hallway to do a little jig... proof that I was going to be okay. Sara, Konner, Ashley and my parents were able to spend most of the rest of the day with me.
I slept little last night, which is probably typical for a hospital. Alarms going off, nurses waking me up to take my vitals, etc. I was finally able to fall asleep and woke up to the sun coming through my window this morning. It is a new day and I am continually reminded of all that I have to be thankful for. I am indeed a blessed man.
From the morning after...
From the morning after...