Posted on November 28, 2014
Is everyone familiar with the “Choose your own adventure” books? They were a massive favourite of mine in the teen years. Basically, the stories were written in “second person” and allowed the reader, after being introduced to the story, to choose where they wanted it to go, and to choose from a series of endings (I can’t remember how many, but from memory there were a lot of choices for endings). Some of the endings were “bad” and some were “good”, but the best thing about it was that if you were unhappy with how things ended, you could just go back and choose another ending, until you got one you liked.
I have been wondering lately what I would do if I had that choice, for my life. It seems obvious that I wouldn’t choose cancer. The pain, the fear, the operations, the medicine that tries to save you and kill you in the process, the scans, the fear of what they will tell you…the waiting for a number to be put on your days. No one in their right mind would choose this. But without it, I would not have gained the unique perspective that I have on life now that I will never know how long I will get to live it.
I am still in touch with a lot of people that were my classmates when doing the first year of my two year diploma. I completed one year, and was then diagnosed with cancer, and gruelling treatment made it impossible to continue. Now, one by one, I am watching them all finish their diplomas and gain job contracts, and I feel a pang, knowing that is what I “should” be doing. But if I had studied my second year with the same intensity that I did my first, would I have had time to write the articles that I have had published this year, a couple of which I have been really proud of? Proud both for the courage I had to find to go to the depths of my own despair and tell some of my stories, and the fact that I received a lot of feedback from people whose journeys were similar to mine, saying that I had helped them greatly in the telling. It’s been such a privledge being able to do that. And I know I very much want to do more of it. And, would I now have the beginnings of a book in my head, something that I have been told to write many times over the years, but never thought I had in me. I think now that this will come to be.
And what of my children? If I had never known the pain of following the instinct to withdraw from their lives (an instinct which, in talking to my fellow “cancer mums” I have found out is pretty much universal when you are diagnosed with a life threatening disease), would I have had that “lightbulb” moment where I realised that if my time with them was limited, they needed me more, not less, and me throwing myself into being their mum with more heart than I had ever done before was not going to make them miss me more – they were going to miss me anyway. They have lost a bit to my disease, my energy has not allowed me to arrange many playdates, or take them many places. But mum laying in bed more than usual means lots of time to snuggle and talk and watch movies, and plan what we’ll do in the “future” when cancer is something that can live in some compartment in my head – always there, but not in our lives every day. The children know my condition is serious, but they still, with all the optimism and innocence of children, take for granted that our future together will be a long one. And me? Well I just hold them tight, and hope like hell.
This photo was taken last night, 8 days before I go into hospital to have a huge operation which aims to remove the last of my visible cancer, which dwells in my liver. There is quite a bit of cancer there, and I will most likely end next Friday with only 30% of my liver left. Thankfully the liver is able to regenerate and six weeks to two months post surgery should find it back to it’s previous size. I’ve got to hang on for quite a ride in the meantime though, with a surgery that will have me on the table for somewhere between 6 and 8 hours (and due to the extent of the procedure, most likely the latter). I have been taken through what will happen during my stay in the intensive care unit, and we have worked out a plan for spinal pain relief in the first 24 hours, which will keep me numb from the chest down, and also spare me the inevitable severe pain which comes with such a major surgery.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. The percentage of people that die during this surgery is not particularly high 1 – 2% approximately. However, the chance of developing what my liver surgeon calls “serious complications”, any of which can be deadly is around 20%. This aspect of the adventure doesn’t feel particularly character building, and I must admit it is one that I do wish I could choose the outcome of.
However, I can’t. And the fact is, before every ending there is a story, and what you do with your time on this earth is much more important than how it ends. This operation, though scary and major, gives me the chance to have many more adventures with the people I love.
And isn’t not knowing how it ends what makes the adventure so much more interesting?