Life After Cancer: Wishing for Death

It’s Monday morning and I’m laying peacefully on one of the treatment tables in my clinic. One of our massage therapists, Anna Rahman, begins to work on the massive scar that spans from below my pubic bone all the way above my belly button. She uses very gentle suction created by massage cups to help clear up leftover stagnation and adhesions caused by the scar.

And suddenly, I feel…so much.

The center of my chest starts to ache with sadness, and I flash back to the moment in the pre-op room when I shyly ask my surgeon if I can take my teddy bear in with me to the surgery. Me. Ninja Akemi. Because I felt as if I could not possibly make it through the 5 hour surgery without something next to me that was full of caring. I was very ashamed to ask for that small favor, because I was twenty-one years old. I’m grateful he said yes.

I’m back in the massage room, and Anna is working on my scar.  The work is drawing out old energy, and with it, old memories.  This is good.  Painful, but good.  It continues.

The next flashback is of being rolled down a wide, ugly hallway after being stuck with an IV. We’re met by the anesthesiologist at the door to a massive elevator. My teddy is safely tucked next to me, clasped by my cold and clammy hand. The anesthesiologist barely glances at me and says, “I’m going to turn on the IV. Count backwards from 10.”  I’m scared. It’s cold. I start the count: “Ten. Nine. Ei-” And I black out.

I remember struggling through the fog of nausea and confusion to wake up. It smells like shit. Human shit.  A lot of it. I try to move my hands but it feels like they weigh 100 lbs each. My mouth is dry. My vision is blurry. Why does it smell like shit?

I remember hearing my Mom speak in her sweet Hispanic accent: “Just relax, honey. The lady in the bed next to you had an accident and they’re cleaning it up.”  I can hear the frustration and the fear in her voice. I can’t deal with her pain, or the smell of shit. I try to will myself back into the darkness.

I remember the endless nausea. I remember waking up to tears flowing down my face. There’s still an awful smell in the room, and a cacophony of curses and loud noises coming from my roommate. I feel so pitiful. So small. I ask my mommy for help, because it hurts. So. Much. It hurts in my heart, and my abdomen feels triple its normal size, burning and not like my tummy at all.

They give me Percoset. Mistake. I vomit everywhere. I hate vomiting. More tears. I vow to live with the pain rather than take more of that stuff.

I remember, as the fog of surgery cleared up, I hated my life. I hated it. I hated the smells. I hated being woken up every 3 damn hours for them to take my blood pressure.  I hated feeling cold.

I wanted my room.  In the confused, tortured space that was my pseudo-conscious mind, I decided that I’d rather die than live like that.  I let myself try that thought on for size.  It felt good.  Logical. Yes. I would die rather than stay like this.

I remember hearing murmurs of friends coming to visit. I have no concept of time, except that I’m damn tired and my throat still burns. A flurry of activity. My surgeon, a tall, handsome black man runs in. Why is he so excited? Doesn’t he know that my life sucks.

I remember my mom handing me my glasses.  Life is less blurry. But I still can’t focus.  The surgeon throws something on my lap. I glance down. It’s a picture, and it looks disgusting. Why am I looking at a disgusting picture? I look up at him with the question in my face.

“The pathologist is amazed! Your body developed a membrane to stop the cancer from spreading. We’ve never seen that before.”

I can barely listen. Did he really just throw down a picture of the bastard tumor that tried to kill me, and whose fault it was that I was stuck in a room that still smelled like shit, and made me want to die?

I murmur something. He leaves.

I’m back in the massage room and Anna is massaging my scar with warm, salt stones.  They feel wonderful, but they continue to break up adhesions and draw out emotions.

In my mind, I remember wondering if the nausea would ever end.

Acupuncturists come in, professors from my College.  I beg for help. They bring ginger ale, which I throw up again. They needle me on the sly, when the nurses aren’t looking. It helps.   I still hate my life. Time is still meaningless, but something shifts in my awareness. I can’t stay like this anymore.  I know I have my surgeon’s phone number. I call, begging him to get me out of here. I can’t take it anymore.

I didn’t know it at the time, but days had passed. It was obvious I wasn’t reacting well, and my surgeon was worried. So he managed to wrangle me a private room. Somehow.  Luck?  I don’t know.

I remember waking up in my private room. It smelled good. Not like shit. That’s good enough for me.

I remember the window. The tears falling from my face are from gratitude. I had forgotten about the sun. How could I forget about the sun? And there’s a tree! I start to sob, even though it hurts. I forgot about trees. I suddenly feel immensely focused. I want to live. I want to see trees, because they know how to survive. They take the waste of life – our dirty air, what’s dying in the ground, and they turn that into life and majesty. And for me, hope.

oak-tree-dusk.jpg

Twenty four hours later, I was doing so well I was released. I had made a new vow – to survive, and to help alleviate the pain and suffering of others. I would heal myself and find some way to prevent as many people from going through that as God would allow me to.

Anna gently takes the warm Himalayan salt stones from my tummy. The vow, made so many years ago, still feels strong in my chest. There is some sadness, but it has mellowed. I allow myself to feel it, so that it, too, can be transformed into something better.

I sigh gently, and allow the glow of gratitude for a life well-lived spread over my chest.

Those experiences refined my being and helped shape my future.  Through the darkest hours of the following years, as I struggled to deal with the rage of having gotten cancer in the first place, that hopeful moment shone through and guided me out of the sticky, seductive darkness.

Out of that darkness rose a strong survivor. Before that experience, I had no idea of what I was capable of overcoming. But I did it. And here I am, walking gratefully in the light.