The stranger’s hospital robe draped him like an oversized curtain. In his 20’s, frail with cheeks sunken and a definitive case of bed head, he intently stared at something outside the hallway window. My work scurry came to a halt seeing him and an immediate compulsion to stop and see what he was staring at. I stood there silently and realized that it was a small puddle of water near the window on a flat roof that captured his attention. It wasn’t an ordinary puddle either. The ripples moved beautifully to every suggestion of the breeze and the rainbow colours of oil that laid on the surface glistened in the sun with every colour vibrant and curving softly to each movement.
Everything seemed to stand still at that moment. The hum of the hospital activities disappeared and it was if my heart ceased to beat. The puddle was beautiful and mesmerizing. Looking over at this delicate man, there was a tear running down his cheek followed by another. Struggling for the right thing to say to him, the best that was mustered was, “the ripples are absolutely beautiful!”
His attention stayed on the puddle as his dry, chapped lips struggled to pull apart and in a whisper, his voice cracked and he replied, “more than you’ll ever know!”
Standing there a little longer and it became evident that the time this man had left was limited. There was a lot of beauty in those few minutes that was necessary to recognize and only later did the significance of this experience come to light and the privilege to have been willing to be a part of it.
This frail man died shortly after my encounter with him but he left a lasting impression, obvious lesson and some hidden lessons that will stay with me for my lifetime.
Since my previous battle with breast cancer there have been a lot of scares and on-going health challenges compliments of my chemo-days. Now 2014 wouldn’t be any different and I found myself thinking about the frail man appreciating the ripples and what he must have been trying to take in knowing he was running out of time.
You see, earlier this year I began to have a distinct type of pain in the right side of my upper abdomen. It was a new pain and on the same side that my breast cancer was previously, which is always a bit of a concern. So off to the doctor’s I went. An ultrasound and gallbladder scan later, apparently there was nothing. OK cool, I thought, the pain is still there but nothing of concern.
Time passed and the pain got worse. Back to the doctor’s and a referral to a specialist. This specialist thought it best to do multiple scans and get a clear view of what kind of special might be hiding inside. For me, I appreciated that as he was being thorough even though he was beyond busy.
Days later, the phone rang….yup, the one where you want the doctor or his assistant to say the results were clear. My call was the assistant making time for me the following day to see him in his private office. It was quite the challenge to stay distracted and not let my head fill up with ‘what if’s?’ for the remainder of the day. There was the constant reminder that a call doesn’t mean it’s cancer. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well that night.
Steven came with me to the hospital and we found our way to his private office. He called me in and not Steven….phew…couldn’t be all that bad I briefly thought, then quickly reminded myself that this same scenario happened when I received my first diagnosis of cancer.
He started out with pleasantries and going over the results of the scans and how good my organs were….except for one. My ability to feel or express emotions disappeared as he told me there was a little extra special something on my liver….a lesion. In my head, my brain was saying, “Holy F@ck…my liver. How the f@ck could it be my liver? Liver, liver, liver!” Then there was the stoic part that was taking in everything that was said and I remained calm and feeling only analytical to my current situation. After all, the lesion may not be cancer but may have to be removed. Given my history of two types of cancer, hearing the words ‘lesion on the liver’ does not evoke happy thoughts.
Leaving his office, we shook hands as if we finished a business deal, somehow I smiled, said thank you and turned away. Seeing Steven in the other room pulled all the emotions back into my world and my heart began to race. The words remained locked inside me and he knew it. Wanting to get out of the building like it was on fire, he was like a bodyguard at a concert as he cleared a path for me through the hallways to the outdoors.
Tears flowed as the discussion of what the next chapter of our lives would entail. Either way the next several months of our lives were about to experience upheaval as scans, biopsies and any kind of ….oscopy you can think of would take place. Back to the cancer clinic, possible chemo, possible removal of a portion of my liver and the chance that there was cancer elsewhere in my body. Also, if it was cancer, and the prognosis was grim, the option of taking the ‘dying with dignity,’ path in a country that allows it. Being realistic, there is always the fact that I may not be able to change the situation but could certainly make it the best that it could possibly be. After all, attitude is the measure of all things for me.
I often think that there are things that you remember, experiences that you have had, that will play a key role in your approach to a future event. My current assessment of my life was trying to remind me of something by bringing back a memory of another gentleman a few years back.
During a previous colonoscopy prep, several years before, that was a little more cleansing than my body could sustain and I ended up in Emergency in the middle of the night after collapsing on our lovely hardwood floors. They are beautiful but not very soft. When they wheeled me to my little curtained cubicle area in the hospital to be treated (they were trying to stop me from vomiting like I was in the Exorcist), behind one of the other curtain cubicles was a gentleman and his wife. He was vomiting violently too and between episodes and gasps for breath, he and his wife explained his situation to the doctor…he had liver cancer. He was in his 50’s and I don’t know if he said it with clarity or I just heard it with clarity but the words were clear when he said, “I’m not ready to die!” His wife was sobbing and all of their emotions flooded my heart even though I couldn’t see their faces. This memory was carved so deep in me that it is as if it happened yesterday.
Reflecting on some key experiences in my life and what was to be learned seemed to become solid pillars in my foundation of optimism. So Steven and I faced each hurdle with as much positivity as possible from climbing outdoors to going to the climbing gym, scenic drives and hanging with friends. During the most difficult of times I asked for the help of my friends to make the lives of others better. I believe, “the most difficult of paths are more easily travelled when there is warmth in the heart.” The warmth filled my heart. Knowing the world was feeling a little bit better that day gave me more strength to face my own challenges.
Technically it wasn’t a good start to all my procedures this go around either when I collapsed in the hospital being prepped for a CT scan. Not eating for 8 hours, not feeling well to begin with and a bad I.V. insertion while sitting in a chair turned out to be a little too adventurous. In that moment, I told Steven I wasn’t feeling well and he went to get a nurse. In the next moment, I was realizing that something was happening and that I wanted to tell him I love him. There wasn’t enough time. Fainting in the chair, and in the process of taking a header to the floor, Steven caught me before I face-planted, as he returned with a nurse. I awoke, covered in sweat asking what I had just missed…as if there was some major action that I didn’t get to partake in from having passed out! My immediate regret after my comical re-entry into consciousness was not having told Steven I loved him in the seconds before my lights went out, in case that was the last time I saw his beautiful face.
During the following months of being, poked, biopsied, x-rayed, scanned then scanned again filled with enough radio-active goodness that I could have glowed in the dark, my mind kept going back to the frail man staring at the ripples and the gentleman and his wife in their harsh moment of life with cancer. There seem to be so many hidden things in those two experiences. Things that I couldn’t quite recognize or see because I didn’t give them the clarity they deserved until I was facing another possibility of dying from cancer this time around.
After all my medical adventures in the last several months, a pre-cancerous goodie was found in my colon and removed just in the nick of time. It was such a treat that it wasn’t related to my liver and removed before it grew into something far more complicated. There was also the ever so lively H-pylori bacteria in my stomach that apparently maxed out the scale in numbers according to the doctors. A heavy dose of antibiotics along with some other meds for the following months should help rid those intruders. There didn’t appear to be cancer anywhere else. I have arthritis in some unusual spots….but if you play hard you pay hard. There is no doubt my badass mountain biking crashes had absolutely nothing to do with that….ummmm…yeh!
Then there is my liver. The final results for my liver are not quite in yet but we’re close. It is believed after a lengthy process that it is a benign type of tumour called a Focal Nodule Hyperplasia. It is in a complicated spot but is highly vascular. In layman’s terms….given the amount of blood flow going through this thing, there is less of a chance of it being cancerous. I’m headed back for another MRI at the end of January to determine if there are any notable changes since my previous MRI. If there aren’t any changes then it is this FNH and it just means I get to add a smiley face to another part of my body…just like my gummy bears. It’s there, it’s different, but it isn’t bad and it will be with me for a long time!
The pain in my side is still there….that is still an unknown. Cycling has been difficult and climbing has it’s moments. It seems that this year has definitely been a cobblestone path that has sections worn down to a smooth ride in some spots and other parts were bumpy as shit and the key was picking the right line. Either way, I just keep working on the right line and the right PSI (it’s tire pressure for all the non-cyclists out there) to make the ride a little less jarring with the ability to take the hard hits without flatting out but not softening out too much to miss the beauty of the terrain.
No matter our circumstances, we all have the time to make the world a better place. Take your privilege of getting older, your mastery of something (even if it is just getting older), having experiences that make you laugh your hardest or cry until your eyes want to fall out and the great lessons that are learned through your own cobblestone path and use that education to help those around you find the right PSI for themselves. After all, we don’t go through all this life experience to keep the lessons learned to ourselves.