The night of January 19th I took a shower that reeked of antiseptic soap. It turned what normally would be a very pleasant and therapeutic coconut and ginger scented shower into the smell of an operating room.
It was gross.
I’d been wearily anticipating this shower for a month. When I went in for my appointment after my thyroid cancer diagnosis, the nurse gave me two small white bottles of surgical antiseptic to shower with before surgery. It was weird.
Seriously, how dirty do they think I am?
The following morning I’d once again replace my usual shower with the stink of hospital as I prepared myself for surgery….meticulously following directions for fear they’d send me home to come back another day if I didn’t do it properly.
The morning of surgery I woke up my sleepy-eyed almost-but not yet four year old, tucked him into my arms, and carried him over to my neighbor’s house. He’s getting to be too big for that. But I did it anyway. I needed to hold on to something familiar. My mom packed my hospital bag into the car.
Thank you for helping me get out the door that morning. For the new pajamas and robe and sheets that kept me clean and ready for surgery.
It was hard to say good-bye to this little guy. He’d become my place of comfort, of hugs and snuggles and the time had come to leave him in the hands of others for a bit. The thought of that moment made me anxious.
Thank you for caring for my boy when I wasn’t able to. For taking him places and keeping things as normal as could be for him.
Dear sweet boy of mine, thank you for being gentle and kind and kissing me good-bye when a kiss good-bye was all that I needed that day.
Three year old’s don’t always kiss good-bye. I’m so glad he did.
On the way to the hospital I began to read messages from friends. And from not friends. From people. From you. You feel like friends now.
Thank you for that. Your prayers. Your love. They made the fear subside. Really.
Thank you for setting up that donation page, when I worried so much about lost wages and medical bills. Thank you for sharing your hard earned money with my sweet little family so I could focus on healing.
When I got to the hospital I walked myself down winding hallways, up elevators, and down even more hallways to surgical admissions. I had been fearing this walk for a month.
Now it was here.
Gown on, a few failed attempts to place my I.V., I curled up on my pre-op bed and waited.
Didn’t want to watch T.V. or talk too much. I needed a moment to say good-bye to my thyroid. It’s strange to say good-bye to a part of your body that’s always been with you. A friend of mine who will be undergoing a difficult surgery soon agreed with me- it’s not easy, but it’s better than the alternative.
My great-grandma Lola had this surgery many, many years ago and didn’t survive.
I thought about her. About modern medicine. And the part of the world I live in. The parts of this process and procedure that pain me the most are actually what many people, past and present, wish they could have.
I felt gratitude.
I ran my fingers down the side of my neck to feel the lymph nodes that had been swollen for over two years, realizing I would never have to check to see if they were still there as I had done every morning for so long.
My pre-op nurse had the same surgery just 4 months ago. She welcomed me to the club.
My mom and my boyfriend of three months waited with me as teams of doctors and nurses came and were called; surgeon and anesthesiologist and hematologist and the “I.V. back up team” poked and waited and warmed and calmed and joked and drugged and explained.
Kisses on the head, one last drug to calm and I was off.
But first, a before shot:
Thank you, family and teams of important people, for reminding me of how much better off I will be without a thyroid, giving me the final push of courage to get me into that operating room.
And thank you, amazing, amazing drug that gave me instant calm at the moment I had been fearing most.
Seriously, thank you.
The trip from the pre-op room to the operating room was faster (and more fun) than I thought it would be. The moment I’d been imagining and fearing for more than a month was there.
But I was no longer afraid.
In fact, I could imagine I smiled a lot.
Nurses talked small talk to make me feel comfortable.
Thank you small talk. And again, to that wonderful drug.
It was a magical ride to the operating room.
The anesthesiologist was there to greet me. I stopped scanning the room of all the creepy surgical stuff and started to stare at the rolly polly man with the clown like wig on his head. He counted with me, one…two…so nice…
Thank you surgical nurse for thinking I was hilarious when I requested my surgeon take a selfie with my thyroid when it was out.
My mom and boyfriend and family and friends waited. Talked. Worried. Waited.
Thank you for waiting. For worrying. For loving.
Hours slowly passed for them. A split second went by for me.
I woke up to my name and a hand on my shoulder. The clown man was there, but less clowny and more peaceful now. The lights were bright, the beeps were beeping at a steady pace, people were quiet and gentle and kind.
My surgeon appeared. Somewhere in my drugged up state, emotion managed to sweep through and I immediately associated seeing her with two words.
I wanted to grab her hand when I said that, but she grabbed mine first. Actually, I wanted to hug her but my body was heavy. My head was stuck.
Thank you, to the woman who came into my life, promised to fix me up and did. To the woman who goes to work each day and takes cancer out of bodies. Who makes promises when doctors aren’t supposed to make promises. Who loves what she does and cares about strangers who walk into her office. Into the operating room. To the woman who I entrusted my body, my life, my future. Thank you to the woman who does this, then returns home to tuck her children in bed, so I can continue to do the same with my own.
Recovery was hard. Harder than I expected.
“I went out to dinner the day after I had my thyroid removed!” someone on an online forum once wrote. I shouldn’t read online forums. They aren’t my story.
I got sick. Maybe from the anesthesia, maybe from the painkillers, but mostly from a prescription for my bleeding disorder. My surgery was “more extensive” as my doctor put it and, well, those online forum writers were wrong.
Thank you for holding me when I threw up.
And when I cried.
Thank you for visiting me. Even though I fell asleep and didn’t talk.
Thank you for covering me up when I was cold. For taking care of me.
For holding my hand when I didn’t want to get blood drawn again.
That day I said good-bye to my entire thyroid, about 30 lymph nodes and a parathyroid and I don’t regret it one bit. It was hard, but the alternative had been making me sick and would only make me sicker.
I was in the hospital longer than planned, I felt too sick, calcium levels got too low, a rash from the surgical scrub took over, my hip got too sore to get up. It didn’t go as planned.
Thank you, I.V. experts and nurses and doctors and family and friends and you…all of you…for covering me with love. When all I could do was sink into the giant pillowed bed, trying to take feeble bites of applesauce praying it’d stay down, wondering why they’d place the buttons to adjust the bed in a place I couldn’t reach, too sick to even watch T.V. or look at my phone.
I knew I was on the road to recovery the day I was able to make a Facebook post.
Thank you nursing assistant that brought me essential oils and placed those sea sickness bands on my wrists to help with my nausea when everyone else just gave me more drugs.
My mind was fogged. Fogged by painkillers and lack of nutrients and an extended stay in the surgical oncology floor.
What is there to be thankful for on the oncology floor?
Fogged by the tears that flowed from my eyes as I’d listen to the quiet whimpers of my roommate as she received news that her brain tumor had grown.
Fogged by another roommate’s weeping as she had to make the call to stop her chemo when she had an allergic reaction to it in the middle of the night.
Fogged by the fact that I couldn’t stand up and fix it all for them. Fogged by the fact that even though I felt so sick at the moment, I would be well. But I didn’t know if they would.
My heart felt too heavy, my body too weak.
What was there to be thankful for there?
I needed to fix them.
I needed to make them better.
I was too sick to move.
I was supposed to be getting better, but instead I found myself on the darkest floor in that hospital. In a room where everyone else was receiving bad news.
Thank you for holding me up, literally and in prayer, when I was too weak to hold myself up. So I could at least find the place within my heart that never loses hope for others. So between my own drugged up sleep my heart could whisper prayers on their behalf.
No one can keep their spirits high on their own there.
Eventually my rash began to subside, my food stayed down and a celebratory walk down the hall indicated I was well enough to go home.
Home. Thank you for filling my home with food and flowers and scarves and plants and balloons and visits and love and goodness and peace and healing.
For car rides when I couldn’t drive.
For helping at work and caring for my students.
For running to the store to get prune juice when I faced the dreaded effects of post-anesthesia digestion.
For making sure I didn’t miss a dose of my dozen around the clock medications even when I adamantly said, “No,” to the super yucky one.
Thank you for playing with my boy, for new fish and presents and toys and movies and treats and giggles.
For holding him when I couldn’t.
For putting him to bed, especially when he cried out for me.
For talking to him when he was scared. Or confused.
For hugging him and helping him work through his complex little three year old emotions as his lip quivered and tears flowed at the hospital that night.
Thank you for giving him more playtime at school when you knew the stress of the week was wearing him down.
Thank you, dear little one, for carrying that bouquet of balloons around the house, always two steps behind me, to make sure I always had them within sight.
Thank you for taking me out for my first cup of post-surgery coffee and talking even though we hadn’t seen each other since high-school.
Surgery was hard, but the time between my diagnosis and being through with the hard stuff went by so quickly I can hardly believe I’m on the other side already.
What happened between December 16th and today is bigger than I can sometimes process and it had nothing to do with the type of cancer I have or the surgery or prognosis or any of that.
It had to do with friends and strangers who have become friends. People who shared their goodness with me when things got tough.
Somewhere in all of the fear and worry and emotions and physical pain and nausea and tears I was swept into a whirlwind of grace and beauty and kindness and love. Love greater than you and I alone; a love that heals and builds beauty out of pain when all of our parts come together.
As you each followed the urge within you to reach out, write, cook, hug, visit, call and be present, you became a part of something more healing than surgery and a good prognosis.
Not only did it not go unnoticed, but it changed the way my story went.
You turned a time that could have been filled with, “why did this happen to me?” and replaced it with, “how did I get to be a part of this?”
Thank you, as the hardest parts begin to calm, for still being there for me.
Being sick is hard. It is messy. It is scary and confusing and not what I’d choose on my own. While it may not change the situation and it may not take all the hurt away, your love does not go to waste.
Perfect love does drive out fear.
There is nothing quite as amazing as the gift of being loved by so many.
It’s a privilege to be on the road to recovery and to be a part of something so wonderful. So I can have even more perfect moments with those I love. Especially this little guy.
This past week, I returned to work. It was a milestone and an attempt to return to some sort of normalcy. The welcome I received from even coworkers I don’t know that well literally carried me through what should have been a tough transition back.
Today I sit in a coffee shop in Northern Wisconsin. Lake Superior is right outside the doorstep and the Apostle Islands across the way. Life feels so good. You see, rather than being worn out from the last two months, I feel like I’ve been given a heart of gratitude. Even the freezing air felt amazing when I was able to play outside with my loved ones.
And you had everything to do with it.
I believe we all have a place within us that urges us to reach out to others in hard times but we often times silence that voice because we think what we have to offer isn’t enough. I hope that in reading this you can be reminded that you are a part of something bigger than just you and I alone. Reach out, share that talent, send a word of encouragement, remind them that you care. What are some ways that you have been helped during a hard time? Do you have a favorite way to help others?
Oh Maureen. Thank you. There are so many gifts present in this post. In particular, your beautiful writing style. I am so pleased to be part of your life. For that, I thank you.
Beautifully written Maureen. Thank you 🙂
Glad to read all went well!
Wishing u a life free of health issues!
And a happy one with ur little one:)
You are loved.
Thank you Maureen for sharing your journey from diagnosis to recovery. It was beautifully enlightening and encouraging. I love that you share your feelings and life with us. We are all better for your experiences and willingness to let us intimately view your life struggles and joys.God bless you and Leo and family; proud to be a part of your extended family; love you!