A year ago today I was prepping for the surgery I was told couldn't happen.The cancer was too far gone, the doctor told me. The tumors, too numerous to remove. Then I went to Sloan-Kettering and everything changed. Within the span of several hours I was given my life back. I met with surgeons who had seen cases like mine before and were sure they could help me. Pre-surgical testing was scheduled, instructions were given and an operating room was booked. I walked into Sloan that day a dying woman and walked out with hope.
I remember how nervous I was the morning of the surgery; unsure of what was ahead and praying it was successful. Me being me, I packed as if I was going to a spa retreat. A full suitcase of pajamas, hair products, makeup, some aromatherapy candles and several pairs of slippers. Even through the fear of surgery, I was concerned with proper footwear. That morning I showered with the anti-bacterial soap they told me to use and with no jewelry and no makeup I headed to the hospital.
Operating rooms are not like what you see on TV. They are white and chrome and huge, with one entire wall covered in computer screens. They are also freezing. The last thing I remember is my nurse holding my hand and having me countdown from 10. I don't think I made it past 8. I woke up in another room with Joe on my left and my parents at the foot of my bed. "You made it, Kathleen! They got all of it!", said Joe. I reached out for his hand, started to cry and fell back asleep.
The next few days were a whirlwind of visits and flowers, drugs and doctors. The thing I remember most is the nighttime. The silence of the night being interrupted by the beeps and alarms from patient's rooms. When I was strong enough to walk alone, I would take my iPod, roam the halls and think. Many times during my walks a memory would hit me so hard I would need to stop and compose myself. I missed Sean so much the thought of him made my chest ache. I grew angry at past mistakes, vowing to change. I also smiled a lot, thinking about all of the good times I've had. In the morning I would look out my window at the people passing by and wonder where they were going; if they gave a thought to those inside the hospital they were walking past.
The best feeling in the world was seeing the hospital in the rear view mirror of the car as we drove away. The recovery wasn't easy. I had countless sleepless nights. I couldn't take any stairs and needed help sitting and getting back up. Looking at my new body in the mirror took some getting used to. I was literally cut open down the middle of my torso and had about 50 staples holding me together; I felt like Frankenstein's monster. A hockey puck sized pump was placed below my left rib cage to deliver chemo directly to my liver. It's strange, I hardly think about it now but back then just touching it was enough to send me into hysterics. It's funny what we learn to accept.
A year later I'm still healing. But, this time it's not my body but my soul. For a year and a half I have been a cancer patient. Who am I now? Who do I want to be? I had my second to last treatment on Wednesday. As I was getting ready for bed I looked at a picture of me and Joe from 2006 and it made me cry. Joe held me and said, "We're almost done. Just one more." I screamed at him, "Don't you think I know that?" and immediately apologized. Looking at that picture made me long to be her again; just moving through life, unaware. But the truth is, I don't want to be her. She was always hoping that the NEXT THING would be the one to make her happy. The next job, the next boyfriend, the next anything. Today, I realize that it starts and ends with me. Nothing outside of myself is going to bring me the happiness I sought after all of these years. I have found a peace within I don't know I ever would have found without having had this experience.
No matter what happens from this point forward I won't be afraid. I am loved, I am happy and I am free.