It’s a cold afternoon on December 3rd, and I’ve just become a third of a kidney lighter. After surgery, the doctor comes out to give a report: “Well, I am happy to say, I was able to make a much smaller incision than I expected.” After he leaves, I have someone take a picture of the incision so I can see it…our only thought is how in the world could it have been any bigger? The incision stretches virtually from my spine all the way around to about 4 inches from my belly button. From our perspective, they had split me wide open. This was no minor surgery, but I was thankful they were able to save the majority of my kidney. In proportion to the length of the incision was the magnitude of the pain. I totally underestimated that. I woke up….and I could not move. Reaching to the bedside table to get a piece of ice? Ha! Forget about it. I needed everything handed to me. A simple pillow adjustment required 2 people. Oh and please don’t make me laugh__too painful. Once again in a position of complete dependency. Utterly incapable of meeting my own basic needs.. Thankfully surrounded by friends and family ready at the helm. For all of you, I will forever be grateful.
Thus ensued 6 weeks of no driving, no exercising, no laughing….and thus basically doing a lot of nothing. I went home after 5 nights in the hospital. Pain was tolerable with oral meds and lidocaine patches, but sleeping was very difficult still. With an incision that size on your side, there is just no comfortable position in which to lie. The stomach and right side were out of the question, the left side put too much gravity pressure on the right, and the back….well I guess the back would have to do. I would get comfortable enough to fall asleep for a couple of hours and then pain would awake me again. More meds and another attempt at repositioning to acquire another block of a few hours of rest. My life was reduced to clock-watching as every moment was a countdown to the next scheduled pain pill. I looked as if I was pregnant, but only on the right side of my body. My surgeon had warned me that the surgery may leave me with what he gently communicated as “a bulge,” and lateral abdominal muscles that may never regain the strength they once had. Thus a pooch on that side. Sweet! So not only do I now look like I’ve been in a knife fight (with my previous scars from bowel resection and spinal fusion) but I also might be left with a lovely bulge. OH well.
The initial lab draw post-tumor-removal-operation showed a promising drop in the hCG level (my tumor marker). However, the forthcoming weeks would reveal if this was going to be the final act in this saga. The diminution persisted from a level of 2,200 until it halted at a heart-wrenching level of 19….Just 19 points away from victory! Weekly labs revealed a slow climb back up, exposing the fact that the credits were not about to start rolling.
What followed were more scans, another brain MRI, chest, abdomen, and pelvic CTs and now a renal ultrasound just to keep things from getting boring. I had to laugh when filling out the pre-scan paperwork: “Have you ever had an MRI before? If so, when?” Followed then by a blank space about 2 inches long to answer. Ha! I need a line 10 times that long to fit all the dates of MRIs I’ve had on there….that is, if I could even remember them all. I wrote: “Too many to count.”
As the conversations with my doctor ensued in determining our next steps since the tumor marker did not return to normal after surgery, a friend of mine (whose husband, also my age, had dealt with cancer a couple of years back) remarked to me…”I can only imagine how hard it must be to have to find that game face over and over. I’m sure at times it feels more like a mask than a face.” Mic drop. That’s it. She put words to what I was feeling. My only option is to continue to fight, but I have no fight in me. My body has been ravaged. The game face is getting harder to conjure over and over. A mask of determination seems the only option. After 3 more weeks of labs, I was scheduled for my next treatment. The next effort at complete eradication. There are no guarantees, and there are virtually zero examples of similar cases to follow or compare to. All I have left is a mask.
But I have learned that in my weakness, Jesus’ strength is made perfect. In my emptiness, He is the fullness. When my fight runs dry, He is coming around the flank with armies unforeseen. I have a General directing this war whose victory has already been won. Praise the Lord, that I am not dependent upon my own strength (and what sometimes also feels like my will) to fight. Praise the Lord, that I am not dependent upon myself to know the best next course of action. I don’t have to put on a game face or a mask, but I can put on the armor of God, and walk by faith.
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” -Ephesians 6:10-13 NKJV-
I waited patiently for the Lord; And He inclined to me, And heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, Out of the miry clay, And set my feet upon a rock, And established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth–Praise to our God; Many will see if and fear, And will trust in the Lord. -Psalm 40:1-3-