From where I’m sitting it isn’t even a SPIRAL stairway, it’s more of an M.C. Escher stairway.

MC Escher’s “Relativity” 1953 by way of Wikipedia

I’m purposely using the word recoverING rather than recoverY, as the latter has collected all those connotations of addiction. The RecoverING I’m looking at is like that of a very LONG illness which has, in effect, reshaped me.


And in that context, it’s no straight stairway BACK to where I was. Just not applicable. If we start peering at words, we’re presented with recuperate and convalesce and all definitions are about ‘getting back’ that which was taken.


And to be sure, there’s a lot of that. It’s nearly impossible to ignore what I USED to be able to do. As a matter of fact, that becomes quite the yardstick of our progress. I have had the experience of walking or actually STRIDING down a same hallway in the hospital that I remember shuffling/toddling down months ago. But I think there’s something more in this, because we are not single-layer beings.


My specific tale is pretty unique, but I’m probably not the only one bobbing around in the surf having survived a massive wave that COULD have done me in. And it was a monstrous wave in slow motion that threatened to undo me for over a year. That alone takes its own kind of toll.


The grand finale was a ‘massive’ surgery for six hours with two top surgeons that relieved me of 20% of my liver (effectively removing the metastasized colon cancer) and re-sectioning (and hence re-configuring) the remaining 2/3rds of my large intestine. (a semi-colon? thank you Bob Lohaus)


I endured an entire year of surgeries gone wrong and tests with bad news and being told that ONLY surgery could free me from the unbelievable misery of dealing with a HOLE in my belly that oozed the contents of my small intestine for months on end. Said oozing burned my skin and required CONSTANT attention. And yet, no one dared DO any more surgery so ‘soon’. Was I ever stuck ‘maintaining the misery’. Month after month after month.


I often said my bedroom looked like a M.A.S.H unit with all the bandaging supplies, skin-protecting ointments, tweezers, scissors, tapes and Q-tips. And it depressed me sorely to be SURROUNDED by all this stuff. SOMEtimes the very first thing on my to-do list, the moment my eyes opened while still in bed, was to cry. Because the SECOND thing on my daily to do list was to fish around in the covers to find the heavy, stiff hernia belt with the utterly BEASTLY Velcro closure that grabbed hold of ANYthing it got near and to wrestle it on, right up at my rib cage, and pull the colostomy bag through the plastic-edged hole so I could safely get onto my feet with a herniated stoma*. But of course, THAT would be kicked out of second place on the to do list if the ~wound~ woke up before I did and had already begun to spew SPOODGE, which necessitated cleaning, blotting, often treating the chemical burn and re-bandaging.


Everything was weighing on me including my feeble attempt at howling that ‘they’re going to name a landfill after me!’ in order to cover up my heartsick EcoMisery at the quantity of bio-hazard GARBAGE this project was producing.


But this is about my RECOVERING, so I’d rather not go back to all of that right now if it’s ok with everyone.


Early on in all this, a very wise counselor, PastorGordon, who is pretty much the first person to hold your hand and JOIN you in your realization that YOU HAVE CANCER, said something along the lines of how NOTHING will ever be precisely the SAME. We can color those words any way we want, but it’s true. And even though one of my fears has been that ‘people will say’ that ‘she was never the same after that’……we have to look carefully at whether they’re shaking their heads or making a neutral/admiring statement – and whether I really care now either way.


Slowly, in the now  nearly ninth week since this ‘massive’ and resoundingly SUCCESSFUL surgery, I have begun to realize that in THIS instance, in MY particular story, my RECOVERING is all about my body figuring out how to function, not just heal an (albeit spectacularly huge) incision. Layers and layers underneath have been repaired, re-arranged and re-started. I’m not made of car parts. This is LIVING TISSUE. And living tissue doesn’t DO straight stairways.


Maybe I AM doing more Re-Pairing than Re-Covering. Although the obvious re-pairing involves the cut ends of my large AND small intestines, I’m also re-pairing with my body – this amazing package I ride around in – but more than that, the vessel through which I express mySELF.  And BOTH of us have been through hell for a whole year. (the operative word now being THROUGH)


Along with spending my considerable ‘downtime’ trying to deal with years of accumulated clutter in my house, I find myself dealing with the ‘backto~s’ in the same way. As in I have to get BACK TO working. Have to get BACK TO a normal schedule, BACK TO my ‘normal’ weight, BACK TO gardening……whoa.


I think my JOB right now is to observe and support. Or, as my current surgeon has said to me repeatedly “Listen to your body. You’ll know what it needs.” (yes, I said SURGEON, that’s no typo)  I was flipping out last time I saw him for a follow-up because I’d lost a little weight dipping below where I was going to allow myself to go. My career-nurse sister pointed out VERY wisely that perhaps THAT weight is all my body can DEAL with right now. I haven’t owned a scale in YEARS, but I let myself get swept into that current where the numbers are how we measure my PROGRESS. I’d NEVER been like that before.


So yes, I feel thin. Yes, I have trouble staying warm. But I’m realizing that on the days I felt good enough TO eat, I would MAKE myself eat as much as I could IN ORDER TO GAIN WEIGHT and would invariably feel wretched the next day, which I would blame on my CHOICE of food, not the quantity. My intestines are attempting to re-learn how to WORK with only 2/3rds the length they once had. Considering all they do, that’s a tough gig. Considering they had nearly sixty years of growing with me and then an entire YEAR of being disconnected, that’s a REMARKABLE gig.


And then look at what my BODY has been through. Six major abdominal surgeries, MONTHS in the hospital, weeks in rehab, dealing with cancer that spread to my liver in a mere 6 months. So who’s got that CHART that says I ‘should’ be doing this and this and this in THAT amount of time? I have good days and I have weary days and that’s the way it goes. The wisest voices around me are saying A YEAR – an entire YEAR until I’m fully functioning again.


And then look at where my SELF has traveled. When I look back, it was like a mosh-pit of folks keeping me up so I wouldn’t get trampled by it all. And not just people-folks – my angst over not being ABLE to garden was met with plants that planted themselves and bloomed their little hearts out right outside my door.


So absolutely, I am observing and supporting. My body’s been coping with all this on something of a 48 hour schedule (another bit of BodyBrilliance). I actually corrected my supplement list at the surgeon’s office to read ‘every other day’ on most of them and ‘occasionally’ on others.


Because I’m coming to really TRUST my body’s incredible wisdom, I’m beginning to actually enjoy the observing (I wonder what she wants today…..) If we can even COMPREHEND the human body’s ability to heal AT ALL, we HAVE to be in absolute awe of HOW it does that. And to work against that is, at the very least, disrespectful. To work WITH it is an honor, a MAJOR education, and an astonishing opportunity to fuse body and self.


So I think I’ve GOT it now.


I’m not so much RECOVERING as…..Re-New-ing.



* if that word, stoma, has no meaning to you, see previous blog, “Smuggling Penguins”