Monday, September 9th
Saturday, November 9th.
2 months/8 weeks/60 days/1460 hours since my 'radical debulking' surgery after being diagnosed with Stage 3C Carcinomatosis.
In a mind's flash, I'm back in that tiny ER room with the Oncologist shutting the door behind him and sitting down next to my bed to share the diagnosis with me. I knew Carcinomatosis must mean cancer, but I had no idea where in my body. I remember so clearly, when he said 'on your liver' that I was speechless. I remember too, telling him that he was wrong and that it's not possible. Later, he left the room saying, "Change your flights, call your husband".
I called my sister too. I will never forget her screaming "no, no, no" as she was driving home. And that litany in my head, Ihavea9yearoldsonIhavea9yearoldsonIhavea9yearoldson.
Fast forward to the Saturday after exploratory laparoscopic surgery and the oncologist again sitting down next to me with a stack of photos of my abdomen. I had never even heard of a peritoneum. My sister next to me as he went over the photos, me just staring at my insides, riddled with tumors. I'd never heard of 'radical debulking surgery' either, but that's what him and my sister were discussing. I just kept staring at those photos of my insides and thinking; "How the fuck did I get here?" Me? How? Why? I'm on an organic raw food plant based diet FFS!
Fast forward to Sunday afternoon and a slew of people coming to my room, to take blood, to get me ready for surgery on Monday, September 9th. I remember, once the anesthesiologist's assistant had left, leaning back into my sister, my head on her shoulder, asking again "how did I get here". She hugged me and quietly said "I don't know".
Sunday evening my husband arrived, I was so overjoyed to see him, to cry, really cry into his neck, to be held by him. We shared my hospital bed that night, and in the strangest paradoxical way, it reminded me of the night before our son was born. I had been induced, we were in bed, staring at the ceiling together, at a loss for words in this moment of anticipation, it was the last time it would be just the two of us, and knowing that our lives were about to change forever, but not in any way we could possibly fathom.
Here we were again, 9 years later, in a hospital bed, on a Monday morning, waiting to be wheeled to surgery, damn CANCER surgery too, and yet again, this was going to change our lives in the most unfathomable way. We were at a loss for words again...
Thinking back on pre-op, I must have struck a very different picture. My husband on one side of the bed, my sister on the other, me with blue hair, unable to stop crying, and I must have had terror and utter fear written across my face.
The current of people around my bed flowed from the anesthesiologist, to the thoracic surgeon, to my oncologist, to three theater nurses, to a team of people at the foot of my bed ensuring all the required documents were t'd and dotted, to a random nurse, to whom I must have looked so petrified, she stopped in her tracks as she was passing my bed, came and stood next to me, and in the most certain of terms said: "You are in the best hands, in the hand of two incredible surgeons, you have nothing to be afraid of. I am spiritual, and I believe in God, and I believe that whatever you put out in the universe, will come back to you. So you need to put good out there, because it will come back to you". And just like that she was gone again.
That was a pivotal moment for me, that nurse.
In this two month journey there have been many, and I mean MANY pivotal moments. Too many to list here, but my husband crying (he NEVER cries) next to my bed the morning after surgery, saying that I can't die, that he couldn't live without me, was one.
The diminutive El Salvadorian mom of the AirBnB owner who took me by the arms and said; "Your life is important" was another, it was after hearing "Your life is important" that a tiny seed sprouted in my head. I knew then, that I could not continue living life the way I had been. I needed to make extremely fundamental changes.
Another moment was a follow up visit with the thoracic surgeon, who looked at me and said the word 'hopefully' to me, as in "hopefully the chemo cycles will cure you". I looked at him and said; "There is no hopefully, as I see it, you took it all out of me, the chemo is merely a matter of formality to kill any left over cells, as far as I am concerned, I am already cancer free". He looked at me as if I had three heads.
Another pivotal moment, after my second discharge from hospital, we visited the Wynwood district in Miami to see the freaking awesome graffiti art. The resident artist, Peter Tunney's huge art pieces were on display and a piece in the corner caught my eye. "The Future Ain't What It Used To Be". Just those eight words, eight huge words, painted on canvas. There were several other pieces that had the words gratitude and thankfulness in them. There was another that dealt with the concept of time. To me, it felt as if this exhibition had been curated just for me.
Fast forward to Pirates Week and the fireworks, on Friday, November 8th. To me it felt like my very own celebration, my very own two month celebration. Two months since surgery, I have had two chemo treatments and side effects have been minimal, I am working (albeit slower than I used to), I am able to do yoga, I'm swimming, I'm back behind my camera, and I am home with my family and the greatest community in the world.
Last night, before the fireworks started, I was wondering; what if my insurance hadn't capped, what if everything had been covered and I wasn't in medical debt for $250,000USD. Would my journey have been this public, would I have made it this public? And if, in a perfect world, my insurance and debt issues were non existent, would I have known, would it have been manifested by so many people, so many friends, so many strangers, from all corners of the world, would I have known and understood every single day how important my life is? What I, me, my life, my spirit meant to other people. Would I have made the changes I have, and would I be sending and the sharing the message I now do, publicly? My answer to myself was "probably not".
Existentialism is a tradition of philosophical enquiry which takes as its starting point the experience of the human subject—not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual.
'The experience of the human subject'. My friend recently asked me how I felt after the Brunch for Bucks fundraiser that Agua Restaurant and Lounge and my dear friends generously hosted and organized for me. 90 people came, businesses donated raffle prizes, and they raised $12,615KYD for me in the space of three hours. In total, strangers, friends and clients have donated $51,307USD to help pay my medical debt and to help with any medical expenses while my insurance is capped.
So how do I feel? Most days I feel as if i am looking at myself from outside of myself. I watch me as I go from terrifying diagnosis, to accepting surgery, to denying chemo, to accepting chemo, from being so happy to be out of hospital only two days after surgery, to soul crushing despair when I'm back in ER and realize that I will not see my son for two more weeks, a month in total, to vomiting my soul out for 6 days and losing 11lbs, to shaving my head, that last step, that last and so very personal shitty gift to cancer treatments, to getting a fright every time I walk past a mirror, to not having the guts to be in public with a bare head, to see donations flowing in, and I still can't perceive that it really is for me, ME, that it REALLY IS ME living this experience, and finally to that little seed sprouting in my head, that seed about how important my life is, and then fully understanding that my life must now be lived with purpose. Not just for me, but for all of YOU!
All. Of. You.
This is a quote from Empower Your Life, a Guide to Your Higher Purpose, by Prem Sadasivananda. The book spent 10 months stacked within 3 towers of books on my bedside table. I only re-discovered at the end of my first day of chemo, I had crazy energy and decided to clean the bedroom. That book stopped me, I started reading it.
Another pivotal moment.
'There is a plan and a purpose for each one of us within creation, whether we are conscious of it or not. The purpose of life is to rise above, to transcend the limitations of life. All sense of inadequacy and smallness, of imperfection and limitation is to be destroyed. Our life is meant to be a spring of strength and joy and it is for us to discover this within ourselves. It may seem that we are overwhelmed by problems and challenges, we may feel stripped of choices and yet, something in us, our higher purpose, keeps us striving'
'Banish ALL fear, ALL doubt. Do not harbour doubt in the name of logic and so-called reality. Believe that you are meant to succeed and the whole universe will support you'
I'd like to end with a healing mantra that was given to me;
'I meditate on and surrender myself to the Divine Being who embodies the power of will, the power of knowledge, and the power of action. I pray to the Divine Being who manifests in the form of fragrance in the flower of life and is the eternal nourisher of the plant of life. Like a skillful gardener, may the Lord of Life disentangle me from the binding force of my physical. psychological , and spiritual foes. May the Lord of Immortality residing within free me from death, decay, and sickness and unite me with immortality'
Thank you, to you all, for manifesting to me, the importance of my life.
Thanks to God, for daily miracles and angels, and for manifesting to me, the importance of my life.
The below photos, by no means, encompass the angels that have been by my side since, September 9th, it's just random phone pics of angels I found on my phone as I was writing this blog today.