Thursday, March 1, 2012

Trade Cancer for Colostomy

August 2009
I was 59 years old.  Married for 37 years.  Proud of our 2 adult children.  One grandchild.  No financial worries.  A business that I enjoyed.  Healthy and fit and physically active.  Life was good. 

With a stereotypical middle-aged-male attitude, I had ignored rectal bleeding for 2 years, assuming only hemorrhoids.  Eventually I did succumb to a minor procedure to remove the hemorrhoids.  But there were no hemorrhoids - just one polyp.  I later met my doctor, and learned the diagnosis (Invasive Adenocarcinoma … Rectal Cancer) and the prescribed treatment (Abdomino-Perineal Resection … surgery including a permanent colostomy).  I was assured that I could have a normal life with a colostomy, but I did not believe it that day.
I had cancer.  Life-expectancy was uncertain.
Still reeling from the shock, I drove to a peaceful place where I would connect with the natural world. I laid on a small hill, mesmerized by the tall grass waving in the wind, and thought.  Staring directly at death made it remarkably easy to focus on what was really important.  Clearly, the top priority for my life was to stay connected with my family, wife, our 2 children, our grandchildren, and grandchildren not yet born.  Within 2 hours I had a peaceful clarity with what had to be done.  I would take the surgery, pay the pain and time to recover, and defer the life-expectancy topic until lab tests gave me real facts to deal with.

I phoned my children, siblings, and parents to tell them of the cancer, and gave them comfort with my peace.  My son asked “Dad, how do you feel?”   I told him that my lifelong persona had been “playing bigger” than I actually was, but this Cancer&Colostomy would soon force me to play my own size, and I really dreaded the retreat.  [reference to a common sports expression, ‘he’s just 150 pounds, but plays like he’s 180’]

The Cancer&Colostomy would cause permanent damage.   I would have a 1 ½” hole in my abdomen, with a protruding piece of intestine, and carry a bag of shit … for the rest of my life!   Would my active sports life end?   Would a hockey hit result in a shit-bag-explosion?  Could I skate with my buttocks sewn together?  Would I be able to enjoy so many outdoor activities … hunting, golfing, hiking?  In social and business environments, would my colostomy be treated as a handicap? 
That was the bottom. 
I had allowed the Cancer&Colostomy to overpower me – making me believe I would be permanently damaged and weakened, and my future would be restricted, bleak, and disappointing.
From shock to despair to a powerful new resolve
Hitting bottom is the time to rise up.  Clear resolve came quickly and easily into my head.
            So be it.
I will live.  Any pain and body-damage will be just a minor side effect. 
After surgery, I will do everything that I could do before surgery.
Life is an adventure.  Present realities can be harsh.  Memories are often fonder than realities.
Nothing hurts. 
Never quit.
Surgery day arrived.  
This day had been looming for the past 2 months, and I was relieved that the waiting was over.  A parade of medical professionals (2 anesthetists, 2 surgeons, 3 nurses, and several residents) all had to warn me of the risks.  Being completely committed and prepared, I said ‘lets just do this’, and the warnings stopped.  A nurse fussed over the hospital gown covering my butt.  I joked at her silly concern, as a dozen people would see everything I had, from belly-button around to the top of my butt-crack, from the outside AND the inside.  She placed my chin on a stirrup and started the anesthetic. 
Six hours disappeared, and then a cloudy consciousness returned.  I heard slow garbled voices sounding unrecognizable words.   I saw nurses scurrying, computer monitors, and clear bags with tubes on stainless steel posts.  
“I am back and I am alive!”

My Cancer was gone.  Colostomy was now a permanent part of my life.
I traded Cancer for a Colostomy.  It was a good trade.

Read the full story of  my Comeback to Hockey

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