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Wednesday
Aug032016

Nine Years and Counting

Since 2007, my typical day on August third usually starts the same way.... I am grateful for being alive. This year I am grateful that I have had nine additional years, and counting, to see my three daughters grow and flourish and to spend with my family.

I think back on that day, as I was waiting outside the operating room, waiting to be ushered in to start what would turn out to be a ten and a half hour operation, involving two teams of surgeons. First my oncologist would remove both breasts; one of them full of cancer, and check my sentinel node for cancer cells. As some cells had spread to the sentinel node, he also removed twelve lymph nodes; the conduits through which cancer cells travel to other parts of the body. Once the oncology team was finished, the plastic surgeon took over with his team. He removed tissue from my stomach and pelvic area, reconstructed new breasts; included the intricate vascular system, and reconstructed my belly button.
I checked in to the recovery room in the early evening; having spent all day in the operating room and with both legs equipped with what resembled moon boots that expanded and contracted several times per minute to ensure that I would not develop dangerous blood clots. I also had two drains attached to my pelvic area, and two other drains on each side of my chest. I do not remember being in the recovery room at all. My first conscious recollection, since early morning, was being wheeled into my hot and muggy hospital room; a place I would call “home” for the following week.
That night, I would receive two additional units of blood, and countless injections of pain medication. I can only imagine what my family was going through.
I recovered well over the few days I spent in the hospital; thanks to the fact that I was in good physical shape. I even went for a five kilometre run the day I was admitted to the hospital, as I knew I wouldn't be running for quite some time.
The post operative care at the hospital was a different story. My room was small and illogically located on the maternity floor, was not air conditioned, dirty and had paint peeling off the walls. The nurses would pass by in the morning, and would not be seen again until the new nursing shift was about to start. My mother, who often spent the day at the hospital with me, had to track someone down if I needed help to go to the washroom or required action following my surgeon's prescription. My room was not washed, and the garbage only emptied if someone who was with me asked a hospital official to do it. So much for universal health care in Quebec. Part of the reason this happened was that my operation took place in the middle of the summer, when many regular nurses took vacation time and temporary agency nurses were brought in as back ups. More hospital beds are also closed during the summer months to accommodate holiday time. This should not be an excuse.
Thankfully time replaced my hospital stay with more positive memories and countless feelings of gratitude. This was also a turning point in my life. The time that drew the line in the sand for me between the before and after cancer. There were surgeries prior to this one, and many surgeries following this one. None of them can compare to the one I had on this day.
I was walking my dogs with my parents, who were visiting from out of town this past weekend. We were walking along the road near my house, and passed a gateway where I walked with my mother while I was recovering, and after my doctor permitted me to leave my house. She remembered this spot, as it was exactly half a kilometre from my house. I laughed, as I think of those moments each time I pass that area.
And so as I reflect on the state of things today, I am grateful that August 3, 2007 is getting further away from me. Four years ago, I had a party to celebrate five years cancer free, inviting sixty people, consisting of family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues. We had a wonderful time, and I'm sure glad I celebrated that way. Back then I thought of it as an important milestone to be celebrated. Now I realize it's a time where I become a statistic. A time that I am considered “cured”. I still think that these occasions, and any of them before or after are important dates to celebrate; even in a small way. On this day, I will celebrate with my family, and perhaps enjoy a glass, or two, of prosecco. And I will be grateful....always.

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