A few years past my diagnosis and surgery I have finally begun to process a lot about my cancer and ensuing treatment. Make no mistake about it, rectal cancer treatment is awkward and weird (for me at least it was, but I don’t let that shame own me anymore).
There are quite a few instances of things that stick out in my head: the rectal examinations from different doctors (so many), rectal contrast, having doctors constantly coming in the room to ask if you can roll over so they can look at my butt and ‘flap’ (this is what they called the reconstructed part of my vagina). Oy vey, I do not miss the hospital!
Rectal cancer is not funny. At all. But I would be remiss if I did not think back to some moments during my journey and laugh.
…coming out of the bathroom on one of those first visits to MD Anderson and exclaiming to my husband and mom “I pooped!” They both cheered! At first we thought a stent might have to be put in so I could continue to pass stool…that never happened…
…My surgeon, Dr. You at MD Anderson, reminding us this was going to be a marathon not a sprint, to which my husband replied we really don’t even like walking out to check the mail…
…the time after surgery when I commented I literally never had a reason to get up with my ostomy AND catheter both in. My husband immediately remarked how wonderful this sounded and confided he was jealous!
The truth is, medical providers giving you this treatment have done this so many times. It’s my hope in sharing this that we realize the worst things that happen to us, we can get through. We can endure. Often times in the moment with tears and anxiety and afterwards with tears of relief and laughter. Not always. But sometimes.
It was a few days after surgery and my team had finally removed my catheter. I was expected to pee a certain amount to signal my bladder was working. Initially, I thought nothing of this. However, as the day ticked on, the nurse came back in and casually mentioned catheterization if I couldn’t pass a certain amount of urine.
That’s definitely going to hurt. I started drinking water and began to slowly realize that…my bladder was not working…I couldn’t really feel any sensation of having to pee. A lot was going on post surgery, so it took a while for this to dawn on me. As the hours wore on, I became increasingly anxious of having to have the catheter put back in. I know it might seem silly, but all these little things I viewed as set backs and it was hard not to spiral. I dedicated a lot of time sitting in that bathroom with various audios of rivers and streams playing. I willed it. I meditated it. I remember at one point David followed me into the bathroom and told me to calm down. I remember turning back around and exclaiming, “Don’t tell me to calm down, its not YOUR body!”.
At some point I realized my body was not doing this naturally and paged the nurse. An ultrasound was done on my bladder, which confirmed lots of pee. My bladder wasn’t working. The nurse indicated sometimes the bladder took longer to wake up from surgery and they would just catheterize me to give me some relief and give my bladder more time to wake up. Don’t worry, in the small time frame here I did lots of google searching. No message board was left untouched. The nurse asked if she could bring another female nurse in to help. Sure I thought, invite the whole floor please.
The nurses came back to the room and I entered full blown panic mode. It was going to hurt and I knew it. I knew it. I had my legs spread, my mother holding my hand on one side of me and my husband holding my hand on the other side of me.
“Do you mind if we tilt your legs up some? It will let us see what we’re doing better…”…..Sure I thought…perfect….my legs are now spread, tilted upwards somewhat with my mother holding my hand on one side and my husband on the other. As I prepare for mutilation, I suddenly hear they are commenting it’s working. The bladder is draining.
“Oh, I didn’t even feel anything,” I said relaxing my death grip.
“Well, then that means we did it right,” the nurse laughed back.
Of course I was embarrassed for making such a scene about it but the nurses were very kind and understood. Edit to add I always had good nurses. A lot of them were young and my age it seemed. I remember one writing me a special note on my board before she got off her shift when we didn’t see each other.
None of it was done gracefully or bravely. It was done messy through anxious tears and anger. Honestly, I sometimes still can’t even believe it happened to me. It’s been a lot to grapple with, the road taking that twist you never expect. I guess it’s the one thing we can come to expect. It will toughen you up for sure, but hopefully you can find some laughs along the way.