Monday, January 3, 2011

Scattered Thoughts from Recuperation Central

More than a month has passed since my surgery and return home from the hospital. Let me get you caught up on life in recuperation central.

On the health front the initial challenge was dealing with the six inch incision running across the base of my neck. Understandably it proved to be tender to the touch, itchy, and the bandages were uncomfortable. The home care nurse came to the house to remove the remainder of the staples (half of the fourteen staples were removed at the hospital), which allowed for lighter bandaging and eventually being able to shave my neck. The muscles in my neck were quite sore, so simple things like swallowing, yawning, coughing, and sneezing were quite painful.

Throughout the month I have been waiting for what we call (accurately or not) ‘the crash’. This is the depletion of the remaining thyroid hormone in my system, leaving me weak, tired, and generally lethargic. While there have been days of more extreme tired and lethargy, I am not sure the crash, as imagined, has taken place. Energy levels have been more of a peaks and valleys experience.

On December 16 Barb and I traveled to the Allen Blair Cancer Centre in Regina to meet with Dr. Behl, a radiation oncologist. There we explored the plan for the future radioiodine treatment and got a big picture perspective on what is ahead over the next two months. It is here that I am told I have a paralyzed vocal cord, which explains my raspy, whispery voice – which, along with a nice looking scar, is the most immediate evidence of cancer surgery. The idea of the Cancer Centre stirs a range of thoughts, most of which are difficult to put into words. It says I am dealing with something serious that requires important and specific follow-up. I am working with a disease that requires a specific medical department devoted to this mysterious thing called cancer. The idea of cancer has become much more personal. Hearing about or reading accounts of people with cancer touches me in a new way.

So what do you do when you can’t do anything? Well, my time has been spent reading (a fine book called The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer – [look for more on this in future posts]), watching TV (TCM and the Food Network are favorites), checking the computer (because it is a way of contacting the outside world), jigsaw puzzles (I am currently on my third one) and dealing with the routine of health issues (taking medications). I describe this time as “useful uselessness”. Taking time to recover is important; accepting the lack of productivity is the challenge.

I believe I have been most surprised by the emotional challenges of this recuperation time. I knew going in that the recovery process from cancer treatment, or any other health issue for that matter, can be a mix of emotional and personal struggles. I knew this, but now, having experienced it, I appreciate more the fact that dealing with cancer is a whole person experience. The sense of guilt, the reality of isolation, the lack of productivity, and the uncertainty of the future add up to a weighty mix of emotions to work through.

While wrestling with all this, I have also reflected on the nature of faith. What does it look like to have faith in Jesus for all of this in the midst of all this? Over the years I have heard people share about those who, while struggling with disease or infirmities of some kind, “They never complained about a thing.” Those people are held up as models of faith. They trust Jesus with such confidence that every detail of life is positive. I will have to confess, I have complained. Is this a lack of faith? I don’t think so. Faith without wrestling with the struggles is not reality. Trying to manage the issues and put a positive spin on everything is really just seeking to have faith in myself rather than Jesus. For me, true faith is a belief that God loves me, and accepts me, and listens to me, and is patient with me, and welcomes me in my weakness. Being genuine before Him is the best option. He sees the big picture and the smallest details.