Have you ever had a paradigm shift? Complete. Total. Nothing looks or feels the same. Your world is different in a heartbeat. I’ve experienced this twice. Once, fourteen – almost fifteen now – years ago when I found out that I was pregnant for the first time ever. Everything was new. Colors were brighter and food tasted different. The world wasn’t different. I realize that. I was.
I’ve experienced it again this week.
“You have cancer.”
It’s amazing how three words can turn life upside down. The things that were important to me on Tuesday morning aren’t now. I have a new vocabulary and a new level of ‘okay’ when people ask how I am.
Right now the report is that I have cancer of the tongue and mouth. I’ve been asked by many how someone gets that. I have no idea. There is nothing I’ve done to cause it. I don’t smoke or drink often or use tobacco. I never have. As far as I am aware, this is just something that has happened. Any further research into it will drive me into a world of “what ifs.” As a writer, I know that I can live in that world and it will poison the now for me so I won’t go there.
Only two days into this journey and I can tell you very little about what’s happening or what will happen. The doctor who told me about the cancer said she recommends surgery to remove half of my tongue and some of the soft tissue under it. She said it will be difficult and hard to recover from but in many cases, that’s all that is needed. This is, according to her, a highly treatable form of cancer. If this surgery is the course of action, I’ll need to learn to speak all over again and won’t eat for months. For anyone who knows me, that’s hard. I have a love of food. Or I did until Tuesday. I’m making very deliberate choices right now. Knowing that months upon months could go by where eating isn’t an option has taken food as comfort out of the picture for me. I didn’t eat at all for over 24 hours after hearing. I’d like to say it was some higher spiritual fasting, but it wasn’t so much a choice as being not interested in eating. I finally gave up and ate last night when my headache got too bad and I was feeling lightheaded and dizzy. I felt better and I enjoyed the meal differently. Choices. I’ve known all my life that choice was involved in eating but I’ve never experienced it this way.
I’ve also been thinking about talking. What does the world look like when you can’t speak? How frustrating will it be for me to not be able to speak for an indefinite period of time? I love my voice. I sang all the way through high school and college. I loved being a radio announcer and sharing my voice with the world. Being on the air was always a great joy for me. It’s a big part of my life. But yesterday someone said that they’ve never talked to me on the phone but they hear my voice every time I post. Thank You Lord that I can still write and share this journey in this way.
My kids. That’s another big thing for me. I’ve already heard some idiotically stupid statements made to me about the cancer. I won’t share them here because I refuse to give them a voice or power. I pray that people are wiser when they are talking to my babies about this. I’ve already purchased three digital voice recorders that should be here later today – one for each of them. I plan to make time to record me telling them that I love them and they are beautiful and amazing and the best part of my day. Whatever I can think of for each of them to hear and play during the time I won’t be able to talk to them.
So many people have called me brave and told me how amazing that I am. I’ll be honest. I don’t feel very tough or strong. I feel like I’ve been strong for the past few years as we’ve worked through my husband’s injuries and disability and veteran’s stuff…I don’t want to have to be strong anymore. I really want to just take a nap and sleep but even that seems to be a battle right now. I wonder if there will ever come a time when I don’t wake up in the middle of the night in a panic thinking “Cancer…cancer?!” I’m sure that will come but right now the anxiety is my reality. For now. For at least this moment in my life that’s what I know.
I’m leaning on God for this. There are things at this point in my life that I know about me and I understand a little of what I need. I need positive. I need filled. I have to put the right things ‘in’ in order to have peace. Since hearing the diagnosis, I’ve been running the Biblegateway App non-stop. Listening to Max McLean read the Psalms nearly constantly has become vital to keeping me above water mentally. I have a vivid imagination. If I start thinking too much, it can be a dangerous place for me. That imagination serves me as a writer but makes me crappy when it comes to hospitals. I’ve got to pull in my thoughts and keep them aligned in good.
I’ve chosen not to research the cancer. At least at this point. I’m two days in – that might come later but right now it’s not there for me. The doctor warned me about going to the internet and I know she’s right on that. A few years ago, I avulsed my big toenail. (Great word right? It means my toenail forcibly left my body without my permission.) It was misery. I was pregnant and alone and there was bleeding and it was not good. I called the nurse’s health line to see if I should go to a doctor and they proceeded to tell me every possible thing that could be wrong or might destroy my health because of the injury. I realized at that moment that I really didn’t need that and they weren’t helping my mental state. I know that researching this won’t help me right now. It would be too easy to focus on the bad. This is my journey. Whatever has happened to the other people who have had this, I don’t need to know. At least not yet. Not right now.
All of my experience, my writing, my talent and the people I know can’t help me with this. As someone who has worked in publicity that’s a tough one. There’s always someone to call to ‘fix’ something or make something work. Not this time around. It doesn’t matter right now how much I know or who I know. THIS is all I know right now and less than a week into the journey, I don’t know much.
I have no idea when the surgery will happen. I’m waiting to hear back from doctors. Today will have a lot of phone calls in it and forcing people to deal with me and not make me a folder on a desk or a file in a computer. When I do know anything, I’ll share it. Facebook has proven to be a lifesaver for me in letting a large group of people know information relatively quickly. That’s where I’ll be with this.
In the meantime, I love and appreciate all of the prayers, support, encouragement and love. Each message is a piece of the puzzle that helps me rise above the anxiety and despair.