Cancer stole my identity.
Cancer stole my identity and I want it back or I’m going to press charges.
Almost 4 years ago, my cancer took a very ugly turn. I had an appointment with my plastic surgeon.
You know, when I think of plastic surgeons, I think of nose jobs and breast augmentations, not a mandibular resection. In layman’s terms that means a jaw replacement, or in my case, a partial jaw replacement. This was done in the summer of 2015.
I was at the doctor’s office, a year later, to discuss results from having more teeth pulled and another biopsy. I could not, for the life of me, figure out what was taking him so long to make it into the exam room.
My cousin, Renee, was with me. She was kind enough to be a great source of comfort to me at this time.
“Renee, where is he? Why is it taking so long?”
She tried her best to reassure me. “Kelly, calm down. It’ll be alright.”
Yes, deep breath.
A physicians assistant finally entered the room and began looking at the computer monitor.
I asked her what was taking so long and if there was anything she could tell me about what she was seeing on the screen.
She told me that the doctor would be on his way, shortly. When she spoke about what she was seeing, all I heard was “blah, blah, blah, squamous cell carcinoma.”
“Oh shit,” I cried.
My mama didn’t raise no dummy and I knew what that meant. This wasn’t the first time that I heard these words.
She explained that the doctor was in the process of pulling a head and neck surgeon out of the operating room so that they could come over and talk to me. The doctors both went over the biopsy with me.
“Kelly, the cancer is spreading through your jaw. It’s also, now, in lymph nodes in the base of your skull and has progressed to lymph nodes in the right side of your neck.”
I wanted to scream, “I can’t breathe”, but words were not forming. Just a succession of tears.
My doctor put his arms around me and I truly believed his words to be genuine. “I’m so sorry.”
“Okay,” I wailed, “how much time do I have? Please tell me.”
Four to six months with no treatment and possibly a year to 18 months with chemotherapy.
It seemed as though the words hit me right in the middle of the forehead.
Renee and I left his office through a back door that took us right out into the hallway. We were provided the opportunity, I’m sure, to go that way so that other patients would not see me in my state of shock. As I reflect back on what Renee and I talked about on the way home, I’m not even sure that we talked. I honestly don’t remember.
I was in what can only be described as zombie land.
It was a task just to get into the car and then back out to see Scott waiting on the porch for us. He didn’t go with me on that day because he was in a horrific place that I could not imagine. The way I was feeling was one thing, but how could I begin to realize what he was dealing with?
When I saw him standing there, his face showed the dreaded answer.
“It’s terminal and I don’t have much time left,” I blurted.
He cried in the most gut wrenching way I’d ever heard. He, Renee, and I stood in a circle and held on to each other for a few minutes.
Once I’d gathered my composure, I swiftly changed my tune and said, “Ok, Renee, go home. I have to go into the bedroom and pack up all of my shit.”
“Why?” she asked.
I looked at her as if she were growing two heads and said, “so that Scott won’t have to do it.”
I then retreated to the bedroom, but stopped to regroup myself. My brain began to repeat, “No one said that you’ll die tomorrow. You can do this another day.“
I was, at this point, exhausted.
Whenever I think about the bedroom scene, I remind myself that had I packed up all my stuff, I would have had to unpack it. Still, I wasn’t able to control my thoughts from going weeks, months, and years ahead.
I’ll never see Barbara, Scott’s daughter, graduate from college. She was one month away from beginning her freshman year at Point Park University, in our hometown, Pittsburgh, PA.
I won’t be here when Scott retires from work. I won’t be here when….
After months of this thinking pattern, I recalled a very old, but affirmative saying: “One Day At A Time.”
It’s also a song that most of us have heard. The lyrics pop into my mind from time to time – “One Day At A Time, Sweet Jesus.”
I will leave you with that until next week. With Love, K