After I was initially diagnosed with a head and neck cancer, in October of 2014, I had a couple of surgeries. I had one more in February 2015. This was to remove a few cancer cells that had been left behind. This one seemed like a piece of cake, in that it was outpatient. What, no snack? No dietary person coming in to take my dinner order of clear liquids, as I had been accustomed to having. After the surgery, as I lay in the recovery room, I woke up to Scott sitting next to me. What a sight for sore eyes. My doctor walked over and told us that the procedure went very well and that’s when Scott asked him the million dollar question. “Is Kel in remission?” Instead of speaking, he gave a thumbs up. Odd? To say the least, but it later occurred to me that there was probably more to it. If he didn’t actually say the words remission or cancer free then he couldn’t be held liable if things went south. Could this be the case? I suppose we’ll never know.
So, life went on as I knew it. A month or so after this surgery is when I began my new career at the weight loss clinic. I loved encouraging and motivating people. They were all aware of the fact that I had cancer, as my face was now dented, but they didn’t care. Not in the sense that they weren’t concerned about me. Just the opposite. I became closer to some of them than I was to my own family. They also knew that my having this illness would not, in any way, affect my ability to help with their weight loss goals. They were some of my greatest allies. That summer, however, I felt the other shoe drop. It seemed to be saying, Honey, I’m home. The cancer returned with a vengeance and it decided to take up residence in the left side of my lower jaw. While some of my friends were having picnics in the park or taking trips to the beach, a partial jaw replacement was my summer plan. I was referred to doctor’s out of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, because as was pointed out to me, they are the best. The cancer had begun to spread and my Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor could no longer help me. Every doctor that I was now being sent to was the greatest that ever lived. Alright, a bit of an exaggeration, but this is the way it seemed. My new team consisted of not only an ENT, but a plastic surgeon. Whenever you hear the words plastic surgery, do you envision nose jobs or breast augmentations? Me, too, but not for this girl.
Well, not so fast….
When the day of the surgery was finally upon us, reality set in. I cried while waiting to be wheeled into the operating room. The nurse asked, “What’s wrong?” Really? I wondered if she was new in town. Possibly from another planet. My quiet reply was, “I’m scared.” She tried her best to reassure me with, “Don’t be afraid. You’re in good hands. You’ll be asleep before you know it.” And, away we go. “Okay, Kelly, start counting backwards from 100”.
Eighteen hours later and done….
I vaguely remember returning to semi-consciousness with Scott on one side of me and my sister, Sandy, on the other. I had no idea what day it was or how long I’d been laying there. Scott took my hand. I could not speak and I was terrified beyond belief. Scott later told me that my face was swelled beyond recognition. The first time he recounted these events to me, his eyes welled with tears. It was almost as if I were sinking in quicksand and I wanted to scream, “Someone, anyone, please take my hand.” No one replied or even came to my defense. The next thing I remember was awakening, again, on the way to my hospital room with the overwhelming sense that I was going to be sick.
More Was Revealed: The Grasping of Reality….
You see, my physicians briefly described what was in store for me, but Scott and I had no idea what to really expect. We were both in a fog. My mind was well aware that talking would not be an option, but accepting it in my heart was a heavy burden and I wasn’t quite ready to take this responsibility. You see, part of my lengthy procedure involved the creation of an opening into the trachea (windpipe) through the neck, with insertion of an indwelling tube to facilitate passage of air or evacuation of secretions. I wanted to be told that my new accessory, the tracheostomy tube, was temporary. Those words were not forthcoming from any of the medical professionals that were assigned to my case.
No talking. Me? Are you kidding?
I was, however, given a handy, dandy dry erase board to write all of my burning thoughts. Mind you, the thing looked like it had seen its better day. The marker that the nurse gave me was all but out of ink. Scooter to the rescue. He went out and bought me a brand new dry erase board and some colorful markers – green, red, blue. When he arrived to my room with it, he was behaving like a kid on Christmas day. I didn’t have the heart to convey to him that I really didn’t want to write. I wanted to talk. Dammit. None-the-less, I played along for his benefit and I even began referring to the new writing gadgetry as my Right Hand Man as I eventually realized that I could not live without it. What later became a bit comical was that when I would become angry with nurses or the residents from the surgical team, I would write on that board with such a vengeance. I had the need to get the last word in, even if it was in the written form. I would, however, eventually come to the conclusion that I could really do myself a favor by picking and choosing my battles.