In all my years of living with a chronic illness, there's been several saving graces, and chiefly among them, I've never had to deal with the C-word.
If I hadn't had my colon removed eight years ago, my risk for developing colon cancer would have been five-times higher than most of the rest of you. Don't forget that colon cancer is the third most common form of cancer and the second deadliest of all the different types of cancer, so make sure you get that colonoscopy, because it's almost the most preventable of all the cancers. (Take it from a girl who's been through enough colonoscopies to keep her doctors fat and happy for the rest of their lives, they're not that bad.)
All that aside, because of some of the medicines I was on and complications/side effects of the disease, I'm now at an increased risk for other types of cancers like lymphoma and cervical/ovarian cancer. Go figure.
But I digress.
I've been following the blog of a fellow Michigander that despite having never met, I feel quite a bond with, and need to thank. Jodi Wilson was 26 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer last October. She's also a page designer over at the Detroit News and bravely decided to share her entire journey with us from start to what we all hope will be victorious finish. Her blog over at the paper is appropriately titled The Breast Monologues.
Jodi's been brutally honest with her readers, and for that I applaud her. It's not easy bearing your vulnerable side to the exhibitionist world we live in, especially when you're talking about losing various parts of your body that society still hasn't completely come to term with. Trust me, I know all about it.
Sometimes it's darn right hard for me to read her words, because flashbacks of my own days of pain and hospital stays and depression often rush back in a way that make my head spin and my heart race. I try to put a positive spin on it just to keep things balanced - remind myself how far I've come, how I've now had almost 4 years hospital-free. How long ago it all seems, and yet like it was just yesterday.
She recently opted to have a mastectomy and as expected, it brought an awful storm of memories back. My surgeon warned me for months that I'd be better off if I just decided to completely remove my then partial-colon and rectum and at the ripe age of 20, I couldn't even begin to imagine what life would be like physically un-whole. It didn't matter that I was in the hospital multiple times a month, or that I had a deeper relationship with my doctors and nurses on 6 North than I did with my best friends. I was 20 years old, and if I wasn't whole, what life could possibly exist for me out there in the big scary world?
Obviously logic wasn't part of my thinking, and those wiser than I knew that it was a decision I had to come to on my own. I was actually more worried about meeting Mr. Right, getting married and being loved by someone else than I was living, and looking back now, that terrifies me.
It took nearly spending Christmas in the hospital (I got a 24 hour reprieve) before I finally woke up. My then-boyfriend literally had to tell me that he'd still love me despite my missing organs before I was ready to sign on the dotted line and go under the knife. I think about it now and it breaks my heart.
Looking back now at the many scars that line my abdomen and various other parts of the body and what those scars represent in both physical and emotional pain and victory, it's amazing to think that I was that insecure person so long ago.
It's easy for me to go through my daily life and occasionally not really remember everything I've undergone. My scars and my ileostomy are my only real daily reminders. All of my other physical reminders like my weight, my fatigue, my daily pain from the chronic kidney stones, I've just grown used too. I don't like them, I try hard to remedy what's able to be remedied, particularly my weight as of late, but I just deal, because in the end, I'm alive when I probably shouldn't be.
But when I read a post of Jodi's and I'm thrown back into a different time of my life, a personal Mt. Everest that I'm still attempting to climb, and it terrifies me in a way that I need to experience every once in a while. It reminds me of what I've overcome, how much further I still have to go, and my duty to keep paying it forward to others. It's one of the reasons I still blog and despite working in a field that can get nastier than most, it's why I stay true to myself and others. Because in the end, it really does take one to know oneself.