Brave

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

–Nelson Mandela

This is a post I started over a month ago. In truth, it is nearly 11 years over due in many ways. This story, this journey, is one that I have never told in its entirety. Before, I have only given it in bits and pieces to a select few people. Now, it is time for the telling, so that I can truly let go of some internalizations that I have held onto for over a decade.

This will not be a beautiful piece like I normally strive for. It’s ugly at turns, and raw. But a very real part of me that has been 11 years suppressed. This is my cancer journey.

When I was 21 years old, I was told that I had pancreatic cancer. I had to come to terms quickly with my mortality; far quicker than I think I was emotionally prepared for at the time. But I didn’t have a choice, really. I had to be brave. For my family, my friends. Above all, for my mother, who was not handling the situation well at all.

As strange as it was, I was not entirely surprised that I was sick. For months, I had been having dreams…

I’ll never quite forget the first time I had the dream. It was the summer of 2007, and I had my head in the clouds, as always. At the time, I spent my waking hours daydreaming about how I would go to the Smashing Pumpkins reunion concert, and that Billy Corgan would somehow fall madly in love with me. Oh, to be 20 again! The dreams started that July, always the same thing, over and over again.

I would “wake up” in a completely dark room. A voice, masculine yet feminine at the same time, would tell me to “listen, and see”. The voice would then show me a view of my body suspended in a dark room, completely naked, with a white circle glowing just above my navel. The voice would tell me that the white circle was something bad that was put inside me, but not to worry, because as long as I listened, I would be okay. 

Though the dreams were odd, I shrugged them off as having watched one too many horror movies.

Around October, I began to hear the voice occasionally while awake, usually when getting dressed for the day or after a shower. I’m not sure if it was my subconscious replaying the words from the dreams and me taking notice while awake, or the voice bleeding through, but I remember being transfixed on the spot, raking my fingernails over my stomach until I had little red marks on my pale skin as I stood in front of the mirror.

I told no one of this because it was far too weird, even for me. I chalked it up to imagination and stress from University. My family constantly chastised me for being such a dreamer, anyway. Maybe they were right. I tried to push the thoughts and dreams away, but steadily, they returned like clockwork every couple of weeks.

On January 21st, 2008, at 11:32 am, I was sitting in my Japanese level III class when I felt a jolt of pain on my left side. So intense was the pain that I nearly fell out of my seat. Doubled over, and suddenly severely nauseous, I waved my instructor over and quietly asked to be excused early from class.

The mile-and-a-half walk back to my apartment had never been so torturous. As soon as I made it home, I vomited in the kitchen sink and crawled into the bed where I texted my mom: “I think an alien is trying to claw its way out of my stomach”.

That text launched a series of doctors’ appointments where I was diagnosed with everything from an upset stomach to a pulled muscle over the course of the next 3 months. I was given nSAIDs, antacids, and muscle relaxers. Each time, I would get better for a couple of days and then the pain and nausea would return with a vengeance.

All the while, my weight dropped. I could barely eat anything without it coming straight up a few minutes later, often accompanied by black sludge. Crackers, mashed potatoes, and Boost vitamin shakes were the only things I could keep down. I felt poisoned inside and out, and the dreams continued. At this point, I was starting to believe them.

In a moment of naivety and desperation, I mentioned the dreams to my then-boyfriend, Jake. He laughed at me and told me I was being silly. I certainly felt silly, so I never brought it up to him, or anyone, again.

By April, after my fifth visit to the doctor, I had lost 30 pounds and still had no answers. I remember the physician’s assistant looking at me, flabbergasted. I complained again of the pain and nausea and she listed off everything we had already tried.

“The only thing I have left is to ultrasound you, I guess!” She exclaimed, throwing her hands up in the air. “Do you want that?”

“You’re the doctor. I just want to feel better,” I said, feeling just as exasperated as her, “So if you think that will give us answers then, yes. Please.”

During all of this, my mother was by my side, for once in my life. I was so happy that she wanted to go to the appointments with me. It felt like maybe we were bonding finally, even though I was sick with whatever mystery illness it was. I gave her HIPAA access, and informed the doctor’s office that she could be called with information on my behalf if I didn’t answer my phone, because I was heading into final exams week at school. This would later turn out to be the wrong decision, but I wanted to please her so badly that I didn’t consider the possible problems that could arise.

The ultrasound came and went. The technician told me it would be 2-3 days before I heard anything, but they would definitely call with results. Of course, the call came while I was in an exam with my phone on silent. I checked my voicemail as I walked back from class and heard the message from my doctor, saying I needed to call her back urgently.

As luck would have it, my mom called just as I was about to return the call to the doctor. I asked her if she had received a message and she said yes, and that I was going to be so annoyed. Apparently they had ordered the wrong test! Silly doctors meant for me to have an MRI, not an ultrasound! Luckily they had already scheduled that for me, my mother explained, so all I needed to do was show up.

Unfortunately the time they had picked was directly in the middle of my Calculus III final. When I told my mother I would just call back and reschedule the MRI, she became frantic.

“Oh no, you can’t do that! They won’t have another test slot for weeks because it’s a very special test. You have to go to this one.” She explained.

I was 21 and knew nothing of medicine at the time so that sounded true. Also, as desperate as I was to feel better, I never thought to question her even though writing this now? I should have known better. Hindsight and all that, I suppose.

“Okay, well I’ll see if I can work something out with my professor.”

I wish I could say that my professor was understanding, but he wasn’t. To this day, that Calculus III class was the only one I’ve ever failed, and it was entirely because I missed the final exam, which was 50% of the course grade. Looking back, I probably could have fought that tooth and nail, but my priorities would soon shift, and quick

That MRI was my first, and I will never forget it. Randomly, it was in a large trailer the size of a bus; a mobile unit in the middle of a parking lot. I remember walking into it and being shuffled into a tiny room near the front so they could prep me. The air was freezing cold in there, and I shivered so hard that my teeth chattered. The technician was nice enough to give me a blanket and explained that the trailer had to be cold so the machine could work properly.

Funny to think, but when I was younger I hated needles with a passion. I hemmed and hawed and teared up when they placed the IV catheter. The nurse asked me why someone so young like me was having an MRI and I prattled back with the excuse my mother gave me. The odd looks I recieved were interesting, but nothing compared to the looks and reactions I got after the MRI was over.

“So what do you want to do when you graduate?” Asked the nurse as she helped me out of the trailer. Her voice sounded off and her eyes looked glassy.

“I’m studying Elementary Education. I really want to help children in the poorer school districts. They need everyone they can get.” That was my reply, but in my head I kept thinking to myself: why does she look so sad suddenly? My reply seemed to only make it worse, and she gave me a hug before wordlessly returning to the frigid trailer.

So marked was the nurse’s odd behavior that I even mentioned it to my mother. “Jeez, you’d think I was dying or something.”

My mom said nothing to that, but in the way that only 20-somethings can, I started talking about any and everything else, just content that she was there to listen. Nothing seemed out of place at all to me. The most catastrophic failure of my empathic abilities to date!

That was a Thursday. I went back to my apartment that night and took my last final for the semester the next morning. My boyfriend came and picked me up and drove me back to my hometown for the weekend, which was our normal routine. As we pulled up to my grandparent’s house, I noticed all of the cars. All of my aunts and uncles were at the house.

“Ah, Uncle Garry must have gone off the deep end again.” I said, jokingly., painfully oblivious to what was about to happen. My boyfriend had no idea what we were about to walk in on, either, so he laughed with me.

In a moment that may go down in history as one of my most tone-deaf and cringe-worthy, I kicked open my grandmother’s front door and walked into the house, doing my best Jim Carrey impression, “Smokin! What’s crack-a-lackin’ guys? Did the intervention start without me?”

No one laughed. No one moved. All of my aunts and uncles stared at me with tears streaking their faces. Tough crowd.

“Did…did Uncle Garry die?” I was dumbstruck and beginning to panic.

“Megan, oh Megan…” my mom said, stumbling out from behind my Papa. “You have cancer. I’m so sorry.”

“What?” I started laughing nervously. Surely this wasn’t really happening, especially not this way? To this day, this moment still remains the most surreal of my life. It was like expecting a birthday party but getting tased and arrested instead.

From behind me, my boyfriend Jake whispered “What the fuck…”

“This is a pretty bad joke.” I was still laughing but my heart was pounding in my chest. “I’m sorry I made fun of Uncle Garry. But can we stop this now?”

My grandmother wiped her tears and pushed my mom forward. “Take her into the back room and explain it to her.”

So she did. We went back into the little room that I grew up in. The one barely bigger than a closet, with my little twin sized bed and Smashing Pumpkins posters taped to the walls. I sat there as she explained that the ultrasound had shown a mass on my pancreas. That the MRI was a follow-up test but she didn’t want to panic me during final exams so she lied about it. That she had found out this morning and told everyone to meet her at the house so they could help her tell me.

My entire family found out I had cancer before I did.

My boyfriend was standing there with me but I couldn’t have felt further from everyone on Earth. My heart began pounding in my ears. I heard my mom and him talking but I might as well have been in another country, their voices were so distant.

“That’s like, 95% mortality isn’t it? Pancreatic cancer?”

“Yes.”

I’m going to die? I have cancer? This is real?

“So what happens to her now?”

“The doctor said more tests. A biopsy to see what kind exactly. Chemo, probably. They talked about surgery, maybe.”

This can’t be real. This can’t be real. This can’t be real. I don’t want this. I have cancer? I’m going to die? I can’t die, not yet.

“Jesus Christ. Meg… are you okay?” Jake’s voice finally managed to break through the fog.

I blinked back tears and looked at him. “Yes. Yeah. Of course. Biopsy, right? Maybe it’s not what they think.”

They both looked at me, incredulous, but I kept on talking.

“It’s probably something weird like a fetal twin or something. I mean, 21 year olds don’t get cancer. I’m going to go tell them all it’s alright. It’s fine. I’m fine.”

When I walked back into the living room and faced the entirety of my very large extended family, I merely flashed them a weak smile. Don’t cry, don’t cry. If you don’t cry, then it’s not real. This isn’t real, so you don’t have to cry. It’s not real.

“Sorry about the bad jokes. I guess I might have cancer. But maybe not. So let’s not worry, okay?” I kept smiling, trying to look at them all and show them I was going to be fine.

I kept it together until I saw my Papa’s face. Then the tears came for real. He caught me as I sobbed and he hugged me tight, along with my grandmother, as I cried in their arms.

Damn. It’s real, then.

As I cried, I heard some of my aunts sobbing, too. Even my stoic Uncle Bill had tears rolling down his cheeks. I felt so much in those moments, my own emotions and theirs.

Disbelief and sorrow. Betrayal. Embarrassment. Grief. Anger. And above all? Fear. So much fear.

Inevitably, my eyes met those of my cousin, Jarett. He was fighting back tears, standing in the corner of the living room. As suddenly as my weeping had began, I stopped. With a hasty wipe of my face, I freed myself from the arms of my grandparents and walked over to him. I could feel all eyes on me but I ignored them. Nope, I’m not going to be the reason he cries.

I cleared my throat and smiled at him. “Um, hey, will you go with me to Buchanan’s to pick up my guitar? I want another set of eyes to make sure they fixed the fret board.”

He blinked and arched an eyebrow at me. I think I may have given him emotional whiplash. “Uhh, sure…?”

“Okay, I’m ready if you are. Jake do you want to tag along or head home?”

He shrugged. “I’ll just head home.”

Everyone else in the room was still staring. My Papa asked if it was really the right time to do that. My grandmother mentioned something about priorities.

I replied with a question. “If I truly don’t have much time left, should I spend it doing what I want or crying about it? I’m done crying now.”

To all that were watching, I’m sure it seemed odd and immature and even a little silly. But the truth is, I was so scared out of my mind, but also so opposed to making anyone worry or sad on my part, that I felt like I had no choice but to shrug it off and try to be as normal as possible. I had to be brave for them.

Most of my days became long, drawn out versions of that moment. When I was out with friends and family, I smiled and joked. I told everyone that my tumor must be a fetal twin, and if so, his name was Clint Billton. Whenever anyone asked me if I was afraid, I would often reply with something silly along the lines of “Yeah, I mean, the polar ice caps are melting so that’s pretty scary right?”

When I was alone, however, things were different. I spent most of my alone time in bed. Partly because I was exhausted and eating was still a huge challenge, so I had no energy. But also because I was deeply afraid and depressed about my situation, and I felt so alone, with no one to talk to. I was so afraid of burdening anyone and making them sad. I kept telling myself that I would shoulder the pain. Worst case scenario, I would die and I wouldn’t’ have to live that way for very long. Best case scenario, I told myself, when I was better I would be able to drop the act.

I’d always felt like a burden, in truth. To my father, who left me at the age of 4. To my mother, who left me to go live with my step-dad at the age of 12. To my grandparents, who never asked for me and often seemed exhausted by my presence, especially my grandmother. To everyone, really. In my mind, I had already made them miserable enough when I was well. What right did I have to do it when I was sick?

I’m happy to say I don’t think that way anymore, but that was my mindset back then.

In the two months between my original diagnosis and my surgery, I underwent a volley of tests. There were times where I felt more pincushion than human, and I was sometimes so covered in needle-stick marks on my arms that I wore long sleeves despite the heat to curb weird looks from strangers.

A biopsy revealed that I had a type of neuroendocrine carcinoid cancer, very similar to the type that would ultimately claim the life of Steve Jobs. We also found out that this particular type of cancer was not responsive to chemotherapy or radiation, so surgery was literally my only option. Statistics were dicey. Even with successful surgery, the 5 year survival rate for people with my kind of cancer was only 50%.

That number stuck with me, and I developed an odd habit of flipping a coin every day. “Heads, I live 5 more years. Tails, I don’t.”

I still flip coins sometimes. The questions aren’t so morbid these days, but I do keep them hidden in my room and workplace in case I get the urge.

At the beginning of May, I met my surgical oncologist, Dr. Ben Calvo. He entered the room and sat down across from my mother and I, looked down at my chart, back up and me, down at my chart again, then back up to me.

“Well, I’ve been reading and re-reading this chart thinking there must be a typo, but here you are. You really are a 21 year old girl with neuroendocrine cancer.”

I nodded sheepishly and my mom asked, “Why do you say it like that?”

“Because this is a cancer of 60 year old men. Your daughter is one of the youngest people to be diagnosed with this type of tumor. Ever.”

My mom and I looked at each other. I remember thinking that of course it would be just my luck.

He reviewed what the other oncologist had said based on my biopsy and reiterated that surgery was my only option. He and I started discussing dates at the beginning of June, which were his first available.

“Hold on, hold on.” my mom interjected, “We need to wait until at least August or September. Maybe even later. I have to prepare myself for this!”

Before I could attempt a response, Dr. Calvo very calmly replied, voice stern yet gentle, “I don’t think you understand the gravity of your daughter’s situation. If you wait 6 more months, her cancer will have grown to the point that it may be inoperable. And we already know that chemo and radiation are not options. It needs to come out as soon as possible.”

I still find it funny that my mother’s first thought wasn’t whether or not I was ready for the surgery, but whether or not she was. That would become a running theme in the events to come.

My mother now silent, the date was chosen: June 3rd, 2008

The weeks up to that point were filled with more tests, this time to see how I would weather the anesthesia. I was told that I was frail and needed to gain weight in order to have a better chance of surviving the surgery. So I pushed myself to drink more of the high calorie shakes. I did strength training exercises. I did everything I could to make my body strong for the task at hand.

But my mind remained a wreck. I was still trying to be brave on the outside for everyone. And it was working. My boyfriend didn’t even talk about my sickness at all anymore. My friends stopped asking how I was feeling constantly. Things were almost back to normal, as if all the doctors’ appointments were some other reality for some other Megan.

At night I would stand in front of the mirror. The voice from the dream would repeat the message over and over again, and I would trace my fingers over my stomach. I had so many thoughts racing.

Will I live through this?

If I don’t, what do I tell them to do with my body? Do I want to be cremated? Should I have already picked out an urn or a coffin? The date is getting closer and I don’t even know what to do with my body. Should I let my mom decide? That seems like a hard choice for her. If I’m not cremated, what do I want on my headstone? What if the Egyptians were right about mummifcation and I totally screw this whole afterlife thing up?

If I live, will it be for long? Will I be able to do normal things afterwards?

Will I ever find true love? Does that even exist? Do I even deserve it? Will I ever get married? Should I be worried I don’t feel that way about the guy I’m currently dating?

Will I ever be a mother? Is this something my baby could get, too? Could this bad thing in me hurt my children?

But most of all, I thought: Why?

What the hell did I do? Why me? Hasn’t my life already been hard enough?

When alone, I became lost in the absolute despair of my situation, past and present. Why did I have to have cancer? Was it not enough that both my parents walked out on me? That my grandmother emotionally abused me? That I spent periods of time as a teenage vagabond because of that? That when my mom did come back in my life, I was always waiting for her to leave again? That sometimes I was too much even for my friends and boyfriend, and even they’d turn their backs on me at times? I tried to be so nice to everyone in my life, wasn’t that enough? What did I do wrong?

I was very much feeling sorry for myself and swimming in angst. I kept thinking that all I had ever wanted was to be loved. For someone to stay. To be happy. And now that chance was most likely gone, too. In fact, the slight chance that I could still have that happiness was the only thing that kept me going some days. I had to fight for it, somehow. Fight for the light.

But on the outside, I smiled. The weekend before my surgery, we planned a trip to the mountains. One last hurrah in case it would be my last chance. That weekend was filled with fun memories. Jarett and his girlfriend Taylor riding horses for the first time. My boyfriend Jake throwing a kayak 20 feet into the air because he didn’t know how to paddle. Watching the sun set from our cabin on the mountainside, the dying light painting the trees in the pinks, purples, and golds of dusk as Jarett plucked out soft melodies on his acoustic guitar.

Coming home that Sunday night, I had to get straight down to business. I had been instructed to take a sterile shower wherein I had to use special soap and scrub the daylights out of my skin to help with decontamination prior to even getting to the hospital. Of course, I’d later become very familiar with that stuff, as it was chlorhexidine, which we use in veterinary medicine every day.

Once I was squeaky clean and raw, I found myself in front of the mirror one last time, the same questions racing through my mind. I traced a line up and down my stomach, where they explained my incision would be. I felt sad knowing that it would be the last time that I would see myself without a scar. Without my body being forever altered in a way I didn’t want.

Guess I’ll never have a perfect body. Vain as the thought was, it was still there all the same.

I took a picture. I still have it, hidden deep within some files in a safe. I haven’t looked at it in years, though.

I slept, somehow, after crying myself to sleep quietly in my little room so no one else could hear. Then, just like that, it was time. We had to wake up at 5:00 am so that I could go through the pre-surgical preparations and be ready for surgery at 8:00 am. My papa drove us that morning, with my grandmother in the front, and my mom in back with me. She was hyperventilating but I was serene in those moments. I looked out the window of the Buick and watched the sun rise over the trees in the distance as the car drove though the winding back roads around Jordan Lake.

I wonder if this is my last sunrise.

I can’t quite describe what I was feeling just then. All the fear and depression and worry was gone. If anything, I would describe it as feeling nothing. The red hues of dawn dazzled my eyes as my mind laid bare. Perhaps I had felt everything I could have possibly felt up to that point, and burned out anything for the actual event. I don’t know. I do know that the car ride to the hospital was the most relaxed I have ever felt. My soul was settled, come what may.

We got to the hospital, and of course, my aunts and uncles were there. In truth, I was like their little sister moreso than their niece. After all, my mother had me young, and many of them were still living with my grandparents when I was growing up. My family may be highly dysfunctional, but we do all come together in crisis. I was thankful too, for them being there because someone had to handle my mother. She had already broken down into hysterics multiple times as I sat there quietly, completely numb of emotion.

Everyone waited with me until I was called back. At that point, they hugged me and told me good luck and that they loved me. My mother and aunt Sabrina were allowed to come back with me for a bit while I was stationed in a small room, now gowned up in lovely hospital attire.

“Your mama told me you don’t want the epidural, sugar.” My aunt Sabrina leaned in and gave me a look. She had been more of a mother to me than my own for most of my life, in truth. And I could tell she was about to give me a mother-like talking to.

And what she said very true. I had been offered an epidural block to help with the pain of the surgery, but something didn’t feel right about it, so I refused it. “I don’t want it, it doesn’t seem right.”

“Please promise me you’ll get it. You’re going to be in so much pain if you don’t. If you won’t do it for you, will you do it for me?” She brushed my bangs from my face and my heart melted. Just make them happy.

“Okay. For you, Bee.” I said, as my mother sighed with relief beside me and thanked her for convincing me.

After a short while in that room, a nurse came in and said it was time. My mother began wailing and gripped my arm so tight it hurt. “I’m not ready, I’m not ready, oh Lord I’m not ready!”

“It’s okay. I’m fine. I’ll see you in 9 hours, yeah?” I said to her, trying to pry her off my arm as the nurse helped me into a wheelchair and my mother cried all over my hair. “I love you.”

My aunt gave me a kiss on the cheek and grabbed my mom as her knees buckled. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of her. Good luck, sugar.”

And with that, I was wheeled into the operating room. The nurse laughed and made a remark to the effect of “your mom is way more upset than you are. You’re pretty brave, girlie.”

I don’t really have a choice though… I thought it but didn’t say it. What’s my other option? Just lay down and die?

At that point, my emotions began rushing back in. The fear and terror came back full force, and I shivered, teeth chattering. As always, I swallowed it down. If I’m so scared, is it really being brave?

From there it was all bright lights and laying on a cold table, hunching over for the epidural, which was horribly unpleasant. Yet, for the first time, someone noticed that I was scared. A female doctor with red, curly hair. She winked at me and whispered as they put my IV catheter in my right hand.

“It’s okay to be scared. This is a very scary thing. But you know the best part?”

“What’s that?”I found myself whispering to match her.

“I have drugs that can fix that for you.” And with that, she pushed some sort of miracle elixir into my IV line that made me instantly feel giddy. I hadn’t felt that happy in ages, and I giggled as Dr. Calvo greeted me.

“Well, someone’s made you happy at least.” He smiled and put his hand on my shoulder. “Now let’s make you better.”

In human medicine, when a patient is being anesthetized, they are asked to count backwards from 10 to 1 as the medication is being administered. I lay wide eyed and bubbly on the table as the anesthetist greeted me and readied the drug.

I should be nervous. This is it, right? But I’m not nervous. Jeez, this is why people get addicted to drugs.

“Okay Ms. Morgan, I need to you to count backwards from 10 with me. We’ll see how far you get, okay? Ready?”

I nodded to him as my mind raced on with glee.

10, 9…

Will I survive this? Am I going to die? I guess it doesn’t matter.

8, 7…

I hope my mom feels better. At least I feel happy.

6, 5…

Happy, happy, happy

And I was gone.

In what felt like mere seconds, I was awake in a harshly lit room, freezing cold and very, very angry. Everything hurt, and my brain turned that into rage. My shoulders felt like they were on fire, and my stomach hurt so bad that I felt certain I could see the pain radiating out of a searing point of light on my abdomen. I remember that some nurses walked by and I hurled profanities at them. I tried to move and felt like something was tearing me in two, so I screamed again before everything went black. I was told later that I apparently tried to bite and punch a nurse during this phase as well.

I was in and out like that for 3 days. I would wake up, feel an insurmountable amount of pain, and then black out again. I had a feeding tube placed because I was unable to maintain lucidity long enough to eat anything. In the haze of it all, I remember begging for more morphine because I hurt so bad, and being told no.

One nurse told me that I needed a higher pain tolerance.

Unbeknownst to her, or anyone, my epidural had been placed improperly, so I wasn’t getting nearly the amount of pain reduction that they thought I was.

It wasn’t until they attempted to get me to stand up for the first time after surgery that anyone noticed. And only because I kinda, sorta, well…died.

“We need to get you walking, Ms. Morgan.” my main nurse, Susie, said right beforehand.

In one of my waking moments, I spat back at her. “If you get me out of this bed something bad will happen.”

I’m sure she’d heard that one before, and with the help of another nurse, they lifted me to sitting. I shrieked and fought to stay conscious. My heart felt odd in my chest. “I don’t feel okay.”

“Well of course not, hon, you just had surgery. Now, up we go.”

As soon as my feet hit the floor, I felt the strangest sensation. My heart felt as if it had punched through my chest, in concert with the unholy pain I felt from my incision. I lurched forward and, though I remember falling in my room, I landed somewhere else.

Someplace I had been before.

When I was young, I had drowned. Then, and again, I fell to a white place, where everything was warm and soft and comfortable and most of all, nothing hurt. The voice from the dreams was there. It welcomed me home, but said I wasn’t allowed to stay, at least not this time.

Leaving that place was excruciating, but I awoke to a hoard of doctors and nurses swirling around me on the floor of my room. My chest was bare and hurt like hell from CPR. It was at that point they realized that my epidural was placed incorrectly, putting pressure on my spinal cord. That pressure is what led to my heart stopping when I stood up. A nice vasovagal response that nearly, and technically, killed me. Not to mention my pain had run uncontrolled for days because the medication was not actually being delivered.

The red-headed doctor popped in later that day, very pleased with my progress from the scare earlier. She also said something I won’t forget regarding my tumor. Completely unprompted, she laughed and said, “You know, that thing was small and white. Reminded me of a matzah ball when we scooped it out of ya!”

I remembered the white circle in the dream. I didn’t know what a matzah ball was then, but to hear that it was small and white made me raise my eyebrows for sure. I still don’t understand why or how I dreamed what I dreamed, and if I was a coincidence or something more, but it is fascinating, at the very least.

That was really the turning point in my recovery. After her visit, I was allowed more morphine through my IV and the pain was finally quelled. I’d spend two more weeks in the hospital recovering before finally returning home. Even after making it home, there were drains that had to be care for another 8 weeks, and regular check ups.

During that time, my incision line became infected underneath my skin and pulled apart at the surface. The surgeon admitted fault for this, and they did what they could do fix it, but it has unfortunately left my stomach a little disfigured. I was told plastic surgery was the only way to fix it, and though I did not feel worthy enough of that back then? I do now, and plan to finally have my scar restructured this fall.

In fact, much has changed in these 11 years since I stood in front of the mirror and wondered if it would be my last night on earth.

And a lot has happened, with many of those questions I agonized over having been answered.

Yes, I did live, of course. Every year I make it to another June 3rd is another celebration. Another flip of the coin defeated. My 5th year out? I was over the moon. I had beat the odds. My 10th year out? I finally felt like I could breathe again.

Yes, I did get married, though looking back, I wish I had known so much more now. But I think that sentiment could hold for all of humanity in some sort of fashion. Now, as I sit here writing, I am newly divorced and still searching for my place in this world on a relationship front.

Yes, I did have a child. He is the light of my life. There is sometimes a genetic component to the type of cancer I had, so I did undergo genetic testing before I had Liam, just to be safe. Even so, I would choose him over and over again even if the results had been different.

No, I still haven’t figured out what the right thing to do with my body is after my death, but I hope that I’ll have plenty more years to figure that out.

And yes, I did find true love, however brief, though it took me far longer than nearly anything else in my life to see.

And the voice from the dream? He still comes to me sometimes, but lately? It’s nothing but good messages.

Sleep tight, and know that you are loved

2 thoughts on “Brave

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