AGE, BEAUTY AND MAJOR ILLNESS

How does one move on from a major illness?

I’ve thought about this starting early in the diagnosis: “I’ve got cancer, so now what?”

At the beginning, life was dedicated to dealing with the illness, the “here and now” immediate needs, and maybe looking ahead a little bit to the next surgery, to the recovery, to the months after. But what about next year, five years from now, ten years, and beyond that? Will this experience shape my beliefs? My temperament? My sense of humor, confidence? Will it make me a better person? Will it make me bitter, cynical, afraid of doing activities I used to love? What lessons *should* I learn here, and what *will* I take away from being ill? Rest assured, this process will unfold over time, as the event moves further into my past.

Age

Recently, I feel like there has been a time warp and I’ve suddenly aged a few years! Perception says I no longer look ‘young for my age’ (39), but instead like a 40-year old! To be fair, I’m on a natural path to aging, yet I was not this old a year ago! The creases on my forehead and under my eyes, silver hairs, dark circles under my eyes, enlarged pores, etc, reveal the hard road traveled this past year. Age has become poignant following major illness.

Beauty

Just to be clear, age has *never* been a factor for judgement. I don’t place undue value on youth. I value life experience and wisdom, and value the age qualities that come along, like wrinkles and creases, grey hairs and what the body does in time, in its own way. Look, like everybody else I earned my knowledge and wisdom. I wouldn’t give it up to go back to an earlier time, therefore, I accept the physical age my skin has taken on with pride. After all, it is only skin. With the recent aging caused by heavy chemical, radiation and surgical treatments for cancer, I am now coping with the reality of aging. I will come to accept my new features as they fit into my life naturally and beautifully.

Psychology

Now and then I wonder how the past year’s illness will affect me psychologically. For example, when I get back to my old favorite activities, will I feel awkward, rusty or insecure?

I was never an “aggressive” athlete. I took more chances than the average person, but less than the average athlete. Bicycling and inline skating are hobbies I did with great zeal; biking alongside cars, anywhere and everywhere, any weather, any time. Running, hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, etc; again I don’t have an especially risk-taking personality, still, given the inherent risks in each sport, I felt in-control. Will my mind now tell me, “I’m done with this, it’s time to retire!” Is this good-bye to big rocks and steep hills on the mountain biking trail, which at one time I devoured?

I do not need to worry about letting my youthful vigor slip away because if it does, it is because I’m ready to move on to something else which will have a new place in my aged, wised-up self! I imagine that now I’ll have a whole new respect for mortality and bodily health after spending so many hours, days and dollars fighting to keep my life and quality of life. Or, maybe not – perhaps I’ll take up surfing with sharks. Ha!

So, how does one move on from major illness? From this experience forward, we shall see.

inline_skate_age

Inline skating, Sellwood Bridge 1998 (look Ma, no helmets!)

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HERNIA SURGERY: GOOD / BAD NEWS

Hernia surgery results showed good news and potential for bad news.

The follow-up visit with my hernia surgeon went as well as can be expected.

Dr. Reger explained that there was a split in the ‘posterior muscle wall’ (the inside layer) which allowed my guts to push out between them. Those muscles tensed and scrunched to the sides. The ‘anterior muscles’ (the outside layer), however, did not break, but stretched and gaped with the pressure of my guts. Voila, the pot belly. Through the incision, Dr. Reger had to reach in and grab the contracted muscle and forcibly pull each side back together, stitch, and reinforce with a strip of mesh. He illustrated all of this with his hands in the air, so I do not have a good visualization myself, let alone a diagram to share with you. However, I do trust Dr. Reger did an excellent job.

I got two pieces of news, good and bad.

The good news first– Healing from the surgery is on track and everything looks as it should by now. Activities I can participate in include walking, hiking, taking it easy and wearing a compression belt (affectionately referred to as my girdle or belly bra) to keep my guts in place. After one more week I can add:

M&M-Light-Hike

Light Hike

– more walking and hiking
– light swimming, to keep muscles stretched
– light stationary bicycling, again to keep muscles stretched
– light weight lifting
– taking it easy some more

In six more weeks, I will add activities as my body tolerates like bike riding, lifting, strengthening and other exercises light on abdominal use.

The bad news – The fix should be sturdy and strong, however, we do not know what caused the incisional hernia in the first place. Dr. Reger cautioned that the stoma incision next to the hernia incision (closed up on July 14, 2012) could give way to another hernia. In other words, I should watch for signs of a hernia over the next two years. When the hernia repair was done a few weeks ago, the tention added to bring the split muscles back together could add to any weakness at the stoma incision. If, he says, a hernia is caught early, it is an easy fix. If it does not happen in the next two years (!!), then it probably won’t happen.

ACK, I say! That’s two years of paranoia! Ie. “What’s that I feel?”, “Is this normal?”, “Should I call the doctor about this, or will it go away?”, etc. When I thought all of this worry and anticipation was over, it has been delayed! Well, it is nothing new given the past year’s worries. Besides, I will take that over cancer concerns anytime.

Dr. Reger has a very conservative approach. I admire this and chose him for that reason. Therefore I will stay on the conservative side of recovery because to face another surgery is unappetizing, and, boy, I do not want to start over on insurance deductibles if I can help it!

Recovering from hernia surgery takes sometimes years of incredible patience. When you feel good, you still must resist strenuous activities.

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