June 2011 I was declared cancer free. The news was awesome but the intense chemotherapy and radiation created new issues for me. Life as I knew it would change (possibly) forever. Instead of being upset about it, I prefer to look at it as, “my new normal.” The chemo attacked my nervous system so my balance is off. If I don’t use my walker, I look like I had too many wine coolers and there have been a few times, someone commented on my “public drunkenness.”
Thirty rounds of radiation did a number on my pelvic bone. The first scan showed five insufficiency fractures. They have since healed but the bone density in that area is thinner. Falling on my butt could cause my pelvic bone to break in half and that doesn’t sound fun at all…so a walker it is.
The cancer was mainly in my rectal area, where the sphincter muscles are, which is why I was having all those bathroom accidents in my pants starting a year before my diagnosis. I wore adult diapers for eleven months when my colorectal doctor suggested I get a colostomy bag. He was waiting to see if my sphincter muscles would magically repair themselves, but it never happened. If you ask me, I think Dr. C. was just waiting for my body to recover from the chemo/radiation before stressing my system with surgery. The cancer was killed in record time. The total treatment was only five months. As far as stage four cancer goes, that is unbelievable! I see patients with my same cancer who are in treatment for two years before they are told they are in remission.
Colostomy surgery was October 19th and I was back home five days later. The next month was challenging as far as getting used to my “bag.” There were a few messes to clean up but I had a great home health nurse who helped me. She wasn’t trained to take care of colostomies so we learned together. The lesson cancer continued to give me was “patience” and that included learning how to take care of my ostomy and bag. The first couple of months, it took me twenty minutes to change my bag, now I do it in less than five minutes.
Luckily I have a wicked sense of humor because having a colostomy bag that “toots” without prior warning can be embarrassing. I raised a teenage boy, so I know all about fart jokes. My ostomy is noisy sometimes, usually at the most inopportune time, like when I’m sitting in a meeting or introducing myself to someone new. How do I handle it? I laugh of course! Then if it’s appropriate I take the time to educate others about colostomy bags. Most never heard of them.
One time I was at a concert with James and we had to get a “pat down” by security before entering the venue. The guard felt the bag under my shirt and asked what it was. James blurted out, “It’s a bag of shit!” So no one would be confused that it might be marijuana, I added it was my colostomy bag and I was happy to show it to her. She declined. Too bad, that could have been a real educational moment.
Over the years since my surgery I talked with several patients waiting to have their colons removed and have an ostomy bag. Most are scarred which is understandable. Aren’t we all a bit afraid of the unknown? I’m lucky. I have my colon, there is just a detour going to the exit now. Looking back over all that has happened to me, from nearly stroking out from blood loss the day I first came to the ER, up until now, I can say I am one lucky broad. So what if I wobble when I walk and fart like a man? I am alive… no, I am thriving and to me that’s all that matters. All this stuff is my new normal and I can live with that.
Live Well and Be Happy!