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Cancer Pain and a Story Yearning to be Told
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When I think back to enduring the pain of cancer treatment and the intensity of it there are two memories that come instantly to mind. The first is while enduring the pain of radiation I sat down to write my two young children each a letter in case I died during surgery or some other area of treatment. I spent days and more working through each one having to stop as the thought of leaving them became more that I could bear emotionally. I love them dearly and they love me, but it was more than that. Leaving them would have meant leaving their futures to the care of their mother who is completely unprepared to handle them and guide them in any kind of meaningful way. So death for me would have meant a life for them that would have been far less than it should be.

As surgery cam closer I worked harder on these letters in order to make sure that if they were the last word from me to my son and daughter that it would be enough to sustain them, that they could read it at ages 5 and 8 as well as 20 or 30 or 40 and always know how much I truly loved them. I also wanted to be able to capture in as brief a bit of writing as possible the ethics and morales and way of life that I want them to embrace; that they are to be strong and kind and gentle yet forceful when need be. That they are generous and always work to improve themselves intellectually and in every other dimension that holds value.

So that is one memory.

The other is of laying on the guerny that would take me into surgery where significant portions of my body would be removed and I would be left hopefully cancer free, but with a permanent colostomy. I sat for a moment alone with my brother who is a doctor and was well aware of what could happen during the surgery and we hugged. I told him where to find the letters to my kids as well as my directions for what to do with my body and how I wanted him to handle being the uncle of two children with a mother whose judgement is based solely on anger where no reason for it exists.

After a few moments the surgeon came in, a big man who loves to fish and with whom my brother and I got along well, and I tried to tell a few jokes with minor success. He asked my brother to leave as the lines were placed into my veins and the first of what would be a lot of drugs were administered. Soon I lay back and watched as the ceiling tiles and fluorescent lights slid past and then the clunk of the guerney hitting the first doors into the operating area and then another as it entered the operating room. The surgeon and anastesiologist looked down at me, their masks slid casually below their chins and they said they would see me in a few hours. And then I fell asleep.

In what seemed like moments I came to in another room with a masked nurse working quickly to try and finsih packing my wounds and prepare me for consciousness as best as possible. I had a six inch incision from my belly button down to the top of my pubic bone in the front. In the back it was a much larger incision that went from above where my anus used to be up into my scrotum. The pain was unreal. I don't know how to describe other than that it pulsed from all over my body in a burning, stinging insistent way. It exploded into my mind as my eyes struggled to open and I fought to come to terms with what was going on around me. Was I dying? My poor children. My heart raced and it felt as if I was having a heart attack or the most severe panic attack I could have ever imagined. I could not move and I could barely speak. I was helpless in every way.

As if from nowhere my mother leaned over me and I remember seeing her and my father's faces cut with tears. My mom's first words were to tell me that I had a colostomy. It would be permanent. Her second was to tell me that it looked as if they had gotten all of the cancer. For the next two months I could not sit upright. I could not sleep for more than two hours as the pain and then nerve damage, especially in my legs made rest impossible. During this same time I learned to manage a colostomy and the many embarrasments it engenders. But I endured because I did not want my brother to have to give my son and daughter their letters from me.

And meanwhile, the daughter of a woman I became close to slowly and painfully died from her cancer as I healed and have now regained my footing in life. I don't know how to explain why I should have been able to live and this very precious little girl could not. How does one look at life and begin to imagine that there is any basic fairness in who lives and who dies.

I am writing this because when the home page for this site came up there was a quote from Maya Angelou saying something to the effect that the most painful thing is a story waiting to come out into the world. She is right because the story of my experience, which is so intimately familiar to so many people, is aching to come out. I am writing it, but not fast enough.

I am also working to present it in a manner that it is marketable. This is a very difficult thing to do for a story that is so raw and real to me and filled with so much pain and depth of experience and story. How do I sum up what I am writing and telling and describing when it is so many things. The word pain comes to mind quite easily, but it is asuch a relative and trite thing that I don't feel it is enough to convey what it is I am writing and why I am writing it (samples are on my website at www.orchardwriting.com).