Category Archives: Menopause

My Cancer Story: Out of Surgery

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liquids

I opened my eyes.The clock said noon.

Four and a half hours gone by in a twinkling.

Barbara body check:

No nausea.

No memory of a tube being whipped from my throat.

No weirdness from a catheter.

Worries Two, Three, and Four, all vanished.

Yes!

“You’ve been out of surgery for an hour,” the recovery room nurse said.

I did some fast math. My surgery lasted a half hour longer than expected, by my calculations.

Did the doctor need to remove additional nodes, meaning the cancer had spread?

Worry Number One, The Big One, despite my sleepy brain, loomed large.

An orderly wheeled me out of the recovery room.

I saw Cliff for a moment. At least I thought I did.

A blur of walls. The ding of an elevator.

Next, I was in a hospital bed.

I glanced around. No other beds.My own room. Worry Number Five, gone!.

Cara, who introduced herself as my nurse, explained lots of stuff. I mostly remember her pointing out the  TV remote control and the phone, tucked in on one side of the bed. Cool!

But what about the pathology? Cliff had promised to tell me right away, good news or bad.

But he had said nothing in the flash of an instant I saw his face.

Did that mean bad news? Was he waiting until I was more stable?

Finally, at one-thirty, he stepped through the hospital room door. I hit him with the question immediately: “What’s the pathology?”

“All good!  Everything is good.”

I sank back into the bed. Never, ever have I experienced such relief.

That joy took hold and hasn’t left me yet.

My first meal arrived. A liquid one that included my beloved Coke!

Despite my high spirits, I fussed at Cliff, “Why didn’t you tell me the good news when you saw me after recovery?”

He explained that besides a half-smile, I slept, and of course, he didn’t know he wouldn’t be coming into my room right away. (Turns out, the orderly and nurse asked him to wait while they got me settled, and then forgot about him until he began to worry and inquired.)

Maybe waiting made the news even more powerful, if that’s possible.

All was forgiven, and Cliff enjoyed my jello with gusto.

Cliff Eating

An hour later we checked out the bandages. Amazing, isn’t it, that not so many years ago, this would have been a giant incision.
Stomach

A visit from our pastor (don’t worry, I didn’t reveal my stomach) and phone calls added to the room’s festive spirit. Everyone reported later that I was an upbeat chatterbox.

Ordering a meal at UNC Hosptial  is great sport. The menu is divided into pretend restaurants. This is the page with Asian food.

Menu

We decided to select dinner from the Southern Cooking page. After all, we were in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Best milkshake ever. It’s probably all I really consumed. While food sounded, looked, and tasted good, my appetite was missing and wouldn’t return for two weeks.

Hospital Dinner

Cara printed three goals on the white board across from my bed:

Walk.

Pee.

Eat.

Eat: Although I didn’t consume much, I passed the eating test.

Pee: The catheter, which began to bother me some by nighttime, was staying in until the morning, per doctor’s orders. Pain medicine helped. Official peeing would come tomorrow.

Walk: I’ve heard story after story of patients being pushed out of bed.

“Am I getting up?” I asked the late night nurse.

“Nope,” said the nurse. “You aren’t going anywhere tonight.”

If you told me three months ago that I’d be hooked up to tubes and ordered to stay in bed at UNC Hospital, I’d have panicked.

But that night, in that hospital bed, was just about the happiest night of my life.

I’m not sugarcoating the experience.

I’m not making light of something so serious.

I’m writing the truth.

The surgery over. My pain minimal. An excellent surgeon and her team. The kindness of family and friends and hospital staff.

And most of all, an excellent pathology report.

What more could this girl want?

womens-hospital

My Cancer Story: The Surgery

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CokeCoke girl here!

Drinks are now permitted up to two hours prior to your scheduled arrival time at the hospital: water, apple juice, Gatorade, sodas, (Coke is one of the examples in the above pamphlet!) and black coffee with no milk or creamer. They’ve  found that hydrated patients usually have less trouble with nausea.

So when I awoke at four AM on surgery day, I took a few sips of  my beloved Coca-cola.

What’s NOT allowed is makeup. I put on a minuscule amount, but let’s keep that our secret.

As Cliff drove me to UNC Hospital an hour later, I had five predominant fears about the day ahead.

1. At the top of the list was the pathology report. The pathology would be done while I was under. I’d know right away.

2. Nausea upon waking. I hate to throw up, and my body does not handle it with grace.

3. The intubating tube being pulled from my throat. The nurse in Precare said they do this AFTER you’re awake, but you’re too groggy to notice. Yikes. Groggy or not, that sounded bad.

4. The catheter. This would be inserted while I was under, but the whole concept creeped me out.

5. A roommate. I’m a people person, but not a room-sharer. I kept telling myself this was nothing compared with Fear Number One (and the others). Buck up. Barbara. Your hospital stay is only one night.

unnamed

When we got to pre-op, I was whisked away to a large cubicle with a Carolina blue curtain. (This was UNC, after all.)

A resident and a medical student were the first to pop in.

“Can you explain what you’re having done today?” the resident asked me.

“I’m having my uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and nearby lymph nodes removed because I have uterine cancer. While I’m out, pathology will be done. If the cancer is in the lymph nodes, they’ll take additional nodes to determine how far it has spread.”

“Excellent!” she said.

I felt pleased to pass the test. (Those of us who work with words take our praise in whatever form we can.)

We chatted about my illness, the surgery, and what the recovery should be like.

They left, and I met my pre-op nurse. Jeannie put me at ease and did an IV in my hand so painless I hardly knew it was happening.

An anesthesiologist introduced herself next. I noted to myself how good her hair looked for 6:40 in the morning (smooth and curled in a pageboy).

“I hate to throw up,” I told her.

“No worries. We’ve got great drugs we’ll put in that IV. How are your teeth? Do they chip?”

On no!

My teeth love to chip, especially on important occasions.

She promised to be careful.  “And what about reflux?”

“I had a bout of reflux a few years ago,” I said.

“Tilt your head back. Let me look at your airway.”

What if my airway is bad? What happens then, I wondered, but didn’t ask.

“Good airway,” she said.

Phew!

Jeannie sent for Cliff.

He snapped this picture and filled me in on life in the waiting room, which sounded like it had soap opera potential. He’d have time to soak up plenty more during my three hour operation.
Prep Room

Throughout this entire process, I kept my eye on the clock in front of me. I watched it move from 6:15 to 7:25, sort of like waiting for midnight on New Year’s Eve  but without any hope of champagne.*

With a word from Jeannie, Cliff kissed me goodbye and was off.

And so was I, to the operating room.

I’ve been told you don’t remember much about the operating room. I tried to pay attention.

I saw the fancy robotic instruments, and that’s all I had time to take in.

They had me scooch from the chair in the picture above to the operating table.

Someone put a mask over my face. “Breathe, Barbara. This is oxygen. The anesthesia is coming next in your IV line.”

Two weeks before the surgery, I asked my son-in-law Matt how he dealt with his surgery, a spinal fusion, at age twenty. “Were you scared?”

“Not really. I figured there’s no one more qualified to help you than the doctors,” Matt answered.

I love simple advice that is oh-so-smart.

And in its simplicity, the best advice sticks with us.

I kept Matt’s words in my head and heart the weeks before surgery and especially that morning.

I couldn’t save my own life.

I needed the expertise of my surgeon and her team.

Take it way, Dr. Gehrig.

And thank you.

Dr. Gehrig

 

Click on the photo above to hear my surgeon, Paola Gehrig, talk about endometrial cancer.

* Actually, as it turned out, there is champagne in the story, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

 

My Cancer Story: Getting Ready for Surgery

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nightgowns

I’m a project person.

I like to be organized.

And I’m fond of shopping.

So I took on preparing for surgery with a touch of gusto. I was scheduled for a hysterectomy on July 8. A month earlier a biopsy had revealed endometrial cancer.

I bought a new nightgown.

 

Hospital Stuff

I found stretchy shorts. I wouldn’t be able to wear waistbands for a while.

And I picked up some other post-surgery items.

I put sheets on the guestroom beds, since I thought it best not to climb our long stairs for a week or so.

And I made the house as tidy as could be.

As the day approached, a sort of calm came over me.

Yet I had moments when my illness hit me anew. Our pastor sends out a weekly email with announcements of upcoming happenings at Hillsborough Presbyterian Church.

 

Church Announcement

 

Me.

Cancer.

I felt so good. How could I be sick?

The night before the surgery, I took a final walk on our brand new riverwalk. I had no idea when I’d be able to walk this trail again.

Riverwalk

I talked to my girls on the phone, and to my mom (I didn’t tell her a word about my illness until after the surgery).

Got the blog set.

Packed my hospital bag.  Added a folder with my Living Will.

Gave my ID and medical card to Cliff to carry.

Took a shower with antibacterial scrub per hospital instructions. Talk about squeaky clean!

The very last project was taking off my nail polish.  Hospital rules state it has to be removed. One pedicure down the tubes.

toes

Three weeks later, after the surgery, I sank into a bit of a funk. My oncologist said it’s normal. “You sail into cancer surgery with  blinders on,” she explained. “You do what you have to do. Later you stop and really reflect.”

And that was me.

I did what I had to do.

And got as ready as I could.

With the help of my husband and the well wishes of friends and family, I was off to UNC Hospital at five the next morning. Lights out!

 

Fearless Women Writing! A Book Giveaway

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A guest post by writer and teacher Susan Gabriel:

I have never thought of myself as a particularly courageous person, but over the last few years –having dealt with hot flashes, heart palpitations and sleep deprivation, among other things – I’ve realized how brave I actually am.

It’s no small feat to get through major hormonal shifts. Yet, I’ve survived other tough things in my life, and I’ll get through this.

Still, despite all the courage we women have to claim to get around in this world, our fears abound.

I was reminded of this when I started teaching my Fearless Writing for Women workshops. In these workshops, which are held my home and run for six weeks, writers are given writing prompts, writing tips, and LOTS or encouragement to tell their stories.

My students – women who are mostly in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s –  have amazing experiences to share and yet they also have nagging and sometimes paralyzing self-doubt that what they have to say doesn’t matter, has no value, or isn’t good enough.

What I tell these women is that we can’t afford to have this attitude.

We have to voice our fears in safe places like my workshops or other groups of women, but then we have to move forward anyway.

Because the world needs women’s stories!

Stories where ordinary, resilient women overcome adversity and have courage to claim their more authentic selves.

Stories about us.

To put it in perspective, it’s only been in the last hundred years that women’s stories have been published. Before that we basically had a handful of well-known authors like Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, as well as the ever notable Anonymous.

The world desperately needs women to write their stories and give other women (and men) the road maps for finding their way home.

With this in mind, I wrote a book called Fearless Writing for Women that gives extreme encouragement and inspiration using quotes, short essays by me and stories of creative women like Anne Lamott, Tina Fey, Annie Dillard, Virginia Woolf, Harriet Tubman, Ursula Le Guin, Barbara Kingsolver, Kathryn Hackett, Hillary Clinton, Alice Munro, Jane Austen, Maya Angelou, and others.

Please get whatever support you need – classes, workshops, a writing coach, whatever – to start or continue writing. We need your stories.

P.S. A BIG thank you to Barbara who is generously giving away a free paperback of Fearless Writing for Women.

Autographed paperbacks are also available through my website: www.susangabriel.com. EBook versions of all my books (fiction and nonfiction) can be found on Kindle, ibooks, nook, Kobo and Google Play, as well as in paperback everywhere. The Fearless Writing for Women audio book will be released this fall on Audible.

Giveaway: For a chance to win Susan’s book, Fearless Writing for Women, please leave a comment by August 31 saying  you’d like to be the winner.

More about Susan Gabriel:  Over a decade ago, Susan gave up her successful psychotherapy practice in Charleston, South Carolina to simplify her life and pursue writing. She writes with passion, humor and insight about Southerners, as well as a wide variety of other ordinary, odd and interesting characters, young and old. She lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina.

Susan Gabriel