I had surgery on my intestines eight days ago at Shadyside Hospital in Pittsburgh. It was my third surgery performed by Dr. Dave Bartlett in the past 30 months. (It was my fourth surgery since being diagnosed with cancer eight years ago.) The worst of the pain has subsided. I can bend over and tie my shoes more easily.
Now — every day this week — I go to a clinic for treatment. It’s all part of the full-court press to beat back these tumors.
I’ve learned that being a survivor isn’t a one-time occurrence, as though surviving a shipwreck. Rather, for someone like me who is not in remission, being a survivor is an ongoing activity. It entails many things that are bothersome — like having a catheter for three weeks, which means not only a tube is stuck all the way into one’s bladder but having to carry around a urine bag. It’s almost literally like needing to accommodate a ball & chain any time you move, sitting down, standing up, getting out of bed, going into the kitchen…The penalty for forgetting, moving quickly, is a yank that brings you back to the reality of your situation very quickly and painfully.
Feelings have to be contended with all the time. Self-consciousness must be overcome when walking into a grocery store with a long tube and bag exposed for all to see.
Frustration mounts. Especially early when you have to think deliberately about every little thing you do, because you’ve got to remember all of the gadgets you’re carrying. But after a while, getting more settled in a routine, one looks at all that a person has been through — and you’ve DONE it — you have indeed gotten through it — and you ARE doing it — you are indeed able to take all of the cutting and chemicals and radiation. Having a goal helps. In my case, as a minister, I still feel the inner calling to work with a congregation. I’ve served three congregations in my 21 years as a minister. I want one more chance. That’s my goal. I still feeling the calling to pastoral work. I’m not ready to quit. Having a goal helps.
It also helps to know that the doctors and nurses that you see have seen many, many persons in your situation. A compliment from a nurse about your endurance, a remark by an oncologist about your strength are taken to heart. You are given the gift — as Robert Burns wrote — of being able to see yourself as others see you.
Others know what you’ve been through. YOU know what you’ve been through. “Survivor” becomes an identity you wear with pride.