Cut Me, Mick!

After lots of rambling blog posts, I figure it’s time to get back to the story. Last I left off in the whole cancer saga, I had been diagnosed, ran off to Vegas to get married and was getting ready for a major surgery that we hoped would leave me cancer-free. And that is where we pick up today.

August 9, 2012 – that was the date for my surgery. My mom had made plans to come visit and help out with things, and we wisely had her come out the weekend before. Since she’d never been to California before, we wanted at least a few days to do touristy stuff and to just visit while I was still a fully-functioning human being. We did Hollywood and the Walk of Fame, took pics of the Hollywood sign, stopped by Grauman’s Chinese Theater, had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe and did a LOT of walking. We stopped by the Santa Monica Pier and took pictures of the ocean and enjoyed the evening air. We did some shopping and went out to dinner and just enjoyed each others’ company as much as we could in the few days we had before I turned into a bedridden druggie. I felt bad that her birthday was the day before my surgery and I had to spend that day doing prep for the surgery. Boooooo! Thrilling way for her to spend her birthday, I’m sure. But she didn’t complain once, nor did she rub in the fact that she had a birthday cupcake and could eat real food all day. She’s an awesome mom.

For those of you who’ve never had the joy of major abdominal surgery before, you get to spend the day prior eating zero solid food. Clear liquids only. Jello is ok, but not cherry-flavored/red jello. Of course – my favorite. Then the evening before, you get to do what’s called bowel prep. That involves drinking magnesium citrate and then suffering for hours. All of that is to ensure that your guts are good and empty when they start digging around and flinging scalpels about willy-nilly. It’s awesome. I never want to drink beef broth or chicken broth ever again. Jello can piss off as well. Thankfully, coffee was approved. 2 days in a row without coffee would have had me in jail for murder. And that is how I spent 8 August. Sipping broth, eating Jello and snarling at the TV any time there was a commercial with food on. I think I nearly heaved the couch at the TV when an especially tempting steakhouse commercial kept playing over and over and over…Oh, and I smoked. A lot. The plan all along was to quit smoking when I had my surgery. But by God, I was starving and nervous so my smokey treats were a source of comfort. We were all rather subdued that night – little chats here and there, but overall I remember us being kind of quiet. I talked to my dad back in Ohio, and I don’t know who else. We got my bag packed and puttered around the house until it started getting late. I had one last cup of broth (no liquid at all after midnight) then headed off to try to get some sleep.

The morning came entirely too early. We had to be at the hospital at around 5:00am, which meant leaving the house at around 3:00am. Ugh. Coffee was made for the cancer-free humans in the house and I paced around and smoked. I finished my last cigarette and we piled in to the car and started the looooooong drive to LA. On the bright side, traffic was the lightest I’ve ever seen it – mainly because no sane human beings are on the road at 3:30am. Or if they are, they’re just getting home from a really fun night. Drive drive drive…fast forward to arriving. We got all checked in, and waited. Then we got called upstairs to the next waiting room. I did some paperwork probably signing everything I own away to UCLA and absolving them of any responsibility if I died or ended up with a missing leg – I really don’t remember. After that, things are a blur. I got a snazzy hospital gown and met the 8,000 or so people who would be assisting/observing/cutting/keeping me drugged during the surgery. My oncologist/surgeon stopped by and my mom finally got to meet the man we’d been raving about. The best part came when the IV was in and they started the drugs that would help me drift off to a happy place. Ahhhhhhhhh.

And then I woke up to a nurse pulling off pieces of my skin. No lie. I was in the recovery room – still not 100% awake – and she was removing the circular sticker thingies that they attach monitors to during surgery. Unfortunately, my skin decided it would rather go with the stickers than remain on my body. Thankfully she figured it out after the first one and a half sticker removals. The blood and shrieking was probably a good clue for her. And then I fell back asleep. I remember drifting in and out a LOT in that room, and having lots of people ask me questions. I provided such intelligent responses as, “mmmph” and “uhhhhhgh.”  Or so I imagine – I was still high as a kite and was trying to hide from the pain. Finally I was awake enough to provide slightly more intelligent responses such as, “yes” or “no” and was moved to a curtained-off cubicle to recover until it was time to go home. Yep, that’s right. A radical hysterectomy and lymph node removal can be done as out-patient surgery, but they typically at least keep you over night. Thank you, American health care system. (As an aside, my grandfather had surgery to repair a hernia back in the 70’s or 80’s (I’ve had 2 hernia repairs – both out-patient) and he spent a WEEK in the hospital to fully recover.) The plan was to move me to a real room if one became available. If. In the meantime, all I could hear was people shuffling by my bed, nurses laughing and general mayhem. Not terribly restful. After much complaining (not by me – I was in a drug-induced stupor), the problem was figured out. Since my surgery had been done partially by laparoscope, the nurses saw that term on my paperwork, stopped reading and just assumed I’d had a minor surgery and I’d be up and headed home shortly. Ummmm, no. I believe it took a chat with the roving patient advocate to get things straightened out. Suddenly I was at the top of the list for a room. When one became available. And then the fun started.

After a few hours of seeing exactly how frequently I could push the button for my pain-killer pump/drip (some kick-ass dilaudid once every 6 minutes if you must know), it was time to kick my butt out of bed and make me start trying to walk. I was a champ and made it around the ward twice. I’m awesome. When I went to get back in bed, we noticed one slight problem. I couldn’t move my left leg side to side. At all. And then I noticed that my right hand was completely numb. Suddenly we had multiple neurologists stopping by to poke and prod and try to figure out how I ended up with nerve damage and how extensive it was. *sigh* But on the bright side, they suddenly found me a HUGE private room with a couch and (eventually) a recliner so Mom and Rudy could take turns sleeping and sitting next to me throughout the night. On the down side, I ended up staying in that private room 4 nights. Apparently I always have to be an over-achiever.

To make a long story shorter, the surgery and recovery sucked. Hospital stays suck. It never failed – every time I would finally start to get some sleep, someone would come in to give me drugs and take my blood pressure and temperature and make sure I was generally still alive. Apparently I scared them a few times with my so-low-we’re-not-sure-she’s-really-alive blood pressure, but I like to think it’s because I was just so comfy and relaxed from my happy drugs, and much less stressed after learning that the pathology came back clear and I was cancer-free! I slept off and on for days, I got poked and prodded by therapists and neurologists and had every person who had anything to do with my surgery stop by to check on me, I watched bad TV at 3:00am and I walked. A lot. That was the one recommendation I saw everywhere to help with recovery – to walk as much as possible. One of the worst parts of this surgery is gas pain. Yep. Not the removal of organs and cutting and chopping and stitches – the gas. They actually inflate your abdomen for more room to work, and a lot of the gasses they inject you with end up getting trapped when they sew you up. So picture the worst gas you’ve ever had – that pain that shoots all the way up through your shoulder, and thinking you might actually explode if someone poked you, and thinking that exploding would be better than being in pain. Now imagine that multiplied by 1,000 and you might have an idea. I lost track of the amount of times I cried from the sheer agony, even hopped up on one of the most effective (and most street-valuable) pain medications there is. And walking is supposed to help work it out of your system. It doesn’t, by the way. It just has to dissipate on its own.

The one thing I didn’t do was eat. Or use the restroom. Both of those are things you have to be able to do before they’ll discharge you. I finally tried solid food on day 3 – plain baked chicken. Nope. My stomach was having none of it – thank you 5+ hours of general anesthesia. And to this day I absolutely cannot eat baked chicken. Yay for new food aversions! And I learned that nurses get rather concerned when you start turning beet-red after being given new drugs and that I’m allergic to an anti-nausea medication. I also learned that you may joke that you have a bladder the size of a pea, but in reality you do not. Because another joy of a radical hysterectomy is waking up with a non-functioning bladder. They have to move the bladder out of the way, and in doing so your bladder turns into a lazy bitch. Oh, you’re going to move me out of the way? Fine. I quit. And that bitchy, non-functioning bladder can take months or years to stop being bitchy and lazy. So I got to experience another first – having a Foley catheter. Surprisingly kind of awesome. You know how you’re watching a great movie and you hate to have to run to the bathroom in the middle of it? With a catheter, you don’t have to. You know how you wake up in the middle of the night desperately needing to use the bathroom, but you’re just soooooo comfy that you don’t want to? With a catheter, you just stay in bed. So handy! But seriously, they are typically needed for just a few days after surgery. They removed mine on day 4 (I think) and had me see how things went. I sipped water all day, as usual. Nothing. Didn’t feel like I needed to use the restroom at all. Finally after drinking a ton of water, the nurse suggested I at least try to go, even if I didn’t need to. Nope. Nothing. But I started feeling…off. And then I started feeling sick. And then I started feeling like I’d been hit by a bus. Oops – turns out I had over a liter of liquid in my bladder, and I couldn’t feel it at all. Needless to say, my Foley and I were good friends for weeks. *sigh*

Finally on Monday morning, the gas was gone, I kept down some solid food and was cleared to go home to finish recovering – 4-6 weeks of staying home and taking drugs. Hallelujah! I couldn’t wait to get home to my bed! Granted, I wasn’t looking forward to a 2 hour drive home after having surgery, but hey, that’s what drugs are for. But wait – we need a doctor to sign this, someone needs to pick up your 42 prescriptions, we need you to sign this, we need to find you a wheelchair…ugh. From being told I was cleared to go home to actually getting out of the wheelchair and into the car was easily a good 5 or 6 hours. Just enough time for us to hit a shit-ton of traffic on the way home. Yay! Luckily, as my husband and mom started bickering about the drive, my drugs kicked in and I reclined my seat, hugged my pillow to my stomach and snoozed. Ahhhhh.

So there you have it. The story of my lovely hospital stay. There’s obviously much more I could tell, but that’s the summary. I wouldn’t wish this surgery on my worst enemy. Wait, let me think…actually, I would – because I’m kind of bitchy that way. The pain, the sheer helplessness, the pain, the constant stream of strangers in and out of your room who poke and prod you, the pain, the feeling of dehumanization you go through even with an outstanding medical staff, the pain and the frustration of your body just not doing a damn thing you want it to – it all sucked. But even with all of that, there were moments that were pretty awesome. Waking up at 2:30am and having your mom by your side immediately ask if you need anything. Hearing your surgeon tell you that your lymph nodes and all the other tissue they removed came back clear of cancer. Having your mother-in-law and her husband drive out to check on you and pray for you. Seeing your husband smiling through tears as he holds you and whispers, ‘my wife doesn’t have cancer.’ Having your boss stop by the hospital on his way back from a TDY just to make sure you survived surgery – even though it’s out of his way and he’s still got 2 hours to drive to get home. Phone calls to make sure you’re ok from your crazy Las Vegas family that adopted you as one of their own. E-mails from around the world from friends. The first hot shower when you finally get to wash your hair after days of laying in bed – even if it was short and you had someone waiting to see if you’d pass out or not. That first sip of coffee after days without. Realizing that it has been 5 days since you’ve had a cigarette and realizing that you don’t even remotely want one. Realizing that it was a long, painful and agonizing road, and there’s still a long way to go, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel – yeah. That was good.

There’s still a skosh more to go with the story, but not much. I really just wanted to get the surgery/hospital stay portion of the story out of the way. I’m sure my husband and my mom could write pages about how those 5 days went, but I wanted to write my part of it as I remembered it in a general sense. There was a lot of frustration and anger and sadness and depression that I haven’t captured here – the surgery combined with a mini surgically-induced menopause is a horrible emotional storm – but I’ll save that joy for another day. For now I think reminiscing about the surgery and hospital stay is enough fun. 

Cervical Cancer From A Man’s Point of View

When Samantha was first diagnosed with cancer I remember feeling a lot lost. I wanted to make sure I did everything right, but there was no place to go as a man to get information. I did learn a lot of what not to do from some of the website groups Samantha was on – stories of obtuse husbands abound. So I talked with a lot of other women and asked questions about what to expect and how I could be better prepared to make the coming battle easier on my wife. I learned a lot and I am so very grateful to so many women for their encouragement and insight.

This is just some of the lessons I learned and hope will help any man taking care of a woman battling cervical cancer.

Be patient

That doesn’t just apply to your wife. Be patient with yourself, too. You aren’t going to have it all figured out and your wife isn’t going to expect you to.

This is going to be a long, hard fight for both of you. She needs you in ways you probably haven’t been needed before. When you don’t get it right, do not beat yourself. The energy you waste beating yourself up is energy better used concentrating on the next obstacle.

If she is cranky, or distant it has nothing to do with you. Allow her the room to feel whatever it is she is going to feel. But be there.

Shut up and listen

Be a man and turn off the game when she comes to you. Don’t try to fix it, just listen and be compassionate. You can’t empathize. You don’t know how she feels. She doesn’t need you to. She needs you to shut your piehole, listen, put your arms around her. If she needs to cry, it doesn’t mean she’s broken. If she needs to yell or vent, it probably has a lot less to do with you than you realize. You might wake up in the middle of the night before a biopsy/surgery/appointment and find her wide awake in her own head. Don’t push her to talk to you. Let her lead. And if she doesn’t want to talk, kiss her, tell you love her, mean it.

Laughter is the best medicine

If your wife has a twisted sense of humor like mine does, don’t ignore it. Just wait until the stiches have had time to heal before you make her laugh too hard. But whatever her sensibilities, laughter really does help. I call it finding the funny in the dark place and I really do believe laughter is a powerful tool in the battle against cancer.

Take time for you

That may seem counterintuitive, but you need to keep yourself sane as much for her sake as your own. You’re not a jerk if you kick on the PS3 and have a beer while she’s doped up and asleep. She needs you as whole and sane as you can possibly be. If a Star Wars festivus does that, do it. If reading a book in the quiet hours of the night does it, do it. Whatever your thing is that keeps you grounded, find time to do that.

She is always a woman

I cannot stress this enough. There will be times when she will doubt her own womanhood. You better never doubt it. Never let her think you doubt it. Never let her forget that she is every bit the woman you fell in love with. If you’re a man at all you will end up knowing that she is so much more than the woman you fell in love with. Remind her of that. With words, with deeds, with touch.

This whole experience has been life changing for me. I always knew my wife was hot, sexy, gorgeous. But I never realized the depth of her strength and how that changes her beauty. She thinks she lost some of that thing that makes her a woman. I can honestly say I have never known anyone who is more woman than my wife. I am in awe of the woman I love. I suspect a lot of men are who go through this.

Sex

Don’t be a dick. When she is ready, and only when she is ready. Don’t guilt her into it, don’t make her feel bad for it, don’t be a dick.

Look, I love sex. So does Samantha. But there needs to be time to heal. My wife had a lot of her cut out and what wasn’t cut out was rearranged and put back together. That takes time to heal. Not just physically. I could have combined this with She is always a woman because how you handle sex goes a long way towards never letting her forget she’s a woman.

Touch your wife without expecting anything. I make out with mine (though, I suspect not as much as she’d like). Be affectionate. Talk openly about sex. But do not make her feel like shit because she isn’t ready.

Do not. Be. A. Dick.

Learn as much as you can

About her cancer. I was never going to learn as much about Samantha’s cancer as she would. She devoured every bit of information she could and was not shy about questioning her doctors every step of the way. I learned what her cancer was doing to her body, what things like “stage” “in-situ” “HPV” and “metastasize” meant. I learned which cancers were more aggressive and which were slower to grow. I didn’t want to feel like a moron in the doc’s office, but more than that I could not let her feel like she was going through this alone.

About her treatment. There will be lots of doctors appointments. There will be lots of opportunity to miss things. Don’t leave it to her to catch all the information that will be thrown at her. She will want to ask questions and she may forget. You will be her back up. And once the biopsies and whatnot are all done and the actual treatment begins, whether it is surgery or chemo/radiation, YOU will need to be the point man. When Samantha went in for her surgery, her doctor came to me during and after the surgery with updates, questions and legal crap. I needed to know what the hell was going on and so will you.

About her aftercare. My wife had surgery. Yours may have chemo or radiation. Or even all of the above. I asked a lot of women on support group pages what they wish they knew they should have at home post surgery. Pillows. Lots and big pillows. She will not be able to sleep in a normal position for awhile. Pillows can be positioned in any number of ways to make her comfortable. Panty liners or pads. Get a thirty pack at least. Better to have too many than not enough. Ask her what type she prefers before hand so you can have them waiting when you bring her home. A waste basket close to her bed. She will likely come home with a catheter so whatever hang ups you have about body fluids – get over it. Get yourself some rubber gloves if it makes you feel better about it, but you are going to have to clean up after your wife. A water pitcher. A pill box. Alcohol wipes (you might be able to get them from your doctor).

Finally

I don’t have all the answers, and every journey is going to be different. So think of this as a starting point rather than an all inclusive reference guide.

Share your insight; it can only help. Email me or comment and I’ll be sure to update/revise this. And please, share it with anyone yout think could use it.

A Husband’s Thoughts

Hi, the Gorgeous Blonde’s husband here.

It’s been a week since her surgery. I took this video just before they wheeled her back:

I wanted to share it almost immediately but, I got this silly notion in my head “don’t tempt fate.” It’s stupid, I know.

I was scared. I imagine any husband in my shoes would be. I mean, here is this woman whom I love getting parts of her literally cut out of her because some tiny little asshat cells are destroying her. When you couple that with hours to just think… well, the brain is a sad place to be alone at a time like that. You pray, you cry, you plead with god, you expect the worst and lash out at god, you convince yourself there is no god because if there was (s)he wouldn’t allow shit like this. But mostly, you just hang on and hope the ride is over soon.

I know that what I endured through all of this is nothing compared to what she has and is still going through. But it really is funny (odd, not so much haha) to me that right now she is in our room absolutely miserable and I am here typing this with happy tears in my eyes because the singular thought that I have had since they wheeled her out of surgery is “SHE’S ALIVE!”

To go from “my wife has cancer” to “SHE’S ALIVE!” is a powerful swing of the pendulum. My wife is miserable, in pain, hooked up to things she would rather not be but, she’s alive. The misery, the pain, the everything else is eventually going to be a part of the memory of this experience. As will the cancer itself. What I will have left is the only thing I ever wanted to begin with: my wife.

Okay, that is pretty much all I have to say about that. I’m gonna go dote on her now. Bye.

The Gorgeous Blonde

(Originally shared on Twodudesblog.com)

I started my day thinking I was going to write about finding funny in the dark times. Then I got word that Hollie Stevens died. So I wrote this:

I live with a woman. Actually, I am engaged to her. Chances are pretty good that I am going to spend the rest of my life with her. Assuming she doesn’t turn out to be a nutjob. Or a whore. Right now I am laughing at her as she sits on the other couch across from me absent-mindedly pinching her lips into ducklips while she surfs the web. Yeah, she’s not likely to be crazy. It’s been two years and she has been mostly awesome.

The thing is she also has cancer. Cancer sucks. But you knew that already.

Knowing that she isn’t likely to end up a nutjob. Or a whore. And knowing that she makes me laugh without realizing and without even trying it’s a safe bet that we have the makings to last a lifetime or two. I could let the cancer thing scare me away but I have faith that it was caught in time and, though the road ahead is filled with some pretty crappy surgery and recovery, she will ultimately be cancer free.

In the in between is the battle. I have the easy part – I simply have to be that thing she needs me to be at that moment she needs me to be it. Sure, figuring that part out is about as easy as performing brain surgery on dingy in a hurricane, but still. She has to do all the heavy lifting; the biopsies, the surgeries, the pain, the recovery. Right now, she is the bravest person I know.

There is that small part of me that thinks I am only going to get to spend the rest of her life with her and that may not end up being very long. I don’t say that to be fatalistic, I say it because none of us are promised tomorrow – cancer or no. But she’s a fighter. And I think she likes hanging out with me. Or maybe she just likes that Dexter (our dog) has a friend when she isn’t home. Either way, I know she isn’t about to give up.

So I do what I can. I try to be the best man I can. I don’t have to find the perfect words; I just have to put my arms around her. I make her laugh – often times by poking fun at the cancer itself. It’s my way of saying ‘fuck you cancer!’ and I think she appreciates that. I shut my piehole if she needs to vent. I remind her that there is a part of her that the cancer will never be able to reach. There is that part of her that is every bit the woman I fell in love with that cancer could never take away.