The week inevitably came with a wide range of emotions leading up to my surgery anniversary, July 6, 2018…exactly 1 year since the day we officially said goodbye to Glanda.
I’ve spent some time reflecting and parsing through the defining moments that got us here, and to be honest I’m still trying to make sense of most of it. But I’ve also come around to the fact that it’s not for me to understand.
I vividly remember that day.
I woke up and took a shower right away like I always do. I remember being extra careful in the shower not to swallow any of the water because I was NPO after midnight and there was nothing that was going to prevent me from getting that dumb tumor out. I remember riding with K.T. on the way there discussing the potential outcomes and praying together that the Lord would carry us through every second of the surgery and recovery journey. (We know now why the Lord put that on our hearts.)
I remember bouncing around and joking with nearly everyone I came in contact with as I carried my bag packed full all the things I thought might comfort me for my one night stay in hotel UAB. I remember my parents arriving all flustered and nervous for their baby girl to go into surgery for the first time ever (especially Mom since just two years prior we were sending her back to remove a breast tumor).
I remember telling Dr. Carroll to send a chunk of my tumor to STRATA Oncology (because I knew they were always looking for tissue for that trial) but I forgot that they only send off malignant tissue. Not sure whether to call that foreshadowing, a slip of the tongue, but my tumor tissue ended up at STRATA nonetheless. And finally, I remember the sweetest kisses and “I love yous” from my husband, mom and dad, and my brother who was just arriving as my gurney started its adventure to the OR.
And I remember waking up in recovery with my right arm all cramped up because I guess I was laying on it for those 4hrs they were taking my ear off and putting it back on. And I remember staring into Dr. Carroll’s eyes as he so compassionately told me they suspected malignancy and then stood there patiently while I fired off a whole magazine of machine gun questions.
And lastly I remember K.T. crawling up beside me into my hospital and telling me that they called out from the OR to my family in the waiting room to let them know my tumor wasn’t what they originally thought. The heartbreak set in again at that point, but that moment will always be really special to me.
Reliving that day is hard. I mostly think about those 4 hrs that my family had to sit there and wait knowing Glanda was most likely cancerous without being able to tell me or talk to me. I often ask K.T. to tell me about that period of time that I missed and he always obliges no matter how often I ask. And I always silently cry a little when he gets to the part about how he made sure he memorized every word of what Dr. Carroll said on the phone so he could repeat it back to my family verbatim. And then I cry a little more when he talks about how he and his mom sat off to the side for a while as he got so emotional that he couldn’t speak, simply because he knew how disappointed I would be when I got the news too. And then he tells me how they all somberly waited outside of my hotel room for the night and they could hear me high as a kite in there making jokes left and right while the nursing staff made sure I was comfortable… and they all shrugged and said, “that’s our Valerie.” But I didn’t know yet.
This morning we sat on our swing together as we decompressed a little from a celebratory weekend (see below). It didn’t take long for me to start reflecting all the memories again and where we were just 1 year ago. All I could think of was my miracle that took place on that operating table under the hands of Dr. Carroll and the blessing of the absolute jewel of a man I married. Both have given me strength beyond comprehension, wisdom well beyond understanding, and comfort I will never be able to fully explain. And that, my friends, is what has carried me through.
It’s not always the hope and certainty of being a survivor or the clinical facts of my tumor. It’s not some crazy courage or braveness that has kept and still keeps me marching forward every single day. It’s far simpler that that…it’s Jesus. And it’s K.T.
For 365 straight days, I’ve thought about cancer. Whether it’s how cancer has changed year 28 & 29 in every way possible, whether it’s the thought that cancer could in fact grow in my body again (as it could in literally anyone else’s), or whether it’s thoughts of our patients and how I can help them someway, somehow with the knowledge I have now as a patient and as an employee, cancer has been on my mind.
While I will certainly not try and convince you that this has been the best year of my life, I will just tell you that it has been the best year. I will also tell you that it’s been the worst year, the hardest year, the longest year, the shortest year, the most painful year, the most emotional year, and the most overwhelming year of my life. It’s been every kind of year, in no particular order.
As as this year comes to a close, I still have a long way to go and a lot of things I want to accomplish including being a mommy (and I swear I never felt that strongly about that until the thought of not getting to be one because of Glanda crossed my mind.) But until October 20th, I’m not medically considered 1 year “cancer-free” and not allowed to make little Powells. I’m just cheating and celebrating this milestone too because I can and since Glanda came out with clear margins and radiation was precautionary due to possible (not confirmed) perineurial invasion. However I do feel like a chapter is closing, and that’s bittersweet for me oddly enough.
I’m no longer living through my first year as a cancer survivor, and I’m no longer telling about days that haven’t already happened with cancer in them. This year already feels different, and I’m settling into the normalcy of it. And just as we accepted the changes last year as we faced new earthly truths, we will accept the truths that come in year 2 and count our eternal blessings just the same.
But before we let year 1 go, you know we had to throw Goneda a little 1st year gone
party. K.T. did all the coordinating, the preparation, the cooking, and even the clean up. There were cookie cake surprises, watermelon surprises, and we were surrounded by friends and family that have loved on us, encouraged us, fed us, prayed for us, checked on us, and helped us in whatever way we asked this last year. And let me tell you, that means the world to us. The world!