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Every 1,825 Days…Give or take a Few…

27 Nov

I dressed with care: elastic waistband (for fast removal), cute underwear (I knew I’d be seeing a lot of them, so might as well enjoy it), my long hair up and out of the way (not that my hair would be involved in any way, it just seemed the thing to do). No, I wasn’t getting ready for our Thanksgiving feast, nor was I anticipating a night out with my husband. In fact, I was pretty certain that my husband would be avoiding me for about 24 hours.

It was Prep Morning. Tomorrow would be my colonoscopy.

My Last Supper on Saturday night. It’s tough to have to fast a mere three days after Thanksgiving. The Turkey Tetrazinni was delicious!

I woke up with an hour to spare. I wasn’t about to sleep through my toast time-line. “On the day before procedure you may eat a light breakfast (two slices of toast and orange juice) before 8:00a.m.”… Yes! Toast has never looked so good! I stood before the toaster with a dilemma. Is this slice of bread too big? Can I have butter on it? Oh, the decisions.

Then I faced the glass of orange juice. I opted for the juice glass – as opposed to the taller milk glass – and felt like I deserve a pat on the back for that decision. As I swallowed down my last gulp I thought, It’s pulp-free…perhaps I could have more…later on…. Dutifully, I put the OJ away. After all, I don’t want to go through this again because I’ve done it wrong.

The nurse on the phone told me that three people in their office did it wrong last week. You see, we patients are told that, should we be…ahem…clear…by the time we’ve finished half of our GALLON OF GROSS STUFF that we can then be done.

Apparently three people decided that they were clear…but they really weren’t. “I strongly urge you to finish the entire jug,” the nurse said. I nodded, eyes wide, even though she couldn’t see me through the phone.

I do NOT want to have to do this twice. Once every five years is often enough.

My bathroom was well-stocked…

10:45 a.m. – I begin to drink flavored water. Still a few hours before I have to begin the GALLON OF GROSS STUFF. I can have coffee throughout the day, and tea, and this makes me happy. Until I remember that I can’t add cream to my coffee or, for that matter, to my tea. I can have other clear, unpulpy liquids. And Jello! But not red, or orange, or purple-colored ones. I am amazed how many liquids in the world are red or orange or purple.

Shoot, I’ve just realized: all the popsicles I bought are orange and red. Bother.

Then, to top off that realization, it dawns on me that all of the Crystal Lite packets I have bought to add to my water/medicine combo in order to cut the flavor of the GALLON OF GROSS STUFF are red. All of them.

This does not make me happy. BOTHER! A little later, I am drinking a glass of white cran-peach Crystal Lite…and my five year old daughter walks up to me and says, “That’s orange.” Shoot. Double shoot. I was hoping it was peach-colored.

12:15 p.m. – My husband offers to go to the store for me to get me lemonade. He’s such a nice guy.

12:30 p.m. – Mmmm…turkey broth that I made yesterday. Delicious! Still…it’s weird how much you want to crunch and chew when you’re not allowed to.

2:30 p.m. – Green Jello. Plain. Green. Jello. But in a pretty bowl.

If you’ve got to eat plain Jello…at least have it in a lovely bowl.

4:00 p.m. – And so it begins…I won’t be on the computer for awhile…and I have a feeling that will be fine with everyone. No details of this time period are wanted.

9:30 p.m. – I am done with the GALLON OF GROSS STUFF. I drank all but about 4 ounces. I cannot take any more. This is vile.

11:00 p.m. – Bedtime, how I love thee.

3:37 a.m. – Awake…massive headache…there’s no going back to sleep. They say I can take Tylenol but there are two problems: 1) my Tylenol are red…a forbidden color and 2) I need water to take medicine…a forbidden option. Bother. I toss and turn until 5:45.

6:15 a.m. – I arrive at the hospital, take a wrong turn despite the nice lady’s good directions, and finally ask a roomful of elderly people in a waiting room if they can tell me where to go. One nice lady not only tells me, she leads me there. I must look like a sad little waif.

6:20 – I walk up to the surgery desk and am greeted by a friendly nurse. She opens the door for me and the next words out of her mouth are, “So, what does ‘between the sheets’ mean?”!! I burst out laughing. MY NURSE READS MY BLOGS! How lovely to walk into a nerve-wracking situation and find someone whom I have never met but who knows me…kinda…I am at ease and laughing and even though I’m about to have a camera shoved in unmentionable places, I’m okay with that. Life is good.

7:30 a.m. – I see who my anesthesiologist will be and I smile. His daughter is married to my husband’s boss’s son. I was at their wedding. I love living in a small town.

8:00 a.m. – I meet with my surgeon, whom I’ve had the pleasure of dealing with before. In fact, she takes Tae Kwon Do with my son. Did I mention I like small towns?

8:10ish – I don’t know the exact time as I was having a nice friendly conversation with another nurse about her son (whom I taught when he was in high school) and then suddenly I was back in my personal waiting room, it was 9:00, and I was enjoying the weird sensation of waking up and not knowing how I got there.

9:20 a.m. – I am awake enough to drink every single ounce of water and cranberry juice that awaits me on my little rolly table.

9:30 a.m. – The surgeon’s report: I have a clean colon! Nothing to be seen here, folks. Move along. Move along.

9:40 a.m. – I tell the nurse I’ll be blogging about this. “I wondered if you would,” she says. “I’ll probably leave out some of the details,” I say. Or maybe I only think this. I can’t remember. I was still pretty foggy.

10:00 a.m. – My gas-drawn coach awaits me at the front door. My knight in shining armor will pick up the kids after school, feed them and take them to all the places they need to be. I am free to eat, sleep, and be merry.

I begin by eating.

Horray! I’m free for another five years! It’s a drag being 42 years old and having to have colonoscopies every 1,825 days, but it’s a family history thing. And let me tell you, as nasty as THE GALLON OF GROSS STUFF is, it’s a million times better than having colon cancer. Colon cancer is basically preventable…your doctor goes in, takes a look around, finds (or not) any nasty polyps, removes them, and you’re good to go. You get rid of them so that they can’t develop into anything cancerous. It’s unpleasant…yes…but it’s worth it.

Did I mention that it’s unpleasant? Yes, it is. You want to EAT, you want to CHEW, you want to not have to drink your GALLON OF GROSS STUFF. But you do it because otherwise you might be facing major surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or even a stroke (like my mom had after her colon surgery) or, worst case, death.

I think that drinking A GALLON OF GROSS STUFF and running to the toilet every few minutes for several hours is better than those options.

Just saying…

PS: FYI – The GALLON OF GROSS STUFF is greatly improved with Crystal Lite (or Propel, or Ocean Spray) packets. That way it’s like drinking a gallon of salty lemonade…as opposed to just salty water. You be the judge.

PPS: There are those who may be thinking, “Yes, it’s nice living in a small town, but what about when you go to the grocery store and there’s the doctor/nurse/surgeon/anesthesiologist/insert position here who saw you in the all together?” Well, there is that…but I figure hey, it’s their job. They’re used to it and they don’t let it bother them, so why should I? My OB/GYN’s son takes piano lessons from the same teacher as my daughter…if my husband can smile and shake his hand at recitals, then hey, I can too.

The Moments We Never Forget…aka Have You Hugged your Colon Today?

8 May

Mom, reading to our oldest daughter a few years back. This is the stuff of memories. The stuff I hold dear.

You know those moments in your life when you can remember exactly what you were doing when momentous news came your way?

Like when the Twin Towers were bombed in New York. I was getting ready for a typical school day teaching English at a tiny private high school when my students began trickling in with news of a plane crashing into the first tower and soon, “I heard it was two planes,” another student said and I knew that it wasn’t an accident. Or when President Regan was shot, I was in 5th grade, and they broadcast the news over the brand-new school intercom. Or when the space shuttle Challenger blew up, I was in 10th grade and they wheeled televisions out into the locker area of my school and we stood with open mouths and I got in trouble for being late to social studies class – SOCIAL STUDIES! That teacher clearly had no perspective.

Just as those earth-shattering occasions are seared into my memory, so is the time, five years ago this week, when I first heard that my mother had been diagnosed with colon cancer.**

The phone rang and it was my sister, who clearly was upset. I’d had a phone call like this before from her – when Pan American Airlines went bankrupt and our dad, a pilot, suddenly had no job anymore. I couldn’t imagine what was wrong this time and then she told me about Mom and I sat down where I stood and my two oldest kids still remember, “that time when Mom was sitting on the stairs and crying.”

Yes, such things are seared into our memories because we don’t know what’s coming next. We don’t know the who, what, where, when, or why of it, and our nice comfortable lives are suddenly twisted – possibly even beyond recognition – and we stand as if on the edge of a precipice, dizzy, confused, unsure.

My sisters with Mom in our pool when we lived in Miami. I was born during their Miami years, but we moved soon after. Perhaps, if we’d stayed, I’d have learned how to swim?!

After the vertigo passes it’s time for action – quite possibly fog-ridden action, but action nonetheless. We make decisions, we make more phone calls, we look at our loved ones and can’t look away. And we want, more than anything, for life to be normal again. We promise ourselves that we’ll never complain about the pick-up line at the elementary school again. We swear that we’ll be better people, that we’ll cherish every moment and take out the garbage and do the dishes faithfully just so that life can feel normal again.

We want, desperately, to reverse time, to re-claim that rote feeling of normalcy we didn’t even know we had five minutes ago.

And we pray. I pray often anyway, but suddenly that connection with God is vital, real, palpable. Though in those times I often don’t know how to pray or what to say. I remember weeping before God in the days following my mother’s diagnosis, just saying, “Please help”. I knew He’d know how to take it from there.

Mom giving our son a squeeze several years ago. He’s 12 now…and taller than her!

The irony of these moments – these times when we don’t think we can take anymore – is that, sometimes, the trauma is just beginning.

As September 11, 2001 went on, we learned that added to the Twin Towers was the Pentagon crash and the crash in a field in Pennsylvania as well. The tragedies just kept piling up. For my mother, the cancer and proceeding surgery turned into a stroke three weeks later. That phone call was, actually, even harder than the first one. The pain in my father’s voice, the uncertainties piled upon uncertainties, the knowledge that, though we’d traveled out to see Mom after her diagnosis in a whirlwind trip of 1.5 days driving out to Eugene, Oregon, 1.5 days with her and then 1.5 days driving back to Minnesota, we wouldn’t be able to join her again, to lend a hand, to comfort and support.

We were alone.

And, of course, when you’re alone and sad you desperately want your mama to be there with you.

Mom and Dad’s wedding – almost 55 years ago!

There is so much more that could be said about those days and, perhaps, I’ll say them someday. Write them down.

Mom was an excellent seamstress! She made Raggedy Anne or Raggedy Andy – depending on the baby’s gender! – for every grandchild, neice, nephew, great niece or great nephew that was born in our family for years – as well as many friend’s children, too. Sewing has been hard for her since the stroke, so we cherish our raggedies!

But for now, a few images:

Biscuits with Sawmill gravy, the dish I was making for the first time ever on the day my sister called and which turned out greasy and separated and which stuck in my throat like paste. I never, never, see, hear of, or eat biscuits and gravy now without thinking of that day.

Or this picture: our three-month old wee girl, lying on the hospital bed beside Mom. It was the first time Mom had seen her, and we wondered if it would be the last.

Mom in the hospital – the first time she saw her youngest granddaughter, our youngest child. Even after cancer surgery, it made her smile!

Or this: me, sitting in the passenger seat as we drove home, unable to stop crying, desperately trying to capture in words my roiling emotions. The tear-pocked spiral notebook with my scribbled writing that held all the words I managed to get out.

And this: the Columbia River, rolling alongside the highway; the miles and miles of Oregon flying past my window in a benediction of beauty.

Last Christmas we went out to spend the holiday in Washington State with my entire family. It was so great seeing Mom and Dad – and everyone!

And, the image that is above all else, the image that came to me several years before this event, but which always returns in times of crisis:

Me, a wee brown-haired girl, walking along the dirt road by my house where I grew up, holding the hand of a man far larger than I, a man whose face I could not see, but whose love I did not doubt. A man who is far more than a man, who loves me far more than any man ever could.

A man who understands me when all I can say is, “Please help.”

And so, in light of Mother’s Day this Sunday, I say thanks to God for my Mama! I’m so thankful we have her with us still, with her laugher and her sense of humor and her theological discussions and her encouraging words.

I love you, Mom.

**Click on this link for important Colon Cancer information or on this link for colonoscopy information.  Now that it’s been five years since mom’s diagnosis and my colonoscopy that followed, I’m due for another this year!  Aren’t I lucky!  (People without a family history of colon cancer do not have to have colonoscopies as often or as young as I am.  Yes, I’m young, thank you very much!)  Colonoscopies are the best way to keep yourself from suffering from colon cancer.  Just go out and get one if you haven’t yet and you’re over the age of 50.  DO IT.  No, it’s not the most fun thing you’ll ever do.  But it doesn’t compare to getting cancer.

I figured Dad should have a picture, too! This is Mom and Dad last Christmas. Dad is a fantastic and tireless care-giver for Mom. “…In sickness and in health…” Dad took most of these photos – he’s fantastic with a camera!

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