Thursday, January 5, 2012

Surgery’s Comin’ ’Round the Corner

On Monday, January 9, at 5:30 AM, I will be entering Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center for surgery. They like us there early; surgery is not scheduled to begin until 7:30 AM.

On tap: Removal of my bladder (source organ for my cancer) and my gallbladder (because of gallstones) as well as my abdominal mesh. Then creation of a urostomy (the urinary equivalent of a colostomy) and sewing in a new and improved, premium mesh to prevent herniation of the incision. Anticipated length: Five to six hours.

I have been thinking about the contrasts between my two treatments for cancer, chemotherapy and surgery.

Chemo came in stages – four rounds of three days every three weeks. Surgery is one day.

Chemo got progressively harder and more challenging (the cumulative effect of poisoning). Surgery itself is the hardest day and every day after it is a little better with a measure of healing.

Chemo came in autumn as we approached the winter solstice and the darkness grew longer each day. Surgery comes post-solstice as the daylight lengthens a little more each day.

Chemo was dying and death (of cells). Surgery is healing and life affirming.

I sometimes wonder if depression and grieving are inevitable effects of chemo given all the cell death it causes. Each cell has a consciousness which is somehow – a mystery to me – part of our larger conscious experience. So how could one not be depressed and grief-stricken to some degree and at some level while immersed in these innumerable deaths?

I am getting my “Five Wishes” document in order. This is an unusual form of Power of Attorney for Health Care developed in concert with the American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging. It is effective in 40 states, including Wisconsin

It not only allows me to specify health care preferences and an agent to make my health care decisions for me should I become incapacitated, but goes into realms emotional, spiritual and palliative.

For example, Wish 3 deals with comfort and identifies ten different comfort measures.  I simply cross out any that I don’t want. The measures range from “I want my lips and mouth kept moist to stop dryness” to “I wish to be massaged with warm oils as often as I can be” and “I wish to have my favorite music played when possible until the time of my death.” 

Wish 5 (What I Want My Loved Ones to Know) includes wanting family and friends to respect one’s wishes even if they don’t agree with them, wishing for mutual forgiveness, and wanting “my family and friends to look at my dying as a time of personal growth for everyone, including me. This will help me live a meaningful life in my final days.”

There are also blank lines for writing preferences for music or prayers at a memorial service, and for writing how one wants to be remembered should someone ask. That one is hard! Completing the pages is certainly an interesting and thought-provoking experience.

Sometimes when it is dark and I am alone, I feel my fear about the surgery. I cry. And then I focus on another of the song’s verses, “She’ll be riding six white horses when she comes.” My six white horses will be my three surgeons, the anesthesiologist, the nurse in charge of the operating suite and the surgical tech. What a team! I let go and let them take the reins.

© Jean DiMotto, 2012   Website: