Cancer sucks. I was confronted with that reality again today when, after a wonderful weekend spent at home, in the gym and with wonderful friends from church, I walked into the hospital room of a dear friend who had colostomy surgery last week.
Our brief visit may have been the best part of my weekend.
I walked in, kissed my sweet friend on the cheek, showed her the flowers I brought to cheer up her room and, before I took two steps toward a chair, she said this:
“I’m so grateful to you for talking about your experience with your colostomy. I knew this wasn’t going to be ‘a thing’ because you have talked about your experience so openly. I knew what to expect.”
We’re old friends from the patient support group at the Cancer Support Community of East Tennessee. We shared everything in our support group: treatment experiences and questions, the painful reality of side effects, the impact on our loved ones, and lots of joy and laughter. Cancer can be a dark place when the ever-present spectre of death hangs over your head. Laughing in support group is a lot like whistling past the graveyard. We laughed often and uproariously.
I shared wide openly about my colostomy, especially appliance failures. I shared them because they were funny, and because they were/are part of my life. Shit happens. Literally.
My friend has ovarian cancer, which has metastasized in several places throughout her body. The surgery was necessary because blockages in her colon were causing gas to back up, which was brutally painful and distended her belly. She knows things don’t look great for her, but her doctor would not have put her through the surgery if there wasn’t some glimmer of hope that her situation can improve.
Pray for her, please. I expect she wouldn’t at all mind my sharing her name, but I didn’t ask her permission.
I have friends who ask me how I can talk so openly and so often about cancer experience. It’s such a dark topic, why do I want to go there? Part of my answer has always been that I want people to know cancer doesn’t have to be an end: I am not defined by my illness, but I am defined by what I learned from it.
Another part of my answer was proven in my visit to the hospital today: because sharing my experience really does help others. For that, I am truly grateful.