Sunday, April 12, 2009

Something to Discover

At the tree-line, the forest falls away from gentle meadows spilling acres of wildflowers up and down sunlit slopes. Under the steep arms of the mountain, and above the deep v’s of glacially carved valleys, small windswept pines bend and twist in the wind. Their trunks are gnarled and bent; snapped limbs reach for the sky with jagged tips; needles bristle and lurch in the direction of growth.

That’s what it’s like in my pants.

It’s bad enough to have stitches where you need to move, but it’s even worse to be shaved in such a delicate place, cut open and stitched up, and forbidden to shower for a few days. If you’re shaving for pleasure, it’s one thing. But if you’re not… I mean, look at me. A complete stranger can tell that I have an aversion to shaving, and that I grow hair like a master hair-grower. Right now, the bristly little varmints stick to everything, pulling and poking and scratching, and making all movement miserable.

And speaking of movements... they aren’t pretty. The single worst thing that’s happened to me since surgery was dropping a three-day deuce with abdominal muscles swollen and stitched and sore from surgery. I will spare further details in the interests of those who may be eating while reading this.

I wrote about finding out in my Mt. Bachelor post, and about the surgery in “I Don’t Remember the Party.” The last two days have been uneventful, really, but I haven’t had much time to dwell on the amputation or think about the upcoming biopsy results. Maybe now is a good time to face those things.

I won’t actually get the biopsy results until my follow-up appointment Thursday. On Tuesday, I have another test for tumor markers. The first test was negative and I’m certain future tests will be as well. Last night I had trouble sleeping, and as I tossed and turned in the dark, I asked myself to confront the possibility that I might have cancer.

I didn’t think about it for long. There doesn’t seem to be a reason to think about it. If I have cancer, I’ll deal with it when I find out. If I don’t, why lay awake at night thinking about it? I blocked out the surgery in the days and hours leading up to it, and focused on preparing to stay at my parents and on recovery. I packed up clothes, books, my laptop, ipod, EmergenC, a French-press and mate, medicine. And I avoided fear – partially by blocking out the surgery, partially by staying busy, hanging out with friends, and ignoring the consequences of the surgery and tests. Now that I’m out of surgery, why worry about the test results? I can’t change them.

Maybe this is healthy, and maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s normal, and maybe it’s not. I don’t know. It’s just how I look at things. I’m not living in fear. I’m making a conscious effort not to deny, but to accept – that which I can deny isn’t real yet, and that which I can accept is true.

I can’t expect to be positive all the time. Just yesterday, I woke up from a nap grouchy and in a little pain. But I poured myself a cup of coffee, went outside for some medicine and meditation, and when I came back in, Mom and Dad made pork-chops and pasta and I watched the basketball game. That’s real, that’s true, and that’s all that deserves my consideration. Fear is unproductive, pain is temporary, and whatever is unknown is just something to discover.

And, it doesn’t feel different. Right now, I don’t notice. When I look, it doesn’t really register, not with a bright red scar slashing across swollen skin and sore muscle. I haven’t thought about this, either, and again, I’m not sure if this is a deep, subconscious choice or simply because everything happened so quickly. It’s strange to think I’m missing part of my body. I’m sore, but that’s residual pain from the surgery. There’s no phantom pain, something I’ve only read about and wonder if I’ll experience. There’s no embarrassment, no worry about what future sexual partners will think, no fear about infertility or dysfunction. From my own research and from talking to people, I know that this is treatable and won’t affect those things. I don’t feel like I’m less of a man, less of a person. I’m focusing on recovering from the surgery and getting on with my life – hiking, planning my trip to Peru, spending time with friends and enjoying life. That’s what matters to me – not what I look like in the shower.

Right now I can’t drive and I have lifting restrictions. I’m still hobbling around a bit, and I’m avoiding alcohol. I might have a beer tonight, though, and I have tentative plans with my brewing cohort Mike to brew what we’re calling a “single-nut brown ale.” I can still laugh about all this. I’m going to get better. I feel peaceful, at peace with myself, within myself, with my place in the world. My friends and family have helped immeasurably. I don’t know how to thank them enough.

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