I’m almost three weeks post-surgery now. I’d like to report the first ten days after were pure hell. Honestly, it felt like the same exact pain, in the same exact places, as before. Surprisingly (mostly to myself), I never lost hope it would turn around, but it did feel like some kind of cruel karmic joke, like a last hoorah a bad tenant has when they pee on the carpet and wipe their shit on the walls before vacating your premises.
There was “a golden age” of about one week where everything seemed to be in perfect balance, namely my pain and my painkillers. I had a little routine that worked and I avoided the peaks (too many painkillers) and valleys (not enough painkillers) that often follow major surgery. Sitting, and lying down, only slightly outweigh the stints of walking, but on a constant rotation, as too much of any of those, at one time, is like flirting with disaster (everything going out of whack).
The “House of Jenn-ga” crashed down this past weekend. Confession (and accusation): I blame the beer. (Ridiculous side note: I thought Jenga was a recent development, like in the past ten years. Russ, shaking his head the other night at this revelation, informed me that Jenga is practically as old as I am. This is proof that everything makes a comeback, and that some comebacks are better than others. Take, for instance, “mom jeans.”).
Russ and I attempted “date night” after the recent dry spell incurred by surgery. We hit a new, local restaurant that is now the third restaurant owned/started/managed by the same group. I don’t know who these mystical creatures are, but they are the sorcerers of the restaurant world. Three separate entities, with three slightly different concepts, but they all share the one main ingredient for success: quality. None of them are fancy, but they all deliver quality in whatever it is they are serving.
I’m still very much in a place where I have to be careful about what I eat. Salad (short for anything with a lot of fiber) is a no go. So is anything too rich. My love affair with Alfredo sauce last week came to an abrupt end. So I ordered my favorite thing: a burger. I’m anemic at the moment, so I calculated the benefits of this decision for my stomach as well as my red cells.
Then the waitress offered us beer. This new restaurant offers only three different beers—a dark, an amber, and a light, fruity one, all German. Their wine list has the same concept (just three on it), and the food menu isn’t that far off. It definitely isn’t “The American Way” to have so few choices offered, but honestly, sometimes for a person like me, it’s a huge relief. Too many choices on what to order can be overwhelming. You’re supposed to have fun when you go out to dinner, not be stressed. (I know, this makes my brain closer to that of a bird than a monkey. Duly noted).
What sold me on ordering a beer was the restaurant served it in four-ounce short glasses they would keep replacing unprompted, when found empty, until you put your coaster over your glass. That was how you signaled you were done. It was only four ounces I drank (white lie: it ended up being eight). How bad could it be? Well, like most bad things you regret doing, it was fun while I was doing it! It took three days to shake it off and for my stomach to forgive me. Fun times.
I think at this point I’ve lost fifteen pounds or so. I haven’t stepped on the scale yet because I’m not sure whether I’ll laugh or cry. I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t think she needs to shed a pound or two, but this is a heavy price to pay for a collateral “benefit.” I’m a little nervous that my parents don’t fall apart, right then and there at the airport, when they see me in a few days. My friends have been telling me how good I look, not like someone who has narrowly escaped cancer, and instead, had her guts scraped out using a scalpel. I’m not sure how to process this new information. I can’t help but wonder, how did I look before??
I would like to tell you this has been my first scare with cancer, but that’s simply not true. In 2016, I tested positive for an adrenal carcinoid tumor. (I dare you to say that fast ten times in a row). I had just left the horse world. I really thought the stress of all of that was going to kill me in the end. Juggling all of those moving parts—keeping the horses sound, trying to keep my business from going underwater, meeting owners’ expectations, having a solid place to train and conduct my business, not having another major sidelining accident—began to feel like I was juggling steak knives, not balls. Now I had proof it almost did kill me.
The ostrich method of living (bury your head in the sand and ignore it) finally came to a head when I was standing in the Board Room on assignment for Job #2 A.H. (after horses). All of the bigwigs were seated around the table, and I was standing with my bosses, while a conversation between the two parties ensued. I was hot, but that was nothing new. I was always hot, even in the air conditioning. It was when the sweat started trickling down my legs to my feet, from under my skirt, that I thought I could have a problem, a serious one. There’s nothing like standing in front of the Board and having to use one leg to wipe the sweat off of the other like a giant stork. Again, fun times.
Hence, all of the doctor visits, the tests, the specialists. For two weeks I thought I had a very bad kind of cancer (as if there’s any good kind). There were a lot of tears. I kicked myself, too, for hanging on in the horse world for too long. You did this to yourself. I couldn’t shake the thought. I ended up at UVA where they repeated the tests again.
This time, the tests came back negative. As in, completely negative. I had that momentary “Phew!” and then I looked at the doctor and was like “WTF? How does that even happen??” The following, little nugget of truth, for all of you playing the game of life today, comes at no charge:
The doctor said, “Well, we send everything to the Mayo clinic, because they see all three thousand of these cases that crop up every year. They are the experts, and they evaluate the test specimens on a different spectrum than what other laboratories use.”
Oracle: Always get a second opinion and don’t believe the first thing you hear. Especially when it’s about you, and even more when it’s about your health.
I left UVA relieved, but also scratching my head. It begged the question. Why test on any other spectrum that could return a false positive when you have a much better, well established, method for yielding accurate results?? I don’t know the answer to this question, but I suspect it boils down to money. It always does.
As it turns out, my cortisol and my testosterone (yes, women are supposed to have it, too) were on the floor. The tank was dry. I wasn’t wrong. Juggling steak knives for too long will take its toll. Despite being scared for my life twice with cancer (numerous other times riding horses), I know how lucky I am. Even if it is just for now. When I was in my early thirties, a few of us didn’t get so lucky, either due to cancer or some other illness, or a couple people who were in the wrong place, at the wrong time, when competing their horses. Each person taken has left a stain on the glass. It was all too young, too soon.
Now I’m entering the age where more people have a number in that lottery ball, regardless of whether they want to or not. The price of admission we all pay, kind of like taxes. It’s hard to watch friends struggle with illness and I’m sure my friends would say the same about me. I’m forty-seven, for Christ’s sake, and I can’t wear shoes that require manual labor of any kind. They either slip on and off, or it’s not happening right now. Despite all of the challenges and setbacks, I know I’m lucky. Growing old is a privilege that many people don’t get. My number isn’t up yet, and until it is, I’m just going to keep on keeping on in my own Jenn-like way.
Bring on the Jenn-ga!!