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Friday
May062011

Seeing Myself

No, this is not one of my introspective posts. I'm talking about actually seeing myself. Physically seeing...myself. It'll all make sense in a moment. 

The other day, Dr. Sugarbaker's wife and human being extraordinaire, Ilse Sugarbaker, sent me a little something. Something that I'd been asking for for a couple of months.

Pictures. Pictures that Dr. Sugarbaker took during my "pick it out/pour it in" procedure. Ilse said that, in the last three years or so, not a single patient had requested intra-op photos. You know me, though. Of course I wanted to see them. All the blood and guts and cancer. All that GRAPHIC stuff.

I had many reasons for wanting to see the pictures. As crazy as it may sounds, I wanted to stroll down memory lane. The "pick it out/pour it in" procedure was certainly the toughest physical challenge of my life, but I have to admit, I had a pretty damn good time with it. First of all, I felt great going into the surgery -- like I didn't have a speck of cancer in me. Secondly, despite having lots of specks of cancer in me, I emerged from the surgery squeaky clean. Third, post-op recovery in the hospital wasn't too bad, given the constant care and attention I received from my three nurses, the actual nurses at Washington Hospital Center, Sugarbaker's team, and my fantastic friends and family that came to visit. Fourth, I relished the physical challenges of the hospital -- getting through each hurdle just proved to me what a bad a** I really was. Fifth, I wanted to see the cancer, living and dead, that had been chilling out in my body -- a "know your enemy" type of thing.   

Finally, and most importantly: when you really get down to it, the "pick it out/pour it in" procedure saved my life. And I love my life. So, of course I love the "pick it out/pour it in" procedure as well as any and all reminders of it.

So Ilse sent the pictures. And I opened them immediately. 

The first is a far away shot of my abdominal cavity (my legs, chest, and head are covered), opened up to the world. I can make out the other side of my skin -- you know, the bloody side -- as well as various tubes sucking fluids from my cavity. Dr. Zappa is standing above me, evidently seeing what I had to offer. 

The second and third pictures are of my dearly departed body parts: the fallen soldiers who had gotten way too close to comfort with "the cancer." I can make out my spleen...or maybe it's my gall bladder. But the rest of it is kind of a mish-mash. I don't know what my uterus looks like, but maybe it's in the picture. The organs have various growths along them -- "the cancer" itself -- but all, in all, I think they look cool. I've been joking about it all looking like Korean BBQ, and it's pretty true. Even my cancerous parts look appetizing. (Talk about a positive body image, right?) 

The fourth picture captures the dead cancer. Part black and part white and bubbly. All dead and glorious. 

The fifth picture is my abdominal cavity again, but this time all cleaned and stitched up.

Seeing myself in this way was a thoroughly positive experience. It filled me with gratitude for Dr. Sugarbaker and his team, for Dr. Lenz and his team, and for Dr. Ramos and his team. I like to give them all a hard time, but my doctors are the best -- the best physicians and the best people. Last September, I was really sick. Like, really sick. And these guys changed all that for me. Gratitude can't even begin to describe what I feel for my doctors. 

Looking at the pictures also filled me with pride. I've gone through a lot since last September, and I endured each challenge with toughness and positivity. I never let weak thoughts invade my mind, and I never let "the cancer" get the upper hand. I never stopped believing in myself. Seeing my own body during that operation -- one of the most invasive and aggressive surgeries around -- just proved to me that, yes, I can survive and thrive through just about anything. 

The pictures symbolize what this whole cancer adventure has been to me: challenging, bloody, tough to look at, but incredibly satisfying and even inspiring. 

I bet you still don't want to see 'em. :)

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