I remember my first steps. I was afraid. I wasn’t sure how far I would be able to walk, whether my stitches would hold up under the weight of my body, whether I would trip and fall… Kevin was beside me all the way. And that made all the difference.
Having cancer takes its toll on the body. Everyone knows that. Over the past few years, I have learned when I can and cannot do. I have learned what aches and pains are normal. I have learned what lumps and bumps are scar tissue and non-threatening and which bumps need to be addressed. Anyone who has had cancer, and likely any other life-threatening disease or injury, must learn their own body. I get tired and weary. I find it difficult / challenging/ impossible at times, to travel long distances. The flight to Abu Dhabi nearly did me in! (Worth it though) Sometimes simply lying down helps. Sometimes I need to sleep. Sometimes sleeping helps and other times it hinders. The weight gain simply pisses me off. My waist will never recover. I have to accept that. I need to accept that. I need to put every physical consequence into perspective. In spite of the fact that my body has changed, aged, sagged, and sometimes now drags – I remember I am alive. One step at a time.
The other challenge – which I knew I would face but didn’t realize would take precedence over physical healing – was the emotional and mental healing. I have grieved the loss of friends, family, both of my parents. I am no stranger to the grieving process. I never imagined, however, that I would grieve the loss of my health. Additionally, I didn’t realize that PTSD would kick in. While the physical healing (thank God I was able to heal) was difficult – the emotional was, and continues to be at times, nearly insurmountable. I could not heal emotionally on my own. I sought professional help. And I found it. I did not want to burden my friends and my family with my darkest thoughts – which were pretty dark in the beginning. But, somehow, paying someone to listen to me was okay. This someone became pretty special to me – my therapist, Kelly, was amazing. She helped me walk my “first steps” towards emotional recovery – one step at a time.
Once I had managed to walk down the hallway at Toronto General Hospital, I was encouraged to walk more. The painkillers helped me. The nurses, I remember, kept telling me, “Don’t be a hero, Stacey! Use the pain meds when you need them. You will heal better because you will do more when you don’t have pain.” I was leery. I did not want drugs to interfere with my healing. The nurses were right. It seemed as time went on – the nurses were more and more right. Of course, I had to be convinced of this – honestly, what did I know? Nothing. They had seen hundreds, thousands of patients healing and knew far better. I used the pain killers. I made it around the nursing stations several laps. Then more laps. And then more.
My discharge to home scared the hell out of me. How would I even manage the seat belt? What if my stitches ripped open? I had, if I remember correctly, over 50 stitches. But – I made it. Kevin reclined the seat for me and buckled me up – he was careful to not hit too many bumps on the way home. Step by step – we made it!
Hitting the bed at home was amazing. There is nothing like returning to your own bed to heal. The difference was, I couldn’t use my stomach muscles to help me. The nurses had taught me to swing my legs over the edge of the bed and use my arms to push myself up. “But keep working at it!” they advised me. Of course, it was the reverse when I came to lie back down. Kinda tricky – I remember laughing. I guess a nervous response. I was a back-sleeper for a while. A long while. Of course. But eventually, my muscles recovered. I did sit ups very carefully. Since my diaphragm had been cut and stitched as well, I had to stretch it through breathing exercises too. The devise was a tube into which I had to blow and try to float the little ping-pong balls to the top. Tough at first. But just like walking and sitting up, breathing became easier – one step at a time.
Recovery was all about baby steps. I was a child, all over again, taking my first steps. I was nervous, hesitant, and curious all at once. I needed help. I didn’t want help. I took help. I craved my independence. I embraced the challenge. I rejoiced at my success. I was impatient with my successes. I took support. I yearned for the praise and encouragement of others. They supported me. They continue to support me. In so many ways, I feel I am still taking my first steps. Helping others to take their first steps towards recovery – are my first steps too. Helping others to navigate their disease and their new lives – feels like I am navigating a new life too. My baby steps continue. I am still recovering.
I suppose we all take first steps every day. Every day is a new beginning. There are new challenges, new opportunities, new conquests. New firsts. Having cancer opened my eyes to seeing the newness of life, the fresh starts… the joy of walking. Although I will continue to walk the rest of my days with ovarian cancer, it no longer scares me as a partner. I have developed a healthier (kinda of an oxymoron) relationship with my cancer. There will be ups and downs, of this I am certain. But – we will take it one day at a time.
One step at a time is the best way to take our first steps. And never alone.