It’s been 365 days since a surgical resident stood over my masked up face awkwardly holding cutting instruments.
“Usually we wait until the patient is under,” the surgeon announced, his voice trailing off into the ether as I drifted into a dreamless sleep.
March 23rd, 2022 at two o’clock in the afternoon and the last thing I see before going under for my bowel resection is a kid in scrubs holding some cutlery. Perrrrfect.
The surgery—a routine-to-my-surgeon, two hour affair—ended up taking seven. I woke up at 9pm in recovery, high as a fucking kite.
“What the fuck happened?,” I wondered.
It turns out that I lost a lot of blood; the surgery was more complicated than it should’ve been. There was more cancer than expected. The desired method of incision had to be reconsidered on the fly. With a couple of transfusions, some skilled hands, and a bit of luck, I survived with the scars to show it.
At least I didn’t bleed out, although it would’ve saved me some trouble.
(I’m joking. I guess that’s my one bad cancer joke for today.)
First, an acknowledgement
For many who’ve overcome addiction, depression, or mental health issues, the semicolon has taken on some additional meaning.
“A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.”
This was popularized based on the work of Project Semicolon.
For me, it’s just a pun because I have less colon than I did a year ago.
Also, in some ways it does feel like a sentence to have cancer. Double entendre.
How having a ; has changed my body
Many folks expect that being diagnosed with Stage IIIC colon cancer automatically means that I’d end up with what we in the business call a “Ken butt.”
I do not have a colostomy bag. I have never had one, even temporarily, as I went through surgery and recovery.
If the surgeon is able to take out the bad part of the sausage casing and reattach the two good ends, then the chances of requiring a permanent (or temporary) colostomy bag are slim.
But, even though I still cut logs the way nature intended, here are a few things that have changed for me from the resection:
- My belly button looks like the Joker’s smile. Less like Heath Ledger’s and more Rainn Wilson’s.
- Spicy food is off the table now. I’m that white dude that looks at a menu and has to ask: “Is it spicy?,” so I guess some stereotypes do hold up.
- Unless they’re cooked like a ham in the 1930s (that’s to say, completely overcooked), green vegetables cause me a ton of grief on the way out.
- Consuming alcohol has become borderline intolerable for me (instead of just for everyone around me).
- Sometimes, like a toddler who’s learned how to get out of school, my tummy just aches for no reason whatsoever.
Not too bad, all things considered.
It’s meant that I’ve had to work on my temperance, though. Y’all know I love craft beer and Indian food.
A small price to pay for comfort.
It’s not behind you‽
It isn’t and won’t ever be.
Firstly, there are still events on my calendar related to cancer. Bloodwork next week. A CT scan in April. A follow-up in May. Another one in August. They keep coming and will for a long time.
Secondly, I’ve made peace with the fact that there is no return to the way I was before cancer. Physically, mentally, and perhaps even philosophically, I’ve been altered.
I heard a line in a song that frames it in a way that resonates with me:
🎶 We’re not the people we once were and we’ve moved on seeking out answers, viewing the past self like he’s only a friend of mine
The old me is just some guy that I used to know. We’re strangers now (and that’s ok).
In many ways, the changes have been mainly psychological. It’s hard to describe, but aside from the constant and immutable fear of recurrence, I’m in a good headspace.
My only real gripe is that there are still days where I’m dealing with chemo brain and fatigue. It’s not clear whether those will taper off over time, or continue to curse me intermittently.
I’m still trying to figure out survivorship. I don’t know how long I’ll experience life with no evidence of disease but I am hopeful that it’s a long time.
There are many irons in the fire, which is a good thing, but it’s testing the limits of my abilities—which are different, by the way, then they were before cancer—since jumping back into the real world.
I just want to do things while I’m not worried so much about my health. Even if my CT scan shows recurrence or progression, I’ll have some time.
My return to full-time work has gone well. I don’t have much to say other than I’m really enjoying it and looking forward to a great year.
I’m most of the way through the first course of a few related to a Product Management Certificate that I’m working towards through Cornell’s external training unit.
This is a whole, big thing that actually does take up a non-trivial amount of time.
I’ve been working on growing the reach of Cancer Canuck. This is primarily to connect with peers, likeminded advocates, and cancer/research professionals. I mean, I also do it because I like talking to people, so don’t take it the wrong way!
I’m still hosting peer chats through Young Adult Cancer Canada a few times a month. It’s still really enjoyable and it’s cool to see so many new and familiar faces during each one.
This April, I’ll be attending the International Congress on Academic Medicine in Quebec City as a Patient Partner. I’ve planned out my sessions so that I can learn more about research and patient involvement but am interested in networking with people from around the world working toward better global health.
In May, I’m co-chairing the Colorectal Cancer Canada Community Conference. This is going to be an extremely well-rounded conference and I can’t wait to share the agenda. It’s virtual, so any of you colon people reading this can attend or catch the recordings.
I’ll be working on a research project with one of the surgeons at the Kingston Health Sciences Centre related to analyzing treatment outcomes in younger folks diagnosed with colon cancer. More details when I can share them.
I’m also still involved with the Queen’s Cancer Research Institute’s Patient Engagement Network and am looking forward to putting together some events locally in Kingston to help connect cancer patients with researchers.
Shannon (or Mrs. Canuck to some of you) and I just returned back from a vacation in Curaçao. Here’s a little travel vid I whipped up.
Lots of people came together to make this happen. Too many to name for fear of forgetting someone.
Thank you for reading. If there are any topics you want me to write about, my DMs are mostly open on social or you can email me at [email protected].