I think back sometimes to when this all started, my life with cancer. The first thing I remember is waking in an anesthesia-induced fog in the recovery room. My surgeon was at the foot of my bed telling me that my fibroids weren’t that bad after all, so he’d not done the hysterectomy, but that my appendix had ruptured. In my groggy post-anesthesia state, that explained the NG tube in my nose and the symptoms I’d been having, but not his blank expression. They’d removed the appendix, I was alive and could be given antibiotics, it was a happy ending to a surprise situation. He was a doctor and colleague who always had sparkling eyes and a joyful expression. But as he talked to me, his facial expression was blank, the sparkle in his eyes was gone, his voice a monotone. The brief conversation and the look on his face are now forever frozen in my memory. And it’s funny, but the memory as I visualize it now is in black and white, not color. Grey.
Later in my hospital room, I noticed that all of the nurses and staff were very polite, but also that they were in and out of my room in a hurry, and they didn’t make eye contact. I noticed it, as I had noticed my surgeon’s facial expression, but I didn’t think much of it. They were just busy and very professional, my surgeon had been tired. I decided I was really one of their least sick patients, I’d only had a laparoscopic appendectomy. They had many other patients who required more care and who were sicker. They really didn’t have time to stop and chat, they were busy. Too busy to look at me.
The next day I learned the truth. My husband sat on the side of the bed next to me the day after my surgery. He is a registered nurse also, a surgical nurse. When my ruptured appendix was discovered, he’d scrubbed in and assisted with my surgery as I’d had complications related to the prolonged rupture. They’d needed more nursing staff to assist. Now he sat next to me, crying. I’d never seen him cry before. I remember his words, ”When they got into your abdomen, it looked really bad, you were a mess inside. They found out you have cancer, a very rare cancer. You have appendix cancer”. At the time I felt outside of myself. I felt so sorry for my husband, I wanted to tell him it was okay. I felt so badly for him having to tell me that I had cancer, what an awful job. He must have asked to be the one to tell me. But really, I felt fine. I felt great. How could I have cancer? It seemed so strange. Cancer patients were very sick people, I wasn’t sick. I was ready to go back home to my normal life. The only thing that separated my before-cancer life from my life as a cancer patient were those three words “You have cancer”. I didn’t know much about the cancer, only that I’d never heard of a cancerous appendix. Appendix cancer?
I’ve since communicated with others newly diagnosed who felt the same. Shouldn’t they feel sick? They felt fine, they didn’t feel like a cancer patient…could it really be true? It was strange, I felt I was supposed to suddenly assume a role that didn’t belong to me, the identity of a cancer patient. It was unreal.