Bye to the Girls

Big breath.  That’s what I just did before I started typing.  I am so thankful to be on this side of surgery.  I had no idea how much mental space and worry it consumed for me leading up to surgery…knowing every day, every hour, and every moment that there was still cancer inside of me.  Trying to be kind and nice to my body, but also trying not to be angry at the part of it that has caused me so much physical, mental, and emotional pain. 
I wasn't sure how to prepare for surgery. How do I say goodbye to something God gave me? ...the only thing I was familiar with. How is it that if I kept something God gave me, I would die?   We all come to earth with everything that God gives us physically. You play up your favorite parts and down play the others.  Eventually we survive adolescence, and just become comfortable enough to work with what you’ve got.  This was so confusing and hard to wrap my mind around…how do I say goodbye to a part of myself?
Leading up to the surgery, the anticipation at times was unbearable.  It was almost like torture. I wished the surgery would just come because my mind would run away with itself and I was unable to stop it. I didn't know how to prepare. I didn't know if I'd be ready, and I didn't know how I’d feel after. I started to think back on if these girls had enough fun before they had to go.  It sounds crazy but a frantic panic set in. I felt an immediate obligation to make sure they lived a good life and time was running out.  It was the strangest feeling… like I needed to have a celebration or proper send off before they had to go. What do I do?...Cupcakes? Balloons? Bra burnings?  Crap! Once again, I found myself looking up at the sky yelling quietly to God, “Hey! How do I do this?!”  One thing was certain, the clock was ticking and time wasn’t slowing down.  The date was set and it was happening.  I couldn’t run away or wiggle out of this one...and a part of me didn’t want to.  I wanted the cancer out.  There are few things in life that you just can’t stop no matter how bad you want to.  It reminded me of when I knew my dad was going to die. That day was coming and I couldn't do anything about it.  I just knew every morning I woke up, we were one day closer to saying goodbye.  On the opposite extreme, I felt stuck in the time ticking straightjacket when I was waiting for the birth of my children.  I knew the day was coming, and I couldn't slow it down or speed it up.  I just had to surrender.  Surgery was one of those moments where life had its own natural timeline and I was at its mercy…to wait and trust that it would all be ok.  These moments are few since we try to control everything…but when they happen, there is a stillness that brings us a little closer to what we’re made of. Time to be brave and look fear in the face.

Once I accepted the countdown had begun, it was time to get down to business.  I made a mental list of all that my girls had done, and then quickly tallied what was left to check off the list.  No need to get squeamish.  We all have bodies and you live in them every single day of your entire life. For me to make peace, I assessed what I was glad I did, and what was left to accomplish. I felt like a golden retriever frantically looking for his tennis ball…yet my panic moments were more like, “Where’s the nearest bouncy house?!!!”…”Mark, should I flash that truck driver on the 101?!!” Why not.  Concerning the girls that were getting ready to go, there were no rules and that was freeing. So I chose to celebrate it.  Faced with the clock ticking, you bet I gave thanks for the handful of topless dips they have taken in Italy, Costa Rica, Thailand and Mexico. Every year they got a cold skinny dip in Lake Superior just to remind me I’m alive.  One time after a raging Halloween party I woke up with a five dollar bill stuck in between my cleavage.  Hard to believe, but yes…only five dollars. They have been my friends when I go running, by not getting in the way.   They have never made a fuss and been very Zen like when I practiced yoga. There's been a few times in my life when they have taken advantage of me when I've fallen asleep at the beach, and woken up to one of them that escaped from my bathing suit.  At a few weddings, while wearing a strapless dress, I’ve danced so hard that I’d jump up, and the top of my dress went down.  Parrr-Tayyy!  And…I’ve flashed Mark too many times to count these last few weeks. I have always been happy with my girls. They're easy and sweet…and have always made me feel pretty.  They are what God gave me, and I've always been thankful for them. But, I never knew how beautiful they really were until I had girls of my own. Every man and woman knows the power, and beauty of sustaining life through feeding your newborn child. The times of getting up in the quiet of the night, while rocking one of my baby girls and nursing her back to sleep is one of the greatest demonstrations of love there is. Knowing that a little person solely depended on me to survive was the greatest responsibility that has ever been given me. I’m thankful that my body alone maintained their life, giving them everything they needed to thrive and grown in the beginning. It made me feel strong and powerful…mighty and proud that I was the only one that could do that for them.

The day before surgery I just wanted to be with my family.  I was scared. I've never had a big surgery before and didn't know what to expect. I decided that morning that when the girls went down for their nap, that I would join them. We all climbed into bed together and snuggled in. Without even a thought, River snuggled into my left arm with her head on my chest, and Seaenah snuggled into my right arm laying her head on my chest. They instinctually assumed the position of immense comfort and safety. To them, I am comfort and love. For weeks I have been praying “Please Lord, let me be prepared for when I'm rolled into surgery…please let me know how to say goodbye to a piece of my body”. In this moment, as the girls slept on my chest I knew that I was completely prepared. This was the most beautiful sendoff I could have ever asked for. My arms wrapped around both of my girls.  They could hear my heartbeat and feel me breathing…and I could do the same.  They slept, I had a few quiet tears and I knew, my prayer had been answered and there was nothing left on the list. It was time.

Later that afternoon I got a phone call that a pipe burst in the surgery center. This created quite a scramble my surgery was moved to a hospital down the street and my recovery center had been canceled. I now would be staying in the hospital but now Mark didn't have a place to stay. It was stressful being on the phone with multiple doctors and getting re-approved from the insurance company which had already taken weeks in the first place. It was now 4 o'clock in the afternoon I was having surgery at 5am the next day. I was stressed to say the least. Initially I tried to make sense of why did this have to happen right before my surgery? I just wanted a smooth last few hours with my family. And then once again I was reminded… I don't need to know the answer why. I just need to trust - and go with it. These phone calls getting all of the details squared away for surgery went on until 9:00 that night. This additional stress on top of the worry of surgery was at moments unbearable, but it was another reminder that I'm not in control and that I cannot control… I just needed to go with it. I dug deep, got clear and wrote a note to Mark and the girls in the journal by my bed as a ‘just in case’. I kissed the girls 1000 times, said good night, hugged my mom and we drove down to LA. We stayed in a hotel across the street from the hospital.  There was really nothing left to say it was a quiet drive all the way down while Mark and I just held each other's hand.  The scary moments that you can't control, I’ve learned are the free falling ones where trust then kicks in. That's when you're quiet enough to feel the connection of heaven and earth… and you in between. I knew I was gently cared for with my team of doctors, family, and friends… but also with my awesome team in heaven gently ushering us along. We woke up at 4:30 in the morning and it was go time.  One last look in the mirror.  I thanked my girls for the good times, and told them it was time for me to go get some ladies. Then, away we went.

As we thought, insurance wasn’t approved with the last minute location change when we arrived.  So we got the run around in the waiting room listening to the back and forth with the hospital and my insurance company.  We listened to the hold music play on the receptionist’s phone, waited for managers to arrive, listened to transfers upon transfers and were told all about protocol.  Not the most calming conditions before a 9 hour surgery.  I had really hoped that this time could've been spent with me prepped and ready with Mark holding my hand waiting before I went in… but that's not how it was planned and instead we sat in the waiting room listening to hold music for an entire hour and a half.  Finally, everything came together and we had to move really quickly from this point forward since we were already behind. I was scrubbed in and ready.  Questions were asked, blood pressure taken, temperature taken, socks put on, IVs hooked up and two nurses just buzzed around me getting everything set.   Meanwhile, I just kept my eyes glued on Mark…my anchor.  We had already said goodbye to each other, I just didn't want to physically leave him.
My surgical oncologist and my plastic surgeon both came through the curtain and the first thing they did was say good morning to me, and then they gave each other a great big hug.  That was so awesome for me to see the great respect they have for each other.  The next thing I knew, I was getting wheeled off to surgery and I quickly realized that the hallway wasn’t long enough for me.  Mark walked along side holding my hand and before I knew it, the double doors had arrived and he had to go one way, and I had to go the other.  One last kiss and away I went.  I asked him later what that was like for him to see me wheeled off through the double doors.  He was quiet then said “It was hard to watch you go. I knew in that moment my everything starts and ends with you”….That is the most beautiful thing I have ever heard.  To love and be loved…there is no greater gift.

After surgery I requested to be woken up to Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” (don't worry about a thing).  They said they played it seven times for me while I was waking up…awesome. I was groggy I don't remember much but what I remember is when I opened my eyes late that night I was in a lot of pain. But the relief of having the cancer out of my body outweighed any pain that I felt and I cannot even express in words the immense joy I felt with knowing that the cancer was gone! I had no idea the magnitude and weight that I had been carrying for the 5 months of knowing cancer was in me.  Knowing that it was gone - all of it gone - out of my body was the biggest relief of my life. That realization gave me my life back and that defining moment when I realized that it was all out of my body made me feel whole again.  I felt more carefree than I had in months.
I am recovering and getting stronger with up and down moments.  My mind has a much faster timeline than my body does on healing so I am learning daily to be in the moment.  I ask God a hundred times a day to please help me. I also tell God a hundred times a day thank you. It's confusing to ask for help, and at times for him to ease up on me, while saying thank you at the same time. I don’t try to understand it and have accepted it’s another one of the mysteries of life. 
A few days later, while sitting down for dinner we got the phone call with the pathology report.  We sat on the edge of the couch and listened on speaker phone together. After we hung up, I was quiet…Mark said that's great news Michelle she use the word “thrilled” with your results!!  I smiled but had a hard time celebrating.  I realized I had lost that trust in life. We sat down for dinner and I took one bite of food, and then had to stand up and leave the table. I sat down in the other room, and just started to cry. Mark came in, knelt on the floor holding my hands with the Christmas tree lit up behind him, reassuring me that it's was great news and everything we had hoped for. I realized in that moment I was sad because I'll always worry no matter how good the results are.  That will never go away, and that will live with me forever.  I’ll always have the thought of 'what if'  in the back of my mind and the carefree whim of life is gone for me.  The uncertainty of life is more real to me than ever has been. Even with great results, I know that everything can be taken away in an instant.  It's all so fragile and all so precious. Everything is hung together so delicately.  If you choose to take it for granted or not, this is the reality.
It's a precious, beautiful life…and it's time to make it count.
Thank you sweet friends and family for your love, support, and encouragement these last 5 months.  There are so many of you to thank, so please know when I receive something from you, I close my eyes and send you love and thanks.  There are no words that can express the depth of my gratitude.  Wishing you all a wonderful holiday filled with magic and joy. xxoo

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