Yesterday I had surgery to repair a torn meniscus, which is a cartilage in the back of the knee. The photo above is me back in my hospital room after the successful procedure, doped up on enough morphine to kill a small horse. I have a very high pain threshold which is both a blessing and a curse.
I’m not really sure how I tore it but I suspect it was during a spin class last April and that just confirms my belief that spin is not for me. My husband dragged me to the class because he, unlike me, IS a spin person. You know the type. Life affirming mantras, spin studio merch and a penchant for deafening music. That ain’t me.
For the past 7 months I’ve functioned at 70% capacity in terms of what I was able to physically do, until I finally decided that enough was enough- I couldn’t dance the way I love to, move as nimbly as before and had to allow for extra time to catch a train as I could no longer run when I was late. Which is always. I’m always running late. Rather, WALKING late, as running has been out of the question.
In the days before my operation, concerned friends and family asked me if I was ok, nervous, scared? And I had to answer honestly that I wasn’t. It was scary how NOT scared I was. But then I realized that it wasn’t because I was brave or naïve about the risks of surgery. It was because I had perspective.
The last time I wore a hospital gown and walked down a fluorescent lit corridor towards an operating room was 11 years ago in a NYC hospital. I was going to have a preventative double mastectomy with reconstruction using my stomach fat and muscle. This was to prevent me from getting breast cancer like my mother and her mother had (and subsequently died from).
I was scared out of my wits, shaking and crying all the way to the O.R., Phil growing smaller in the distance as I walked away, wondering if I’d survive the 9-hour surgery, if I’d ever see my 4 little kids again, or if the anesthesiologist would knock out my front teeth with a metal tube.
I refused to get on the table unless I was allowed to tuck a photo of my children under the pillow. The photo was taken at their summer day camp a few months earlier when they were around 1,3,5 and 7. After much debate around hygiene and sterility, the surgical team finally acquiesced. It was either that or cancel surgery; they could see I meant business.
That surgery, as you may have read in my past blog posts, led to the discovery of early but aggressive cancer. Which led to chemo. And removal of my ovaries. And menopause at age 35. That surgery saved my life. And it changed me for the better.
Back to yesterday: When the hospital staff came into my room one by one to prep me with pre-and post-op instructions, they were surprised by my casual manner, my peppy tone of voice (it was 6:30 AM and still dark outside) and my utter lack of concern about changing into a backless hospital gown in front of a rotating cast of characters parading in and out of my room. Until they glanced down at my chart and took in my medical history.
As each of them looked up from my chart, an understanding registered in their eyes while I smiled, cracked a joke and confidently said “Let’s do this!”, fists on my hips, Wonder Woman style.
To me it would just be a short, anesthesia-induced nap, some pain meds, bed rest and rehab, a blip on the radar of life and a means to an end. I was home that same day.
Just before I left my room to head to the O.R., I looked at that same photo of my kids that was with me 11 years ago, only this time it was a digital image saved on my phone. Seeing it was enough and I tucked the phone away in my coat pocket, certain that I’d have it in my hands again soon, which I did. (You can check my Instagram posts for evidence of this :))
Last week was my birthday and while it was a great opportunity to celebrate life with family and friends, to be reminded that I am loved and appreciated, birthdays in and of themselves are not really what interest me. After all, everyone has one!
What I do celebrate is endurance.
I celebrate perspective.
Gratitude for everything—EVERYTHING. Don’t let my sarcasm fool you.
An ability to cope with things that I’d have otherwise found terrifying. (Including raising teens. More challenging than advertised!)
A platform via social media and a voice which I can use to promote breast cancer prevention and awareness through sharing my experiences.
These are the rewards for living through some of life’s toughest challenges. And I wouldn’t trade those gifts for anything. **
** Except maybe for my kids flushing the toilet, picking up their socks and remembering to turn off the lights more often. That’s a deal I’d consider