Cancer destroyed my sense of adventure.
After treatment I would get take your breath away, cry your eyes out abdominal pain. During these unpredictable episodes, I’d end up hospitalized and hooked up to an IV morphine drip. Always fearing the next attack, I’d ensure to remain within a twenty-minute radius of a hospital. I also developed radiation colitis which basically meant my bowel was burnt, bloody, and raw. The nerve and tissue damage had me scurrying for a toilet regularly and while I’d struggled with IBS most of my adult years, this was different. I was now borderline incontinent.
Between pain attacks and surprise diarrhea, I developed mad anxiety about leaving the house. Shut-in, sitting on the couch, I’d look back longingly at photos from my healthier days, pictures of me diving the Great Barrier Reef, mountain biking in Hawaii, surfing in Costa Rica, and exploring underwater caves in Ontario. In them, I saw glimpses of who I used to be: a happy, easy-going adventurer. I used to push myself. I used to venture beyond my comfort zone because I liked the thrill of what I might discover. Without a sense of adventure, I wasn’t me. My physical restrictions were improving… slowly… but I could no longer tolerate watching from the fringes as my life plodded on. Cancer had contracted my world for long enough. It was time to tackle the anxiety and to put things into perspective. It was time for new rules.
New Rule #1: Time is finite, Don’t waste it.
I didn’t battle cancer so I could sit at home and watch bad daytime TV in my pajamas all day. How effing boring. Regardless of how I was feeling I aimed to do one outing a day. At least.
New Rule # 2: Re-define embarrassment
To overcome the fear of incontinence, I redefined what it meant to be embarrassed. I could only be embarrassed about something that I felt shame over. My spastic bowel was an aftershock of life-saving treatment, a trade-off for being alive. This wasn’t shameful, it was simply a fact. I would never judge anyone else for having to work around these issues and therefore I wouldn’t judge myself. I’d rather deal with poop in my snow pants than to never go skiing again. And if I did experience embarrassment… Oh well! Some things Most things are worth the risk.
New Rule # 3: Don’t wait for pain. Deal with it when it comes.
I am really, really, really lucky! I married an emergency doctor who can administer my pain medication (via IV or injection) anywhere in the world. So we made up a hefty emergency kit that could act as my health insurance and our peace of mind. I may have looked like a drug mule and been on the receiving end of some thorough baggage inspections but it was well worth it. Whether we were in remote Costa Rica or stuck on an airplane at high altitude we could deal with my violent symptoms. Yes, this is a bandaid solution but it gave us some freedom.
With these new rules in place, I eased off the couch and began saying yes again. I said yes to picking strawberries with a friend, an out-of-country bachelorette party, multiple weddings, and a Mediterranean cruise with my family. But it’s important to note that NONE of these things went smoothly. I used many porta-potties, sought emergency medical care in Italy, injected pain medication in an airport washroom, and basically vomited or had the shits everywhere I went. But I did it! I added more photos to my collection and most importantly I made many more memories- some bad but mostly good. As a result, my life expanded and I finally felt like myself again.