Happy New Year

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By Leighann Sturgin

Happy New Year! I’m so thankful to see 2016. The holidays were a little tough for me this year.

On 11/25/15 (the day before Thanksgiving) I had stoma revision surgery. I lost another 12” of small bowel leaving me with a total of 120 cm of intestine. I had a very retracted stoma making it impossible to get a ostomy wafer to seal. The skin around my “innie” stoma looked like hamburger. It hurt…all the time. After ten years of living with that pain, I opted for a stoma revision. The surgery went okay. I lasted about 6 hours. I had so many adhesions that the surgeon had to dissect. Originally my surgeon planned on moving the stoma from the right side of my abdomen to the left but the adhesions made this impossible.

I had a little bit more trouble in recovery. Apparently, they gave me too much anesthesia. I wasn’t waking up and breathing on my own. My husband stood next to me for close to 8 hours shaking me awake and telling me to breathe every few seconds. I remember seeing the fear in his eyes. As long as I live I will never forget the look on his face. He was absolutely terrified. Finally, they gave me Narcan to counteract all the narcotics in my system and hooked me up to a CPAP machine to force air into my lungs. It woke me up in a jiffy but I was in so much pain I was screaming at my nurse through the mask. That CPAP machine is pure torture. I really feel bad for anyone who has to wear one every night. I can’t imagine sleeping with that thing on my face. It feels like you’re sticking your head out of the window of a car traveling 60 mph. After all that, they came to give me blood pressure medicine because my blood pressure was too high. I tried to explain my blood pressure was high because I was in pain and the CPAP was making me angry but instead of fixing either one of those things I got blood pressure medication.

After a few other complications from surgery and 5 weeks of feeling horrible, I’m finally feeling human again. My IV infusions have increased from 9 hours to 14 hours per day but I’m grateful to be vertical and celebrate another Christmas, birthday and a New Year. Even with a permanent ileostomy and Short Bowel Syndrome (SBS) that requires IVs every day, I’m very grateful to be alive and cancer free.

A few weeks after my surgery I was able to attend my son’s 8th grade basketball game. It was a close game. The refs were terrible. Most of the people in the stands (from both sides) were screaming at the refs. While I’m so incredibly grateful to be well enough to attend my son’s games, it’s tough to balance cancer life with everyday life. With cancer you’re forced to make life-and-death or at least life-altering decisions. These decisions don’t just affect you, they affect your whole family. Its hard to switch gears from major life-altering decisions to deciding what to make for dinner.

While at the game I got a text from a friend’s wife. My friend was in his 11th hour of surgery. Three surgeons were working to eradicate colon cancer from his body. They found more than they were expecting and came out to ask his wife if they could take his bladder and prostate also. He would have a urostomy for the rest of his life. They hadn’t discussed this possibility. She wasn’t sure what decision her husband would want her to make. With tears streaking down both of my cheeks, I looked around the stands at people yelling and screaming (my husband being one of them) about this 8th grade basketball game. I wanted to scream back at them “THIS DOESN”T MATTER! IT’S A GAME AND THEY’RE IN 8TH GRADE. THIS ISN’T THE NBA.” Not that it would even matter if it was the NBA…it’s still just a game. Having this experience with my friend prompted a long overdue conversation with my husband. We talked about what he would do if the doctor came to him during my surgery and he was forced to make incredibly difficult decisions. I think this disease is so much more difficult on our loved ones than it is on us.

Having had cancer and having SBS has given me an interestingly complicated perspective on life. I don’t take Christmas, a birthday and New Years Day for granted. Every new year….every new day is a gift to be appreciated. There is no promise 2016 will be easy but I don’t need easy I just need possible. (Matthew 19:26)