Well, it’s been nearly a month since I posted so I thought I’d update you all on how the surgery went.
I went in as planned the night before to receive fluids via a drip and I’m not ashamed to admit that I bawled my eyes out the entire night, terrified by what I was to face the next morning. The more messages of love I received that night, the more I cried.
I went down at 8.30am the next morning a little more calm and collected. Once down in anaesthetics, I was given an epidural to cope with the post-op pain. OH MY GOD, why did nobody warn me that having an epidural hurts like a bitch – that needle! Why do they do that to you awake!?
The surgery was due to take 4/5 hours but my husband who was casually waiting around that day (ha!) tells me it was closer to 7 hours. Reason being that the op was a little bigger than anticipated and I had a team of plastic surgeons reconstructing my body as well as my colorectal surgeons removing the cancer and part of my bowel.
So here comes the technical bit (skip if you’re not interested in the surgery part). I had what is called APR surgery (Abdomino-perineal resection). This is where surgeons removed part of my colon, all of my rectum, the cancer, lymph nodes and a safe clearance area. I was cut from chest down to pelvis, my stomach muscles on the right and a strip of my skin was removed and used to create a muscle and skin graft to fill the empty space where my butt once belonged – and yes, it is as painful as it sounds.
In my last post, I mentioned that I might have needed to spend a night in Intensive Care. Well, that 1 night stretched into 9 nights plus an extra 4 on ward meaning I spent 2 weeks in hospital in the end – a lot longer than I anticipated. Coming round from the surgery was brutal and I was more tubes and wires than person. The first 3 days are a blur of being in a weird awake/asleep state, numb and unable to move my legs from the epidural and regularly topped up with liquid morphine to dull the pain where the epidural didn’t reach.
I can honestly say that this has been the hardest part of treatment so far. Both physically and emotionally. I wasn’t prepared for how hard the recovery is. After a week solid in bed without being able to move myself at all, I had lost the ability to even walk. My legs didn’t feel my own and I had to be propped up either side whilst I tried to bambi my way around the bed. Just over 3 weeks on from surgery and I still wouldn’t class myself as fully mobile. Just showering and moving around leaves me exhausted and I’ve lost all the weight that I had put on before surgery that made me feel healthy. I feel that I have a long way to go.
Emotionally, this has hit me harder than the colostomy surgery. I feel that my body has been butchered and that I’m more patchwork quilt than body. I know that scars will fade and that hopefully the graft will settle down over the next few months. My head feels very overwhelmed by all that has happened in just 6 months and screams out that this is all too much and that I can’t do anymore. I seem to have a least one cry a day – sometimes hysterically. Problem is you can’t quit the recovery process, as much as I say ‘ok, this is too much, tomorrow I want to be back to normal’, I can’t have that and have to deal with each day as it comes.
Eventually I know I’ll find a new normal again but due to the surgery I’ve had, nobody, including the surgeons are sure what this new normal will be. I guess I’ll know in time.
In and amongst the low that I’m experiencing, I thought I’d save the best part until last. I am now CANCER FREE! My histology came back with clear margins and clear lymph nodes which is really positive considering how big the tumour was. I’m currently being investigated for a genetic condition called Familial Adenotous Polyposis (FAP) but don’t know anymore just yet. I will also have to have the final 6 months of chemo to avoid a return but I’ll update you once I’ve met my new oncologist in a couple of weeks time.
Finally, I would like to thank the amazing nurses that looked after me during my time in hospital. Particularly those in Critical Care B. I am amazed and humbled by the work you guys put in to care for really sick patients. Also a big thank you to the student nurses on ward 728 who looked after me and kept my spirits up whilst I was on ward. You will make amazing nurses once qualified.