When the knife comes

Let me tell you about the surgery I have to have. I can’t remember what it’s called, excepted that I think it has a ‘lap’ in it and an ‘ectomy’. Basically, they open up my cheek and peel it back. They’ll cut out the cancer and reconstruct the damage, including replacing the cheekbone and probably a section of my palate.

They’ll also be removing my lymph gland just to be sure – and I can feel the cancer there – and will remove the fibula from my left leg, along with an artery, which the plastic surgeons will use to reconstruct my cheekbone and facial structure. Then they’ll sew me up.

The surgeon reckons it’s an ‘all-day’ procedure – another said it will be 12-14 hours. It’s serious surgery, and while the risk is minimal, it’s hardly a walk in the park. If a doc came to me and told me I needed this surgery in normal circumstances, I’d be shocked, but the perspective knowing it will save my life gives it an entirely different perspective. Anything is better than dying.

There is a risk I might lose my right eye, though the surgeon thinks it unlikely. I hope he’s right.

Post-surgery won’t be much fun either. For 2-3 days after, I’ll have tubes up my nose to feed me, and I’ll have a tube in my throat (there’ll be a tracheotomy as part of the surgery also) running to my lungs to help me breathe. I’ll even have a catheter on my dick. No dignity in hospital.

For the first 48 hours, they’ll wake me every 30 minutes to exercise the reconstruction to make sure it takes. That will be hard but absolutely necessary. One of my concerns about the surgery is how it will leave me looking. I have probably melodramatic fears of waking up looking like the elephant man. I’m assured the plastic surgeons are very good, but I’ll be left with a depressed cheekbone if this fails. I’ll do everything I can to avoid that.

All up, they reckon 6 weeks recovery, of which the first 2-3 weeks will be in hospital. I’m traditionally a good healer, so I’m hoping it will be at the lower end. What will be very hard is that I’m not allowed any solids for 6 weeks. I’ll be living on purees, baby food and mush. And maybe coffee.

You can understand perhaps why I don’t approach the procedure with much relish. I won’t exactly be shitting bricks as they wheel me in, but I imagine I’ll be feeling some qualms. Anaesthetised bliss will be welcome.

On the other hand, I can’t wait for it to happen. So you can imagine then my devastation when I got a call yesterday advising that the surgery was being delayed for another week because the plastic surgeon was unavailable until the 11th.

You psyche yourself up. There’s a part of me scared, and so you begin the process of girding yourself for the trial ahead. Then it changes, and it’s both deflating and devastating.

It worries me too. I hate the idea of this alien thing in my face trying to kill me, and I want it out ASAP. I fear the longer it takes, the greater the risk of losing my eye and of it spreading further. I want the full stop on this, which means removing it.

Then there’s the pain. I don’t know how those for whom chronic pain is a fact of life because, in my experience, the psychological toll is nearly as bad as the physical: there’s no escape from it. I’m lucky in that I have the chance to stop that pain relatively soon – just not soon enough.

The pain has got worse over the last week, which suggests the cancer is getting worse. The pain is no more severe, but now I need to take a painkiller every three hours rather than every four or five hours previously. It’s exhausting and makes life very difficult. I’m either in pain, or my head is swimming with medication, and often both. My energy levels – my vitality – is seriously diminished. I live in a haze waiting out the days until surgery promises something different.

Ultimately, I just have to be patient. At least it means I can have a few more meals I can actually chew – and maybe a few more boxes I can unpack. It’ll happen.

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