Up to me

I haven’t wanted to write about my surgery last week, not because it was bad, but because I was weary of the story.

Nothing went wrong, but it didn’t go entirely to plan. I was meant to have a plate removed from my cheek and the exposed bone in my mouth and nose covered by a skin graft. The plate had been removed when I woke, but the bone was still exposed.

It turns out that the bones in my face had been damaged by radiotherapy, making them fragmentary, which explains why the screw came loose. It’s why they didn’t continue with the skin graft. It also meant I got out of hospital a day early.

I was a bit deflated initially. I thought – unrealistically – that I’d come out of hospital with most of my ailments cured. Now I was faced with more of the same, plus bone damage and the genuine possibility that I’d require full-on bone reconstruction to repair it.

Ultimately, they had another plan for me. From Tuesday next week, I begin hyperbaric treatment. I’ll have 30 sessions of it, the idea being that it will accelerate natural healing, and the bone will repair and skin re-grow across the exposed bone. It will also have other health benefits.

I’ve been back to the hospital the last couple of days meeting with plastics and ENT specialists. Yesterday, I met with the surgeon who removed the tumour from me in August last year. I took the occasion to ask what I could expect a year from now and what everyday life should look like in five years.

No-one has a crystal ball, and there’s always the possibility of cancer returning (I have another PET scan in June) or another health issue arising. Let’s assume none of that happens. What he told me made it clear that I’ll never get back to what I was before, which I knew, but it was chastening to hear it spoken aloud. He made it clear that some things would never repair, and I’d have to live with that. I do things every day now, and I have for the last 10 months, which I’ll probably need to do forever – though hopefully with less frequency.

It was what I needed to hear. I can reasonably expect some more improvement, but not as much as I’d like. But what can you expect when you’ve had cancer? To survive is a bonus.

There’ll be more treatment, and I’ll continue to see doctors, but I felt as if it was a bit of a handover. They’ve done their best; now, it was up to me to take it further. Rather than feeling a victim of the condition and being dictated to by it, I now feel I can take control.

I’m a lot fitter and stronger than I was earlier in the year, but there’s a way to go. I can do something about that, and it will make a difference. I can be mindful of my health and do the exercise I must, and hopefully, I can improve my situation bit by bit. A lot of it, I think, comes down to mentality and attitude.

Up till now, I feel as if I’ve been tossed around by fate with little agency in the matter. Cancer dictates one thing, and the doctors weave their magic in defiance of it. In between, there is me, doing my best to keep my head above water and a positive mindset. Now I can take responsibility.

After surgery last week, much of the pain I felt has gone away, and there’s been a slight improvement in function. More will come, but there’s probably a hard limit. What I can’t push through, I’ll have to workaround. Ultimately, I’m determined to live life on my terms. That means travelling again and women once more and living the pleasant social life I had before. It means a lot more too, but we’ll come to that.

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