Six months and counting.
Six months to the day since I had my last back surgery. Six months since my back was opened up, again, and I regained a feeling in my right leg again beyond pain. And six months of recovery.
Look, I'm not going to pretend that it's been the easiest six months. This frustratingly paced recovery that seems to happen in fits and starts intermixed with pain and fatigue ended up being paired with the last months of life of both my Uncle, Rick Leswick, and my father. They died within weeks of each other, bookending the Christmas/New Years period. I'm thankful that I was able to share at least some of their respective lives, and that when death finally came for them they were left no longer in the pain or suffering that both experienced intermittently during their last months.
Cancer is a horrible beast of a thing. In some ways when it's clear that your loved one is not going to be able to overcome cancer's cruel joke of turning your own body against you it's almost preferable to know that your loved one's no longer in pain or suffering than simply waiting with them for their body's systems to finally give out. Waiting. Having to see every day as a fight. Celebrating the small victories of achieving goals and milestones with the knowledge that they all take place against the backdrop of your loved one's looming mortality. Being powerless to prevent it, and in the very end being filled with uncertainty as to whether you want your loved one to keep fighting on against the pain and suffering, or give up and slip away. Cancer puts everyone it touches through the ringer, no matter how prepared you may think you are for it.
I'm breaking one of my cardinal rules here for writing onlinein this post -- don't write about family -- but I can't think about how to do this SITREP (Situation Report for non-military jargon speaking readers) without doing so. This probably won't be a one-off, but it's still going to be a rare occurrence.
But whatever, onwards and upwards. Now where was I before i got side-tracked?
On yes, recovery. It's going... well, it's going. I'm trying to put a positive spin on it -- my last back surgery took eight months until I was back to full-time work and I'm only in month six now with this recovery -- but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't proving to be very frustrating. I have a great medical team working to get me back up to full strength ("back up"? Leave it!), and they've designed a program of gradual reintegration into work so that I'm able to return without triggering a possible set-back or set up the likelihood of a fourth back surgery.
The thing is, work is basically what I know. I'm not good with time off, I never have been. I don't really know how to do it, if that makes any sense. Every logical argument and study I know says that it's necessary and I do believe in the whole 'work-life balance' thing, I just have been woefully bad at figuring out what that actually looks like for me, and how to do it without feeling incredibly guilty about it. So this recovery has been a set of rituals every month since I first got back on my feet that consists of me pushing to go back to work on either a larger part-time and/or full-time basis, and my medical team looking at me like I'm crazy, stating an emphatic "no" and then bringing me back to reality. (Again with the back puns?) In doing so, I've had to face the realization that my body isn't super-human (a big let down from my childhood hopes) and, on a more serious note, that I may be dealing with sometimes debilitating pain for the rest of my life thanks to some particularly fun nerve damage. (Positive spin on things!)
In many ways it's not a question of pain going away, but rather how to best manage the (thankfully) lower level and type of pain I'm now left with post-surgery. Which has meant that this Security-Intelligence History Major is discovering the whole world of brain science and neuroplasticity! Working through my physiotherapy, along with psychotherapy, meditation work and other 'brain training'/re-wiring efforts, the goal is to try and transform those signals my brain currently is interpreting as pain in my leg and back to be interpreted as another sensation entirely (say water running over my foot -- a sensation that also occurred several times post-surgery). I don't exclude the possibility of this happening, but I also have read much about such transformative efforts and know that there's no guarantee this re-wiring will actually work. I remain hopeful, but I wouldn't be me if I wasn't also realistic about the possibilities as well.
So here I stand... or sit... or, well, lie down. Whatever. It's usually some combination of the three depending on time of day. The point is, six months out and I'm still standing. I'm looking forward to getting more involved at work (to the degree that I'm realistically able), and I'm hoping that whatever my pain situation, I can get back to a life that isn't solely viewed through a pain mask.
I tremendously appreciate all the good wishes and support that I've received over the last six months (and beyond that), especially during the incredibly difficult time during the loss of my Uncle Rick and my father. Pain, surgery and recovery can be an incredibly isolating thing, and knowing that there are people who still are thinking about you and care about your well-being.
I will bounce back, that I promise you. But until then, thank you for everything. It reminds me just how lucky I am, bum leg and all.