When I wasdiagnosed with chordoma in my C2 vertebrae, my first reaction was "This is a mistake, I can't have cancer. The x-rays, biopsies and doctors are wrong."
I was the one who was at the gym six days a week doing cardio and lifting weights. I was taking my daughter to Rome and on a cruise in three weeks. I cried, worried, prayed and was mad as hell. I vowed that cancer would not win. After my consultation at MD Anderson, I learned that life would be turned upside down and I began to hear about a "new normal." I heard about tracheas, peg and NGfeeding tubes, drains, and rods and screws that would hold on my head. To top it off, I'd need two surgeries -- one to get part of the vertebrae out of my back,and another in which my jaw would be split and mouth opened wide enough toretrieve the rest of the chordoma.
I learned I might not be able to eat, talk or swallow for a quite a while, if ever. I worried that I would come out of the hospital looking like Hankenstein. I joked with the doctors, my daughter, family and friends to put my mind at ease. I threw a pre-op dinner with a cancer surgery theme. I tried to have a positive attitude. But I was becoming angrier each day.
After chordoma treatment: Anger over my "new normal"
I made it through two 10-plus-hour surgeries. After the second surgery, the anger really hit. There were things that I was unable to do. I looked like hell, couldn't speak, eat or shower, and I was hooked up to so many tubes. My sister, who was there to helpand support me, took the brunt of my anger. Even though I couldn't talk, people knew I was angry.
I expressed anger tothe staff and was so angry with one discharge nurse that I ran away. One of the physical therapists found me. She helped me walk that anger out. But the anger always returned.
Back home in Florida, I had to rely on people to assist me. My incisions were getting infected, and I still had to deal with the peg feeding tube. I wasn't able to work out. Food didn't taste right, I had trouble forming words, my tongue felt odd and I grew tired easily.
I did not sign up for this. I wanted to be back to "normal," not this "new normal." I took out myfrustration on my daughter and her mother, who were both so helpful. The smallest of things set me off.
One day, grease splashed and burned me while I was cooking. I screamed, cursed, punched a wall and began to cry. I'd had enough. I couldn't win, and I didn't want to playanymore. As I regained my composure, my hand began to swell and I phoned my daughter to take me to the ER. I found out that I had broken my hand. I was too ashamed to admit exactly how I'd injured my hand.
My anger came to a head one day with my ex-wife. She recognized that I had anger issues and urged me to talk with someone. She was correct. I needed to speak with someone -- and quickly.
The importance of acceptance and talking it out aftercancer
I made an appointment with a professional and unloaded all of my fears and frustrations. The issues, the pain, the changes and the anger were put into his lap.
I found out that what I was going through was normal and not "the new normal." What was not normal was the way I was handling it.
Learning to accept what I'd been through and talking it out was the key to a full and healthyrecovery. I began to work on my new post-chordoma normal, spending more time atthe gym. Working out as best I could and walking helped relieve my anger.
I spent more time with friends and focused on my faith, which had helped me through my surgeries. When my sister mentioned that I was so much calmer than a year earlier, I realized that I was making progress.
Emotional and spiritual healing from cancer
Cancer brings out somany different emotions, which need to be recognized, talked about and shared.
I wish I would have spokenwith MD Anderson's Patient Services when I was there. Being a social worker and former hospital chaplain, I should have realized I needed help.
We cancer patientsneed to remember that though the physical healing we go through is tough, we also require emotional and spiritual healing -- and there are those who can help.