How I Learned to Cope With My New Normal After My Cancer Surgery

Leaving the hospital was daunting, but returning home made me grateful for the little things.

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By hxdbzxy/ Shutterstock
By hxdbzxy/ Shutterstock

Often there is a sense of euphoria once we get to go home after major surgery. I know that finally getting released from the hospital after my Whipple surgery for pancreatic cancer in February 2015 made me ecstatic with anticipation. However, I was not fully prepared for everything I faced upon returning home. But, I learned fast.

When I got back home, I was incredibly weak and emaciated. And though I would soon embark on a chemotherapy regimen, I had to get much stronger first.

Again, I had no idea about the intensity of the upcoming chemotherapy, its possible side effects, and its impact on my overall energy level. For someone who was well educated and was supposed to be so smart, I sure was oblivious about too many issues having to do with my own health.

I think that’s true of a lot of us. We often face things when they happen, not before then. That’s not a particularly good approach. That is how I acted when I learned that I was a diabetic. Over time, I found out all the right things to do, through a lot of trial and error.

I now had to not just get stronger, but also begin to adjust to my new-post surgery life. This meant changing my diet, eating in smaller portions, adapting to a revamped medication schedule, finding out what types of exercise were best, adjusting my teaching style, and so on. For example, I found that I needed to sit rather than stand much more often.

For the first couple of weeks, I received the services of an in-home nurse and at-home physical therapist. They were very nice and quite helpful. I got tips on food/diet and eating properly. I learned some simple exercises to help stretch me out. Bending over was a chore. As was doing toe touches.

Happily, I was finally cleared to take regular showers – without baggies or Saran Wrap. Unless you can’t shower unencumbered for a few weeks, you don’t realize how big a deal that is. Of course, my wife Linda was there to help me get in and out of the shower.

Aside: Upon leaving the hospital, I “borrowed” several pairs of hospital socks. They are very comfortable and slip-proof when walking around without my shoes or slippers.

I was able to see a number of my good friends and colleagues, who all helped cheer me up and motivate me. Thank you!

But one real downer occurred the afternoon that my friend James visited me around lunch time. He drove about 45 minutes to get to my house. Shortly after he arrived, I started throwing up like crazy, which of course made me extremely dizzy. I took a couple of antacid pills and had to apologize to James for asking him to leave less than 30 minutes after he arrived. That bothered me since he went out of his way to be there for me.

At that point, I went to lie down, figuring that the nausea and vomiting would stop. And that the incident would blow over. I had been nauseous a lot post-surgery. Boy was I wrong.

A couple of hours later, I had to ask Linda to drive me to the hospital to get checked out. It was not a fun ride, given the way I was feeling. At the hospital, they did a number of blood tests as well as a CT-scan. I thought they would then give me some meds and send me home. Wrong again. [Do you sense a pattern here? Lesson: Let the doctors diagnose and treat. Let the patients follow those instructions.] It turned out that I had gotten ulcerative colitis – another term I had to have explained to me. This hospital stay was 4 days; and I was sent home with a ton of instructions and other meds. No more details needed here. It was another l-o-n-g day when I was discharged from the hospital. But I was again very happy to get home.

But here I am in April 2019. Enjoying my life and being thankful every day.

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