The Day I Thought I Would Die (But Didn't)
© Copyright 2018 by Judy Parker
February 23, 2015 , the last day of my life. The last day of my life , cleaning baseboards , chopping celery and tossing out Nutella . All this in preparation for tomorrow when I go in for surgery. Surgery I will not survive. I know, I know, very self centered making it all about me. Not thinking about the family I am about to leave behind. I’ve found myself more concerned about what people will say when they come to our house after the memorial service at the end of the week. Was she a good mother? ( whaaat?? the french eat Nutella ) Did she keep a clean house? ( mmm...no but she did buy supplies) Did she volunteer for political events or school field trips? (not really but she did bring oranges once to a little league game even though her son was INTENTIONALLY left off the roster) Did she hold grudges ? Not at all (except little league). Here it is, the day before surgery, the day before I take my last breath and like everything else in my life I’ve procrastinated and left it till the last minute to take care of loose ends. I have no handbook for this , self help books have guided me through all the milestones along the way, there is no book with a to do list for those living their last day, My collection of self help books has served me well beginning with reading advice columns in True Confession magazines as a 12 year old in the public library. Only here I am navigating this by myself, in secret, no one but me knows I won't survive the surgery To the outside world I am just another middle aged lady going in for surgery , another dumb de dum hysterectomy, it’s so uneventful that it’s almost even a thing, I mean Angelina Jolie is having one , it’s like we’re twins. ( if you squint and take off about 70 pounds and add collar bones, ok maybe not twins )
A few weeks earlier I had a biopsy , wasn’t feeling right, no appetite. NO APPETITE. I had read about this but didn’t think it actually existed , I could always eat, hungry or not and now the sight of everything was offensive. When the test results came back I was at a social work home visit , in my car outside a trailer in the Catskills. I returned a call to my Doctor the only words I heard were “this number indicates higher chance of ovarian cancer” . In front of the trailer , the christmas lights on and gnome statues grinning at me I was paralyzed, I did not have a moment of bravery , just pure terror as I stared into the abyss. I’d like to say I turned on my car and a beautiful Cat Steven’s song came on, but no, it was public radio fund drive, Alan Charlock’s voice chatting away promising a canvas tote bag . Three weeks later here I am, cleaning, preparing, “One less egg to fry” playing, the day before my surgery. A peace has come over me because I have come to see that I won’t the survive operation ( I read all that can go wrong on a late night web md session and trust me its a lot ) Therefore no need to worry about dealing with the Ovarian cancer treatment. Simple, just clean the house, put healthy food in fridge and throw out journals. I had kept journals from age 8 all the way through my twenties. A life documented , not quite Virginia Wolfe prose , “Paul took pictures of Denise’s legs. ( written at a sleep away camp in the Adirondacks -age 10 ) “I hate rope climbing, I mean hate it”. ( from middle school) “Today got a new pair of painter pants , they look good “ “I really like John" ( high school literary gems) “ I went to Thor’s dorm room ” ( 1980 hazy memory accompanied by beer in a plastic cup ) These had to go, I could not leave a legacy to my children that I was boy crazy girl . I suppose I could have added some things and enhanced my image as a more politically involved young girl coming of age, with "No nukes” postings and literary quotes from Willa Cather (would have to cross out song quotes from “Bread") The risk of being discovered and labeled a fraud was too high. Into a garbage bag they went, into the giant plastic blue trash container, destined for a landfill on the other side of the Hudson river the following day.
I am on the stretcher in the pre- op room. One last thing to do , one that will require more courage then anything so far. ( cue trumpet ) That is to deactivate my Facebook account. I bring up section to deactivate , my husband on his kindle beside me, oblivious like everyone else to my impending death, I’ve opted to keep it to myself, thinking I won’t survive surgery has become easier then thinking I might have ovarian cancer . I manage to connect myself to Obama through this, because if his wonderful mother had it and I do as well, well, maybe in a way it’s as if I am just like Barack Obama’s mother .( Barack and I are the same age but that is irrelevant for my story) She seemed to be an amazing woman and after all her son became president , so I found it oddly comforting to share a diagnosis with her. When my mother was in her final months it was at the same time as Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and I had used a similar coping strategy, in my mind I may as well have been Caroline and my younger brother John John. That was the past and now with the task at hand I begin. Facebook does not want me to leave . “Eleanor Rigby will miss you “ Eleanor Rigby is my friend’s dog with her own Facebook page . Still, I power through all the people that will miss me and deactivate my account. Being wheeled down the hall , I reach out to say goodbye to my husband , I want it to be like in movies where he says ”see you on the other side” blowing kisses etc, but he doesn’t know this is our final goodbye , so our farewell includes a peck on the cheek and a slurp of coffee . I continue being pushed down the hall weaving in and out, above me the bright lights, we turn a corner and my surgeon appears and winks. It must be a “no worries” wink . ( or is it a flirtatious wink ? or a so long sucker wink? ) In my own head a little soft jazz plays as he disappears behind a door. We meander towards the operating room and I start to think about all the people before me who have been sick that have passed, and just how heartbreaking it is to let go in life, to say goodbye , the details suddenly seem big, strawberry rhubarb jam on toast, Neil diamond songs, finding a seat in a movie theater. I think of my sweet mother and how I entertained her with Linda Richmond imitations “Judy your like buttah” and she would laugh. It’s all so big and at the same time so ordinary. My final thought before everything went blank was , ”If they play music in surgery please let it be Alan Cumming singing “Willkommen…! And bienvenue! Welcome”...
I wake up, Im alive, I didn’t die. Later that night in the hospital room I wake up again , a dinner tray in front of me, a halo over the vanilla pudding. I fumble around for my phone, drugged I re open Facebook and in a painkiller fueled post write something about being grateful for being alive and the beautiful sight of vanilla pudding. I drift off again , later around 4 I awake in the morning and find my phone, see I’ve gotten over 50 likes, a record. I may as well have won the academy award. This is where I should end my story, but there is one more part. A few weeks later , after a recovery that includes binge watching “Pretty Little Liars” and a percocet induced phone shopping spree where I order several pairs of shoes including a red pair I return to the Doctor. Ovarian cancer diagnosis aka the “silent killer” is confirmed, but it was stage one, no spreading at all, no radiation needed, no chemo, nothing, its all gone. I am not sure how I won this lottery , this golden ticket, this grand prize but I did and I almost feel like a cheater, like I am not really a survivor and that if I do join the Relay for Life I am kind of an imposter because I had no hardship . ( except cleaning the baseboards) . I want to put a bumper sticker on my car that says “If you lose your appetite and there is no explanation just get it checked out’ but that would be weird, so instead, I am writing my story and hoping maybe it helps someone else to be as lucky as I was. Scratch that, as lucky as I am.