It is 5:23 on a mid-November Saturday morning in 2016, and I find myself wondering the unanswerable inquiry: “what is the purpose of life?” Yes, I am only 25. What could possibly have me tossing and turning all night searching for this answer like it is hidden somewhere under the sheets?
It is something we take for granted and we honestly only think about it when it suddenly and unexpectedly goes to shit. At this moment I am slapping myself in the face, wondering why I didn’t care about it earlier. And then I stop and realize that I did, but no one listened (more later).
It is 19 hours after my consultation with a surgeon in southern Ontario. Stupidly, I went to the consultation alone. But I believed so strongly everything would come out in the wash and it would be okay. It wasn’t.
It is a hard feeling to describe in that moment when your surgeon’s first words to you are, “you are here alone?” and “do you understand the gravity of your health?” My tongue was dry. Sure, I was in denial, but I knew. It was nagging at me for the last few weeks while I waited for the consultation appointment.
It was 30 minutes of chaos – there was no other word for it. I cried, I rolled my eyes, I laughed, I almost fainted and had to lie down, I was cocky and I was scared. I felt like it was all a terrible dream and joked around (my feeble coping mechanism of course). I admitted that I lived a pretty safe life – I didn’t take any risks [Thinking about it, I realize the greatest risk was the stupid decision to snowboard without a helmet]. I never failed a test, I was never reckless (I never had unsafe sex, I never got pregnant, I never smoked or did drugs), and I never disobeyed my parents. It was only normal to feel a sudden overwhelming sense of pity for myself, cursing the world with a resounding “Why me?” Yet, this is another burdening question that lacks an answer, and I still refuse to ponder on it any further.
I received the initial colonoscopy report from my surgeon and noticed it said there was a biopsy taken. But I remember I was told from the Endoscopist that he did not take any biopsies because a surgery was required. Red flags were everywhere. I sought hope in the possibility that this was not my report, that it was someone else’s. The report was obscure, it did not disclose the amount of polyps or where they were specifically: were they clumped in one area, or were they vastly throughout? I asked my surgeon all these questions, and he agreed another colonoscopy would be advised.
My surgeon told me that the operation would be to prevent cancer. He said that those with Gardner Syndrome will be 100% likely to have cancer at the age of 40. The odds were bleak. He explained that from this report there was no indication of cancer present, however, he could not say anything more about the large polyps in my colon. He explained that there is no way to visually tell if a large polyp has cancer because they are so deep. He then proceeded to explain my options, from the Illeostomy to the J-Pouch. He told me that the J-Pouch may be a more attractive option because I am so young. In other words, you will not have an external pouch and it will be inside you instead. I took the words from his mouth, “I would have a better self-image.” And he agreed in silence. He talked about my colon and my rectum like a recovery mission, to see what they could salvage, or if there was anything to salvage.
It was clear I had a big decision ahead of me:
1) do nothing, get cancer and die
2) get the ileostomy and live with that
3) get the ileo-anal reservoir (aka the J-pouch) instead
These following words from my surgeon remained with me, “Whatever decision you make, you will live an almost normal life.”
This was where I nearly fainted. Suddenly my seemingly healthy, relatively fit, body was failing me.
During the few weeks between my colonoscopy and the consultation with the surgeon, I was optimistic and shrugged it aside as something that would be taken care of. But now, after this meeting, I was devastated. My surgeon almost cried while I momentarily freaked out, and he collected himself as he patted my knee.
My surgeon advised that I go to Mount Sinai for genetic testing, genetic counseling, and for the operation. He admitted that Mount Sinai Hospital is the best place for everything about the colon, and he was optimistic. I accepted that.
I left the office and hated that I was away from home, from my family. I left Nova Scotia and moved to Ontario in the latter months of 2015. I dreamed of Nova Scotia and climbing into my red Ford Escape and taking off for the day on the rugged, windy roads. But here I was walking down a godforsaken street to get the bus. My eyes were red and my throat was sore from the loud scream that emitted from me. I calmed myself down and returned to work like nothing happened.
What would get me through the next few months while I await my appointment with a surgeon at Mount Sinai?
Denial and ignorance.