Thursday, November 18, 2010

DECEMBER 29, 1995

It was a year of catastrophic events for me, so while I was preparing for my first very own - hopefully - lifesaving operation for cancer, I tried to prepare.   I tried to memorize this quote by Marcus Aurelius,

"As for pain, a pain that is intolerable carries us off, but that which lasts a long time is bearable, the mind maintains it's own tranquility by entering into itself, and the ruling faculty is not injured.  If you are pained by any external thing, it is not this thing which disturbs you, but your own judgement about it."

Yup, that's all well and good until you are consumed by an enormous controlled trauma like abdominal surgery.  The notebook I brought with me tells an altogether different story of consuming physical pain, combined with morphine... 

They call the day of the operation DAY ZERO.  If one survives, the next day is DAY ONE.  By DAY THREE I had not only watched the First Night New Year fireworks from my bed in a drug induced haze,  I had listened to a woman die across the hall from me, been awakened by the PA every time a doctor or nurse was needed somewhere in the hospital, my doctor - sweetheart that he was - had snuck in a cup of coffee with cream and sugar (absolutely VERBOTEN!), and my friend who was to drive me home on DAY TWELVE said there was an enormous snow storm due in on DAY FOUR.  

I told my doctor I needed to go home. They removed the large metal staples holding my abdominal cavity closed, replaced them with superglue and surgical tape, gave me a pillow to hold onto for the forty-five mile trip home, and wheeled me and my catheter out to the curb. 

THANK YOU RONALD MCDONALD HOUSE in Providence R.I. for the hospitality provided to my friend who came to be with me every waking moment.]

The next few weeks would be interesting.  Four hours after arriving home a nurse from my doctor's office called to make sure I had made it and was OK.  " I hear water running in the background, were you taking a shower? Should I call back? " she asked.    "No, I am cleaning my oven, its OK."  That's when they started calling me their miracle patient.   I spent a lot of time looking like I was nine months pregnant and ready to pop due to the swelling.  I owned no sweatpants so I rolled around the house with my jeans undone and covered with shirts.  My son dragged wood in and I sat in my sister's chair throwing logs into the old, non-air-tight Franklin.

January 1996

I tried to think of spring and did some really incredibly lame mediocre watercolors in my notebook.

My dad sent me funny pictures of himself in his Santa hat with one of his fellow Veteran friends volunteering to ring the bell for the Salvation Army.

In February I went to a wedding my daughter was a bridesmaid in, fueled by vicodin and slouching, it helped keep the pain somewhat at bay,  and ran into my surgeon at a basketball game in Providence in March.

My daughter is actually holding me up in this, notice her shoulder stratigically placed IN my back.

Thank You John A. E. Mattson, for taking me to the game, and running out during overtime to fetch more Pepsi.

At last I would return to work, flowers arrived...

A minor celebration, complete with fake champagne...

My partner of twelve years and I.

By the time spring and summer rolled around, I would be amazed at the journey I had gone through, one that was controlled by levels of pain, diminishing over time to be sure, but pain none the less.  It became obvious in years to follow, just how controlling that pain had been when I look at the photos of me, and the ones I took that summer.

Impossible to sit on hard chairs, still is, I sit on my feet.  I'm told it's common after abdominal surgeries.

Finding Peace in my surroundings.

My son humored me and took me for a ride in my sister's car he had inherited,

 to my favorite place, Pickery Place in Mason N.H.

I might add my kids were loving the pictures. They had always wanted to be as tall as me, if not taller.  My mother, had been mortified by the heights my sister and I attained.   [After we surpassed her 5'7" frame, she refused to be seen with us,  handing us the charge cards. "Go get your school clothes..."  oh, and  "How's the weather up there..."]    I have been six feet since I was about nineteen.  I was slouching right down to about five seven due to chronic pain, so they actually looked taller than me.

By the end of the summer I was back in the pool, getting ready for my diving vacation in Hawaii that coming  January.

So now, on the fifteenth aniversery of that adventure, I once again renew my vow to continue volunteering, helping others whenever I can, and by surviving, reasuring others there truly is hope.  In celebration, I am driving to my favorite seafood joint on the shore to have lobster, and their incredible lobster bisque.

And remember, no matter what befalls you in this unpredicable life, there is power in the mind, believe in it, and mind over matter will triumph.


  1. What a wonderful story of recovery. And the pictures put me right there with you. Happy anniversary, and you sure do look wonderful!! And thank you for sharing this inspirational story for those who are still in pain and suffering...

  2. Thanks for sharing your powerful story, and congrats on the 15 years since in helping to make the world a better place.

  3. DJAN - It is truly my hope that my story will reach those still enduring their own journeys, and though they suffer as individuals, they are not alone in the adventure.
    My doctors not only kept track of my physical recovery, but observed my mental state from DAY ONE. Later they would tell me I scored high on the 'Eyeliner" scale! The sooner one puts on make-up after the surgery, the better the attitude.

    I posted this early as I am attempting to get ready for the holidays, with daily diminishing hope of finding the Christmas boxes in the basement! I continue to unpack, the pile of things to unload on my daughter grows on an hourly basis..... :}

  4. Hi Joni! Happy anniversary, Sweetie. What a truly inspiring story. You have such a good attitude...a lot like my mom...Oh, I wish I was tall like you. (I'm 5'3", but I feel taller)... and you're so gorgeous, you should have been a model! Loved the photos of your adorable kids, your dad, and your partner too...and especially the last one of you swimming! I wish you many more happy anniversaries, and lobster dinners! xo Paulette :)

  5. Wow!
    What a fantastic and uplifting story!
    You are to be congratulated and admired...
    Best and most moving post I've read in while.

  6. Congratulations:)) Thankyou for sharing your story with us, (me) I think your trip is encouraging and inspiring.. To be honest I needed it today... YOU were meant to stop by my blog.. One day at a time dear Lord.........
    Hugs pat in tas :))

  7. I needed to hear that story today. You are a beautiful spirit. Thank you!!

  8. You are so right. How we choose to act or react is the key.

  9. Aloha, Joni. I have not been able to comment for the longest time because of a glitch in blogspot. I even emailed you about it, but apparently you did not read it.

    Please consider installing ID/URL and ANONYMOUS as options. That way I can leave a comment if the other options fail.