This post was originally published on Cancer Owl.
It started with my second night in the hospital after my first surgery, which cut out the cancerous tumor completely, re-sectioned my colon and fitted me with an ostomy bag. My whole abdomen was fresh with stapled wounds, and I looked like I got into a nasty knife fight. I was encouraged to get up and walk as soon as possible—day one was such a challenge. I nearly fainted my first attempts. I was able to walk a lap, or two, but that was it. If anything, I was behind in my recovery until night #2.
The second night was pure hell. I shared a room with an elderly man who just discovered he had cancer. He wasn't doing well, and he was coughing and gagging all night. As for me, I began hiccupping. And the hiccups came hard and furious… I couldn't stop. Each hiccup made my whole abdominal area feel as if it was ripping apart, and it worsened as it went. The pain was blinding. The hiccups wouldn't stop for at least another 3 hours.
I rolled in my bed, sweating, high off oxy and tormented by the gagging sounds next to me. I asked the night staff to rehook my equipment to the stand so I could walk. The nurse walked with me for a lap and I told her I would take it from there. The most I did previously was about 3 laps. That night, I walked for about 2 hours (best I can recall). And I'm certain I agitated the night crew, walking in the dead of night, hiccupping over and over. My God, the hiccupping was painful. But I kept walking, and walking, and walking. Until the hiccups quit. The gas I was filled with from surgery finally released, and close to 5am I went to bed.
The next day I was reborn. It's hard to put it into words, but I felt so much better. My recovery happened swiftly after that, and now with the cancer removed and a sheer night of hell, I suddenly came to life. After eating a big breakfast, I grabbed my sketchbook and I drew this:
Just then I remembered the encouragement from my therapist to begin art journaling my experience with colon cancer. The first thing to come up was a cute little owl with a cheesy slogan:
And this was the birth of Cancer Owl. Drawing this started off my new life, rebirth. A celebration. That little owl felt like a gift entrusted to me, and it just felt so amazing.
Suffering in this life is inevitable, and when you're told you have cancer, you will probably suffer in one way or another. I've learned that it matters what you do in the suffering. And what you choose to do is completely up to you.
This isn't meant to be a guide to success when diagnosed with cancer, because each experience is so individual and unique. I can only speak for myself, so take from it what you will. But in the middle of hell, I chose to get up and walk, and it made all the difference.