Friday, 8 January 2016

Cancer Diaries: Going Down the Yellow Brick Road

On Wednesday, my little cancer-fighting warrior Jennette Levett got the news that she was being sprung from the Ottawa Hospital after a grueling two weeks which involved an eight-hour surgery to remove the cancer, seven teeth and part of her jaw. She also had to endure a complicated procedure in which doctors took skin grafts from her arm and leg.

When it was all done, the surgery rocked her world. JLev looked like a fatigued Rocky Balboa, the prize-fighting wannabee before he started punching cows. There were tubes everywhere. She was a living breathing, beeping little machine with glassy eyes and a Howdy Doody grin, sewn shut.

Here she is the day after her surgery. Man, she's gonna kill me for this one.  The smartphone has made us all into mad paparazzi.

She spent two weeks breathing and trying to talk through a tracheotomy, with goo being suctioned out of her on a constant basis. Her arm looked like a skinned chicken thigh, and I can't even guess what her leg looked like.

Jennette couldn't talk, was stoned out of her tree on some very interesting drugs, and had to be fed through her nose. Her cheeks swelled up so she looked very much like a crazed Alvin the Chipmunk in a desperate search for his hoola-hoop.

Amazingly, it wasn't long before she started to look like herself. Really, you couldn't tell from her face that only a few days earlier docs had been bailing hay out of her gob; the only evidence appeared to be a necklace of stitches and a trach sticking out of her neck.

I can't say it was fun for her. The pain had to have been tough. I mean, I am crying to my husband if I accidentally chomp down on my tongue after a feed of chicken wings.

I can't even imagine where they put her tongue while they were operating.  Do they pin it like an up-do or use duct tape to tack it to her cheek? Then again, maybe it's best that remains a secret between the gob-cutters.

The operation was hard, but it was a small price to pay. The doctors saved her life by carving the cancer right out of her mouth. No chemo, no radiation. Jennette is a very lucky woman.

Within a week of her surgery, with the sutures out, she was beginning to look human again. Not only could she talk, we couldn't keep her quiet. She was ordering around the nurses a bit, and even threw the poor cafeteria lady out of her room when she presented her with a fine meal of Ensure and Carnation Instant Breakfast. You see, when you only have limited capacity for speech, the first things that go are "please and thank you!"

All in all, she was in great humor. After all, wasn't she Jack of Beanstalk fame, the little minion who felled the giant? I could almost detect a swagger in her step as she strolled bare-assed into the bathroom. Almost.

Then came the news she was going home, and that sent her into a tizzy.

"I'm scared," she wrote to me on her iPad. "I don't know how I'm going to look after myself."

By Wednesday night, there was no turning back. The witch was killed by the house, and she was walking along The Yellow Brick Road into an uncertain future. We arrived at the hospital, packed her up, thanked the nurses and stuffed her into her car for the five minute ride from the hospital to her apartment.

(It is my undying theory that a person can never be too close to a railway station, airport or hospital!)

And so her new chapter begins.

Because Jennette is a widow, living alone, she is being supported by the Going Home Program which helps people to readjust to their home circumstances. Already, we've been visited by a nurse who will come in every other day to change her bandages. And she will also get assistance with housework, bathing and transportation.

Meantime, I've become her personal assistant. I take calls from her entourage because she still has difficulty talking, and I greet all the nurses and personal support workers at the door. There are so many of them, she can't keep up with all the appointments. I'm also making her pureed food until she can make the adjustment to solid food, which will be another few weeks.

We had an appointment this morning, with a worker from the Going Home Program, and the phone was ringing off the hook.

"You're being surrounded by love, here, Jennette," I told her.

She grinned, and her eyes twinkled. She turned to the worker, who asked about her fabulous doctors, the ones who will always be heroes to us, the ones who wake up every few days and do this very same operation that saves so many lives.

"What's your doctor's name?" the worker asked.

"Dr. Yummy Pants," Jennette chortled.

She's back, I thought.

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