Here goes nothing. I bawled my eyes out while writing this.
I remember lying in that hospital bed, head fuzzy from the obscene amount of pain killers coursing through my body, just a few days post op from having two feet of my colon removed. My surgeon sat on my right, my mom in a chair at the foot of my hospital bed. Beeps and humming echoed in the background and quiet moans seeped through my roommates lips as she herself healed from some kind of painful surgery.
No amount of drugs could drown out the words that slipped from my doctors mouth moments later. I was slammed head first into my worst nightmare.
"Due to the infection Amanda, we are going to have to go back in, clean it out, leave you open to heal and..." he paused, hesitation filled the room as he prepared to confirm my biggest fear. "And you'll have to have a bag."
My body went limp. I was unable to speak yet silent screams reverberated throughout. I locked eyes with my mom and saw the fear spread across her face. Neither of us were any good at hiding how we were feeling. I closed my eyes as tears seeped up and slid down my cheeks.
I kept my eyes closed hoping that when I opened them, I'd find that I was only dreaming.
"For good? You mean, for...ever?" I whispered.
"Well, not exactly. Given that everything goes well and we are able to clean out the infection and give your pelvis and abdomen time to heal, it would be temporary. Anywhere from 3-6 months. But..." he paused, more hesitation. "As we have learned, nothing is certain Amanda."
Flashbacks to a year and a half earlier flooded my mind. I was driving home from dropping off a friend in Tacoma when my phone rang. I looked down to see my older brother, Tyler, on the other end. I flipped open my phone and brought it to my ear. "Hi Ty." I said.
"Hi Manda." He replied in his matter of fact tone. "So, I got my results and I have cancer. I have colon cancer actually."
My mouth went dry and my world momentarily dark. How did my twenty-six year old brother have colon cancer?
After we exchanged our words and hung up, I called my mom and cried into the phone as she explained everything in more detail.
"The worst case scenario Mandy, is that he would have surgery and will have to have a bag." She explained.
I gasped in horror. "You mean, like, he would have to poop in a bag for the rest of his life?" I cried out. "Mom, I...I just. I can't even. I mean, that is my absolute worst nightmare. I couldn't even survive if I had to have a bag!"
I laid in my hospital bed remembering that moment speaking with my mom and all I could manage to whisper out loud was, "Fuck."
A little while later they wheeled me down to surgery and when I woke, I momentarily forgot what had happened. Then everything flooded back. No longer could I use my bowels but rather, a 12" plastic bag hung from my stomach. I felt the PCA in my right hand and hit the button, falling back to sleep, giving myself more time before I had to face reality.
Those first few day were rough to say the least. When I did managed to get out of my bed to take a shower, my mom helped me undress out of my hospital gown and as it slipped from my frail, thin, battered and bruised body, I started sobbing when I saw the bag hanging from my once pristine, 6-pack lined stomach.
"Why me?" I screamed at my mom, "Why'd this happen to me?" My body shaking.
Snot and tears dripped down my face, landing in a pool on top of my hospital gown that was curled up on the floor. As if on que, part of my bag detached from my stomach and the contents, (fortunately I wasn't eating yet) started spilling out, accompanying the snot and tears below. What was already an emotional moment now became the darkest ten minute of my life. I wanted to kick and stream and throw myself on the floor but the pain from the 6-inch open wound down my stomach prevented me from moving at all without help from someone else. I wanted to hit someone, anyone, but I knew everyone was only trying to help. All I could do was allow the mess to drip down my body and cry deep, guttural and painful sobs as my mom frantically went for help.
"Why'd this happen to me?" I continued crying, screaming out to no one.
Moments later the bathroom door opened and I looked over my left shoulder, eyes swollen and caked with tears, sobs still slipping from my naked body. A young women stood in the doorway and the way the light was coming in through the window behind, made whoever was standing there look like an angel. Little did I know then, she was.
"Hi Amanda, I'm Kerri. Oh man, I'm so sorry. Here, let me help you." She comforted me with the most soothing tone.
There was something so calming about this nurse who came to my rescue. Instantly, I loved her. Intuitively I knew she was going to be apart of my life.
She helped me get cleaned up and dressed in a new hospital gown and situated back into my bed. She said she had heard of my situation and she was going to go see if she could do something about getting me a private room and she left.
A little while later she came in and wheeled me down the hall to my own private, corner suite.
Hotel Swedish we started calling it.
She came back every day for the whole duration of my stay (nine days total). She sat with me, she got to know my family and I and most of all, she treated me like a human who needed all the love and comfort in the world. Because I did. I owe this earth angel so much.
Fortunately for me, eleven years later, my older brother and this angel have a beautiful marriage and three amazing and wonderful kids together. And they are the loves of my life.
So, you just never know. You never know what great and amazing things may come from your worst nightmare.
Years later as I reflect back on that tragic moment in my life, I realize that it was all leading me somewhere. To where I am right now.
I remember those first few days home from the hospital I couldn't even touch my bag. My mom had to do everything for me. But overtime, as life went by, that bag became a part of me and when I went to have surgery to reverse the iliostomy a few months later, part of me was oddly sad. Not because I wanted to live with the bag for the rest of my life but because I had SURVIVED my worst fear and now I didn't know what to fear anymore.
Not only did I survive, but I thrived. I went back to work at the restaurant I had been at prior, not knowing how I would empty my bag in moments of chaos, but I figured it out. I continued dating the guy I had just started seeing right before I was diagnosed and he saw past the bag, he saw me and made me feel incredibly special and beautiful. My dad and I hiked my favorite trails to help me gain back my strength and I even went to the gym a few times. All with the bag.
All these fears I had were really just a figment of my imagination. I was stronger, I was more resilient, I could still do everything I loved. I looked at fear in the face...and I did it anyway.
I believe, with every ounce of my being, that we are given certain things in life because it is only us that can do something big and powerful with it. However, its up to us to find meaning and understanding of what that may be.
I know with every bone in my body, that I was given all these experiences with my body to help others regain a sense of power and strength in their own. I know that I went through my divorce and had to start my life over because I am supposed to help others who are walking similar paths.
You see, no matter what your tragedy is, no matter what is causing your suffering, you can and will get through it. I promise you that. But here is the most difficult part of it all; it is all up to you. You can stay tightly wrapped in the comfort of our victimhood and pity, or you can look it in the face, use those emotions, those feelings, that experience, to make the world a little brighter for others walking similar paths.
Don't get me wrong, each tragic moment in my life; my eating disorder, cancer, my family members going through cancer, my divorce, each one has brought with it a slew of emotions. Painful and haunting emotions. You have to work your process, PLEASE work your process and honor where you are at.
But at some point, and this is different for everyone, there comes a moment when you have to rise. You have say no more and look fear straight in the eyes. You can either stay on that path, riddled with anger and fear, doubt and despair or, you can life your head up and take daily steps to use what you've been given to change your life and the lives of others.
I can't tell you when that will happen but I can tell you it will. And when it does, you'll look back and realize that your tragedy...your tragedy was actually YOUR opportunity.