By Hank Lech
When I was
diagnosed with chordoma in my C2 vertebrae, my first reaction was "This is a
mistake, I can't have cancer. The x-rays, biopsies and doctors are wrong."
I was the one who
was at the gym six days a week doing cardio and lifting weights. I was taking my
daughter to Rome and on a cruise in three weeks. I cried, worried, prayed and
was mad as hell. I vowed that cancer would not win.
consultation at MD Anderson, I learned that life would be turned upside down
and I began to hear about a "new normal." I heard about tracheas, peg and NG
feeding tubes, drains, and rods and screws that would hold on my head. To top
it off, I'd need two surgeries -- one to get part of the vertebrae out of my back,
and another in which my jaw would be split and mouth opened wide enough to
retrieve the rest of the chordoma.
I learned I might
not be able to eat, talk or swallow for a quite a while, if ever. I worried
that I would come out of the hospital looking like Hankenstein.
I joked with the
doctors, my daughter, family and friends to put my mind at ease. I threw a
pre-op dinner with a cancer surgery theme. I tried to have a positive attitude.
But I was becoming angrier each day.
After chordoma treatment: Anger over my "new normal"
I made it through
two 10-plus-hour surgeries. After the second surgery, the anger really hit. There
were things that I was unable to do. I looked like hell, couldn't speak, eat or
shower, and I was hooked up to so many tubes. My sister, who was there to help
and support me, took the brunt of my anger. Even though I couldn't talk, people
knew I was angry.
I expressed anger to
the staff and was so angry with one discharge nurse that I ran away. One of the
physical therapists found me. She helped me walk that anger out. But the anger
Back home in Florida,
I had to rely on people to assist me. My incisions were getting infected, and I
still had to deal with the peg feeding tube. I wasn't able to work out. Food
didn't taste right, I had trouble forming words, my tongue felt odd and I grew tired
I did not sign up
for this. I wanted to be back to "normal," not this "new normal." I took out my
frustration on my daughter and her mother, who were both so helpful. The smallest
of things set me off.
One day, grease
splashed and burned me while I was cooking. I screamed, cursed, punched a wall
and began to cry. I'd had enough. I couldn't win, and I didn't want to play
As I regained my
composure, my hand began to swell and I phoned my daughter to take me to the
ER. I found out that I had broken my hand. I was too ashamed to admit exactly
how I'd injured my hand.
My anger came to a
head one day with my ex-wife. She recognized that I had anger issues and urged
me to talk with someone.
She was correct. I
needed to speak with someone -- and quickly.
The importance of acceptance and talking it out after
I made an
appointment with a professional and unloaded all of my fears and frustrations. The
issues, the pain, the changes and the anger were put into his lap.
I found out that
what I was going through was normal and not "the new normal." What was not
normal was the way I was handling it.
Learning to accept
what I'd been through and talking it out was the key to a full and healthy
recovery. I began to work on my new post-chordoma normal, spending more time at
the gym. Working out as best I could and walking helped relieve my anger.
I spent more time
with friends and focused on my faith, which had helped me through my surgeries.
When my sister mentioned that I was so much calmer than a year earlier, I
realized that I was making progress.
Emotional and spiritual healing from cancer
Cancer brings out so
many different emotions, which need to be recognized, talked about and shared.
I wish I would have spoken
with MD Anderson's Patient Services when I was there. Being a social worker and former
hospital chaplain, I should have realized I needed help.
We cancer patients
need to remember that though the physical healing we go through is tough, we
also require emotional and spiritual healing -- and there are those who can