Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Each time I am about to have surgery, I make a solo sojourn into the mountains. I take no prisoners, no compadres. I have to do this alone. (Just like surgery.)

It's my attempt to quiet my chattering mind, but it also gives me a calming memory from which to draw upon during the various periods of anxious waiting, waiting, waiting that I experience on surgery day.

First, there's the waiting for water I cannot swallow because it's after midnight. Or the cup of joe I smell in the morning as my husband sips it while reading the paper before we leave. I am too nervous to focus on words.

Then there's the waiting in the passenger seat of our car as we drive to the hospital in the inky pre-dawn light...
Waiting after I've slipped into my surgical gown, hairnet and gripper socks (cafeteria lady comes to mind), and crammed my clothes into a plastic bag that Husband now carries around like a homeless man.

Waiting as the nurse peppers me with questions, preps me with a PIC line and presses for more medical info than I can possibly remember in the moment.

Waiting for the anesthesiologist so I can talk about my vomiting concerns (not that it matters).

Waiting for my plastic surgeon to arrive. He is almost always late. I listen as a nurse on the surgical staff calls him on his cell; I'm 10 minutes away, he says. (I know that's code for being 20 minutes away, 'cause you always halve the amount of time you think it will take to get anywhere, right?) But now I'm left waiting and wondering what happens if he gets into a car wreck. Yes, bad for him, but what happens to me? (What is it about going under the knife that makes one so self-focused, anyway?) You see, I'm prepped and PIC-lined and I don't want to go home and have to wait another month to get my implants. Can't bear even the thought. So I really hope he's not driving too fast. I send him good vibes.

Finally the good doctor arrives, impeccably dressed in his nice crisp suit. (Why does he dress up to get dressed down for surgery?) We chat briefly, then he scrambles off to scrub in. We've already lost half an hour; I've been waiting 19 months. Don't rush me now!

I sit waiting in a small chair in a corridor outside the OR. A good-looking guy is waiting in the chair next to me; he's having hernia surgery. (I shouldn't know this, but he's sitting right there and they ask him his own set of medical questions and I can't possibly not hear what he says. So much for HIPAA.) His anesthesiologist greets him with a wide smile, a breathy voice, a bounce in her step and flowing blonde hair. Are these actors? Because we could easily be on a movie set right now. My nurse swings by to walk me to the OR (as I mentioned here). I quick-kiss Husband, who is still holding my plastic hospital hobo bag.

I wait for my anesthesiologist. But I don't get the movie starlet; I get a lady who looks like she's been in the trenches a very long time. (That's good; that means experience, right?) I make small talk with the surgical nurses, asking if people ever talk while they are under (no), whether it's true they tape our eyelids shut (yes), if the nurses are as cold as I am right now (no). Then I tell them my words of the day: "natural" and "pretty" because that is how I want to look when Dr. C. is done. Natural and pretty. They laugh, but I get the sense they want me to stop talking.

A voice behind me tells me the substance she is injecting into my vein will feel cool. I feel nothing, and I say so. I remind them all about my words of the day: pretty and natural. Pretty natural. Then I see an oxygen mask hovering over my forehead, inching towards my nose. I'm told to breath in. I push the mask away. It feels suffocating. Don't put that thing on me! I am waiting — waiting for the relief of the drugs. Waiting for the moment when my world falls silent.

It's the silence I am after up on top of the mountain.

I first wrote of the power of post-BC hiking here. That's when I discovered the catharsis in a solo outing. And while I look forward to my pre-surgical hikes, it's the post-surgical sojourns that I enjoy even more. They make me feel powerful. They give me a semblance of my self back.

I always start out with a gentle walk on flat trails the first time I venture outside while in recovery mode. For that initial hike, I bring Husband with me. But there comes a day soon afterwards when I feel strong enough to go it alone, and I take to the hills with just my camera. This moment signals to me that I'm over the hump, that my healing is in full swing.

That day came again last week — two weeks after my exchange surgery. I went out around 10AM. I took the flat, easy trail, and I took my time. Joggers passed me. Moms chatting about their kids' teachers passed me. Guys on mountain bikes passed me. Women and men walking and running with dogs passed me.

It's hot and dry this time of year, so at first glance I'm not sure there is much vegetation here worth photographing. Everything looks so yellow and brown and dusty. But I know from experience that means I just have to look a little closer to find the beauty. So that's what I do. I stop at some dry brush, get up close to a solitary branch and voila... two love bugs doing what comes naturally come into focus. You never know what you'll find, you just have to be open and to know to look for it. 

A woman wobbles past me on a bike. She notices me squatting with my camera in hand on the dusty trail. "Finding anything special?" she asks. I look over my shoulder as she passes by and I smile.

"There's always something special. You just have to look for it," I call out to her.

"So true!" she replies as she rolls down the trail.

(All photos Copyright © 2012 The Big C and Me)
In the spirit of my blogging pal Marie's ongoing JBBC Celebrating the Ordinary Challenge, these photos are a smidgeon of what I shot while on my solo sojourn last week. I had to look hard for the beauty that day, but was pleasantly surprised when I downloaded my pictures. (I never know what I visually capture until I get home.) I hope you are inspired to get out and uncover some hidden gems in your own backyard!


  1. wow renn, great story, great pictures, great lesson, great woman.

  2. Renn, this is a stunningly poignant and beautiful post. The pictures are gorgeous. Your descriptions of pre surgery resonated with me. I have totally been there more times than I'd like to know, although with a different type of reconstruction.

    Your pictures are simply wonderful. Thank you for sharing. I don't hike, but I find solo walks very invigorating.

    1. Ah Beth, that is nice to hear. Solo hike or solo walk, it's all good! Thank you.

  3. You have managed to infuse such humor into such a poignant story....


    1. A sense of humor is a funny thing. I'm just thankful I haven't lost mine. (Yet.)

      You have a great sense of humor, AM! You use it well and wisely. I am glad we are comrades.


  4. Isn't it amazing that there is so much beauty all around us, we just have to look;)

    1. It's so true, Launna! It's all right there. We just have to notice.

  5. Renn, you've got me smiling and its a big one. your words are inspirational and your photo's are magic! I feel like I'm just now getting to know YOU and I really like YOU. isn't it great when we can express the small things that resonate in us, and spew out in a big way. (if that didn't make sense I blame the vicodin)

  6. Renn,
    This post is quite astonishing. Before I started chemo I read a quote that said something about not being alone in anything, and yet at the same time being completely alone in all things. Of course, now I can't recall it. I might have to go dig that one out! I love how you describe your solo sojourns. I hope you're taking lots of healing walks these days and that you're doing well. Great description of that pre-surgery waiting too. And the photos are wonderful as well. Keep healing well, my friend.


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