As I sit here, overlooking the valley below the medieval town of Spello, I’m amazed at what we’ve seen and experienced in the past week.
We arrived in Italy a week ago today, just about this hour. Since then, we’ve dodged high tide on the streets of Venice, gazed in awe at massive mosaics dedicated to the Virgin Mary and (what seemed like) hundreds of saints, studied the evolution of glassmaking, dodged the people selling knock-off designer handbags, driven on tiny, twisty mountain roads that only barely fit two cars going in opposite directions, huffed up and scrambled down countless ancient cobblestone roads, enjoyed about 20 cappuccinos each, eaten far too many croissants stuffed with apricot jam and at least 12 types of pasta, squeezed REALLY ancient rocks through our toes on a fine sand beach along the Adriatic, stepped on paths crossed by knights and ladies of court, and seen views whose beauty can only truly be understood in person.
Today is October 6, 2016. Five years ago on this day, I was recovering from the physical trauma of pelvic radiation, preparing for my second surgery. This one, unlike the first exploratory procedure I’d had 5 months prior, would clear out all the uterine leiomyosarcoma that might yet be lingering in my body. Although this was based only on my surgeon’s hunch, there was a chance I’d wake up not only without my entire reproductive machinery, but also missing a piece of my rectum. The deal was, he’d check my rectum during the hysterectomy and bilateral salpingoophorectomy to see if it had any malignant tissue. If so, he planned to remove the cancerous section, leading to yet another procedure, an ileostomy, that would bypass my small intestine to allow the rectum to heal for about three months.
Of course, we know how this story ends. He found cancer on the rectum, removed it, did the ileostomy, and saved my life. The next three months of my life–and the lives of those closest to me–were hell. But we made it.
We all lived this together, you and I, but it sometimes seems like a horrible movie I once watched. I can go hours without having any reason to think of this experience, even obliquely. But I can’t go a full day, because there are too many physical and emotional reminders. Still, the full trauma hits me only rarely these days. Thankfully.
So, I return to this moment, in which I’m surrounded by physical, emotional, and although it’s not my thing, spiritual testaments to survival. The unparalleled gifts of prayers and a dream vacation from my cancer YaYas, our huge community of family and friends. A rich, fertile valley before me, filled with dark brown earth, verdant countryside, buildings in shades of tan to peach with salmon-colored clay roof tiles. An ancient building behind me constructed of hand-hewn rock. My love beside me, ready to protect me at all costs (regardless of what a PIA he can be in the course of that protection).
I am bursting with gratitude.