Every so often, usually when I am falling asleep, waking up, or lying on the table getting acupuncture, half-conscious, I am gripped by a feeling of pure, unadulterated incredulity about the fact of my cancer. More specifically, I think about the fact that my body was cut open and organs ripped out of me, and I just can’t fucking believe it. It’s insane. I look at the scar on my belly every day – sometimes I even run my finger along it as I lay in bed at night, reading. It doesn’t bother me, or gross me out. I am totally used to it. I can’t even remember what my abdomen used to look like before my surgeries.
But that’s not when I think about being sliced open. Which makes sense, I guess; I can’t really hold the notion of what my body went through during every conscious moment. It would drive me completely mental. Instead, when my guard is down, when I am in that fuzzy in-between state, I get in touch with this particular species of violence which cancer inflicted on my body. (Chemo, of course, being an altogether different kind of nightmare.)
Last night I dreamed about being cut open again, but it wasn’t because I had cancer or for more surgery. It was some kind of regular “check-up” – but for some reason my onc (a tall, Aryan-looking man – definitely not my actual oncologist) said I he was going to need to reopen my incision. Let’s just say I went a bit nuts when faced with this information. Luckily, I woke up before he could sharpen his scalpel and start cutting.
I remember an acupuncture treatment last winter, when I was still feeling raw – REALLY raw, as in, I hadn’t yet developed my close personal relationship with Zoloft. My dear friend who treats me decided to place some needles on my belly. She inserted them, and I immediately felt this shudder of terror pass through me. In that instant I was right back on the operating table, waiting to be cut. I saw myself from above, imagined my abdomen spread open, my internal organs laid bare, and the cancer growing on my ovary. I pictured hands reaching into me, surgical instruments prodding me. And the tears just rolled down my cheeks as I lay there on the table.
People have surgery all the time, I know. My trauma is no more or less significant than anyone else’s. But the brutality of it all, of that particular part of my cancer experience, never ceases to amaze me.