No matter the goal, everyone strives toward some idea of enough — a measurable something which grants some payoff for the effort: qualified enough to secure a coveted job; educated enough to act an authority on a matter; skilled enough to edge out the competition in a test of physical prowess.
In this quest, throughout life, we will all come up short. While some fail to achieve enough due to lack of commitment or effort, others are hindered by circumstance where, all else being equal, another was simply better suited; despite having made the most of one’s available opportunities, another had access to superior education, experiences, etc.
That inability to achieve enough due to what you cannot control is the harder loss to take.
Failing to be enough for someone else, particularly when the shortfall is something beyond one’s ability to directly change or improve upon, is crushing. That hurt, though, is a necessary part of life. Heartache is unavoidable, and heartbreak is inevitable. It’s part of how we grow emotionally and forge ever-stronger relationships.
When you’re hindered from moving beyond that sort of personal hurt, when the years normally spent exploring relationships – growing in both experience and confidence – are dedicated instead to basic survival, you’re faced with a gulf that cannot be easily bridged once life resumes.
However necessary the pause on one existence, the lives of others carry on. Opportunities expire, relationships cool, and a few who matter deeply will fall out of touch.
Though I wholeheartedly celebrate the milestones of my closest friends and family, I’m reminded daily of what I will not be and cannot offer. As a woman, I feel both inadequate and a failure, and can’t help but wonder — if I wasn’t ‘enough’ before things fell apart medically, how could I ever be enough now?
This has recently weighed on my mind and heart, but that I find cause to consider such matters is arguably a positive. It demonstrates just how far beyond mere day-to-day survival things have progressed, where I’m now at a point of mapping out some sort of future; considering the possibilities of three-, five-, ten-years down the road.
Medically, things are spectacular. Or at least, are as good as they can be. My weight is a solid 110 and holding steady, and if I regain another 10-or-so pounds over the coming year, wonderful. If not, though, this 110 is enough for my organs to remain healthy, which is key. I’ve settled firmly into my new forever way of eating which has allowed what remains of the gut to maximize digestion and absorption (see: that solid weight) and protect from further obstruction.
Though there is one band of adhesions (internal scar tissue) proving a constant challenge, chronic discomfort is all that’s come of it. And if that’s the way it remains, I can undoubtedly manage. Further intestinal surgery, should those adhesions cause me to obstruct, would be catastrophic. I can’t afford to lose more gut, and surgery only begets more adhesions.
A chronic discomfort is entirely fine.
In my last update, I mentioned a shifting discolouration around areas of my face which had become a persistent bother. Bringing a dermatologist on to my team proved a wise decision, as she was able to help properly diagnose the hyper-pigmentation, indeed caused by the endocrine abnormalities combined with the thyroid malfunction. It causes a sort of hyper-reactive pigment cell for which there’s no cure, but is entirely treatable.
For two months at a time, followed by a one month break, I apply a potent compound to the affected areas to break down the pigmentation, and over that I slather the strongest available sunscreen to prevent as much light from entering those cells as possible. This helps keep them dormant, as those cells are primed to flare and any UV penetration will trigger that reaction.
After the first three-month cycle of treatment, the areas of abnormally-darkened complexion were completely gone. It proved an incredible relief to know this nuisance will be so easily managed.
I had my final ENT follow-up, and my surgeon was quite pleased with the outcome of the tricky operation I wrote of last. That surgery ran a significant risk of me losing sensation (both feel and taste) on areas of my tongue or damaging key nerves. But all seems to work as it should, and there’s been no indication for need of any further treatment here.
There is, however, some lasting impact from that unexpectedly difficult experience. For whatever reason, the brain latched onto the taste and smell of the gas pumped through the mask just before IV anaesthetic is administered, and has since associated that distinct taste/odour with the collective hardships of that particular surgery and its immediate aftermath.
So when it emerged there was a significant setback in the Project Smile treatment, one requiring another aggressive surgery, what bothered me most (of all things) was having to deal with that gas.
Medical trauma presents itself in the strangest ways.
It was the summer months when an otherwise-routine scan – prompted by one just-treated tooth which, in the end, would require a root canal – revealed the main bone graft, the primary surgery which set the entire Project Smile treatment in motion, had failed unexpectedly.
There hadn’t been indication of a problem – no pain or discomfort – but for whatever reason, a good portion of the graft was resorbed by the body. That is, the large section of diseased bone which was replaced (and area rebuilt and solidified) has been broken down and absorbed. It’s something that can happen with grafts, but was not expected to happen here, or at least not to that extent.
It was a frustrating blindside.
My oral surgeon dedicated a great deal of time to reviewing my case and weighing the options of how best to proceed toward that proper, lasting and permanent fix, and in the end presented this way forward: He would open up the area, prepared to aggressively re-graft, repair, restructure and rebuild with the help of special synthetic material, but would only proceed if there was enough of the original graft remaining to build upon and work with.
If there was too much resorption of the area, as an MRI had suggested, he would remove the underlying implants and structures solidifying the area, close me up, and rebook to do a from-scratch re-graft, but would take bone generously from my hip.
We proceeded hoping for the best possible scenario but were both quite prepared for the worst. For once, though, surgical fortune was on my side.
There indeed remained just enough of the original graft for my surgeon to work with, so he was able to proceed as throughly and aggressively as hoped. The surgical team were prepared for the going-under difficulties, and they helped make it as smooth for me as they could.
Everything went incredibly well, and the latest post-op scan showed just what a tremendous success the surgery was. It bodes very well for the treatment outcome.
I’ll have another small procedure in February which we’re going to try without general anaesthetic. We’re prepared for my body to do its going-into-shock thing, but I’m determined to work it through because right now, having to smell and taste that gas is the bigger bother.
Pain, I can deal with.
In March, should all heal as hoped, the work over the graft can begin again, and come fall or winter of 2017, the entire Project Smile treatment should be complete — as will the overall recovery.
Meanwhile, the athletic rebuild and physical recovery continues to power along. My heart and lungs feel incredibly strong and respond without hesitation when I challenge them, and my body is muscular and increasingly powerful once again.
There remain restrictions — I’m bound by the gut in timing (there’s a window between two specific meals where it’s settled enough to be truly active) and must adhere to a limit in frequency/duration to ensure adequate rest for a body which no longer stands to benefit from going that extra mile.
But I make the most of the time I’m allowed, and it’s heartening to see results which reflect my efforts. In terms of ‘enough’, I am again enough here.
Physically, as an athlete, I am enough, and I’ll only continue to make gains. With sport, there’s never an end to advancement, there’s always room for improvement. And that steady, measurable progress is profoundly therapeutic.
To be physically frail is to be intensely vulnerable, and that sense of weakness – a complete and utter helplessness – is horrible. It’s how you feel when you’re dying, and how I feel in the recurring nightmares of varying states of emaciation and confrontations with death.
When I develop a fever or catch cold, where others can simply make some tea and toast and snuggle in on the couch, my brain immediately flashes back to that frail state and I’m consumed by the death-panic.
When I physically push my body to its limits, force it to perform and behave athletically in the ways I demand, I take back control. I may never again complete in any sport, but athleticism continues to be an integral part of my emotional recovery and mental well-being. I work alone and quietly, and I work hard. Those precious hours are my outlet and my escape, and when I feel I don’t belong anywhere else, I still belong there.
There is reason and purpose — and so much comfort in being enough.
I’d hoped to branch out here in 2016, to write about various things that matter, explore what worries me and why, and maybe help explain why some experiences stubbornly linger as other moments fade without second thought.
The year was far heavier medically than anticipated, so dedicating time and emotional energy to that idea wasn’t feasible. 2017, though, will be different. It WILL mark the end of recovery and treatments, and I will have the time and cause (and will find the courage) to write more here, beyond mere medical updates.
I always worry, though, about ruining things (what things? I don’t know) by writing here, or writing about myself and my experiences. I worry that those who read will feel different toward me; I worry about making things awkward when they needn’t be.
This is just a space for me to write things through. A non-physical outlet.
Still, I worry. But I also trust — trust that those who read will understand, and forgive, and accept me just the same.
And perhaps, for all my shortcomings, find I’m somehow still enough.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks so much for being here and for reading. I look forward to continuing this journey with you through 2017 and beyond.
Direct link to Project Smile, for more information, or to contribute: www.gofundme.com/apsmile