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Dissecting a Monster–The Recovery

I have no memory of most of what was told to me after my surgery. Kyle says that someone (a nurse? my surgeon?) told me how it had gone and what they had done, but I don’t remember this. Apparently I smiled and said, “Good,” a lot until a nurse handed me a graham cracker, but I don’t remember that either. I do, however, vividly remember the nurse lifting up my gown to check on my incisions.

Yeah, you read that right. Incisions. As in, more than one. That was a surprise, which is probably why I remember it. I’d been under the impression that the only two options on the table were a single 6″ incision (meaning that they’d found cancer and given me a complete hysterectomy) or a single 1″ incision (meaning no cancer, and they’d removed the mass as planned by cutting a small hole in the back of my vagina and pulling it out through the vagina.) Not five 1″ incisions dotting across my belly.

As my friend Christine put it, “You look like you’ve been perforated for easy tearing.” So yeah, that was something I wasn’t exactly emotionally prepared for. I’d also guessed that my incision was going to be lower, more in the pelvic region; someplace less…obtrusive, if you will. To this day, I still haven’t emotionally dealt with the fact that I’ll forever have a line of scars across my stomach. I’m crossing my fingers that they as they heal—with the help of some scar diminishing balm—they’ll fade to the point where they more or less disappear. (And if not, I already have a story about fighting a shark ready to go.)

I also remember not fully understanding how much pain I was facing at first. Sure, lying in that bed, I felt like I’d been flattened, and I was fairly confident that my throat had previously been on fire. There was also some definite throbbing in my midsection, thanks to the aforementioned incisions; it felt like I had done the P90X Ab Ripper workout 500 times without stopping. But I didn’t feel sick, and I certainly didn’t feel the stabbing pain that I had imagined would accompany a person’s skin being sliced open. Lying in the hospital bed, I just felt…fuzzy.

All that changed when I tried to sit up to dress myself.

Maybe it was the drugs, maybe it was because I’ve never had surgery before. Either way, I legitimately thought I’d be able to hop up and put my clothes on like normal. The moment I tried to raise my shoulders away from the pillow, my stomach muscles tried to engage and I screamed. With Kyle’s help, I was able to slowly make my way up to a sitting position, and it was only then that I realized just how bad of shape I was in. It wasn’t just the cuts on my stomach. I could suddenly feel every single muscle in my abs, all the way into my pelvis, and they all felt like they’d been shredded into brisket. I couldn’t believe how weak I was. It was also about this time that the nausea set in.

I don’t remember much more from the rest of that day. I remember having to sit with the orderly while Kyle brought the car around, and her telling me that Kyle was a good husband so I should reward him by giving him five babies. (HA!) I remember getting home and being so happy that I wanted to cry because I was in my own pajamas in my own bed and not in the hospital. I remember telling Kyle that I didn’t want the crackers he tried to get me to eat because crackers are too messy to eat in bed and I wanted beef jerky instead. And I remember a mug of egg drop soup that was the most delicious motherfucking thing I’ve ever eaten.

Things were really rough at first. Even with a steady stream of oxycodone in my blood, I was in a lot of pain. I could barely walk to and from the bathroom, and even with the help that I required, getting in and out of bed usually caused me to cry out in pain. Every time I wanted to get up to pee, get something to eat, adjust my pillows, or even grab the remote if it was out of reach, I had to ask Kyle or Karen for help. And I was so, so tired. I slept a lot those first couple of days.

Despite my rough shape, progress came surprisingly quickly. Two days after surgery, I’d figure out how to get out of bed by myself; the secret was using the turtle strategy to rock myself onto my side and push up with my arms. A few days after that I managed to shower and dress myself without assistance. (Let me tell you, I didn’t know elation until the first time I was able to put on a pair of underpants by myself.) And a week after surgery, I was back at work. Granted, I spent most of the day pushing myself around in a rolly office chair, and definitely not doing anything that even resembled physical labor. But for a week out of surgery, it just felt good to see how far along I’d come.

My recovery was moving forward at full tilt, but the healing? Only just begun.


Dissecting a Monster-The Surgery

Hey, there. Me again.

Actual me this time, not Kyle. Though, can we take a quick aside and discuss how romantic that blog post Kyle wrote for me while I was in the recovery room was? Especially when I tell you that I didn’t ask him to do that for me, I just asked him to keep my family updated?

Seriously, swoon.

Anyhoo, Monster here. It’s been over three weeks since my surgery now. I know, I know, I should have given you guys an update sooner. But to be fair, for the first week I was home I was on some pretty heavy drugs that made it difficult to focus on anything much more complicated than Super Mario Bros. (Of which I played a lot.) And after I got off the meds, I’ve been…tired. No, more like exhausted. Physically to be sure, but also emotionally. This has been a lot to handle, and I won’t pretend I’ve done so flawlessly. So to rehash the whole thing, for a good while, just seemed like too much to deal with. A lot of things have felt like too much to deal with lately. But I’m here now. And more importantly, I’m alive, grapefruit-free, and on the mend. Which has been both a little easier and much, much harder than I anticipated.

The real fun started the night of May 3rd, with what I dubbed the kickoff of #MonsterTumorFest2017. What happened that night, you ask? I ate a whole goddamn pizza, that’s what. By myself.


And why would I do that? Because May 4th was the start of the actual actual beginning of my surgery pre-op procedure. Which began that morning with marching orders to consume nothing but liquids, and not even good liquids, like eggnog or gin. Boring liquids, like apple juice and Gatorade. The only solids I was allowed to eat were Jell-o and Italian ices, which I tried to tell myself were food on account of the fact that I ate them with a spoon, but are not actually food at all. I even ended up drinking mugs of beef and chicken stock–even though warm, they totally smell like cat food–because my body smelled them and went, “Holy shit, that smells like food! I remember food! Fuck, I’m starving, this is delicious! FOOD!”

And that wasn’t the only fun on that delightful day. I had a thing called a “bowel prep” in store for me. I won’t go into details (you’re welcome,) but let’s just say that it involved 119 grams of Miralax…


Miralax and Drinks



…and I was busy for the better half of the afternoon.


So yeah, in addition to all the…fun…involved in that, ridding my body of all matter made me sick. And on top of that, I was fucking. starving. Seriously, it’s only with mild hyperbole that I say that I would have gutted both my cats for a fucking Taco Bell Crunchwrap. But honestly, all the discomfort I was feeling that night turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because it worked beautifully to distract me from any nervousness I might have otherwise been feeling.

And then it was the big day.

I was definitely nervous that morning. Not by anything rational, like that I might not wake up from the anesthesia or that I might have cancer, but by irrational things, like that I would accidentally forget and put on deodorant and then they would refuse to do surgery on me and I would have starved myself for nothing. Yeah, fear is a weird thing.

My surgery was scheduled for 10am, and I had to be at the hospital at 8am. It felt beyond surreal to walk into the hospital, strong and healthy, knowing that I would come out weak and broken. Things moved fairly quickly once inside, and before I knew it, I was peeing in a cup and changing into a hospital gown.

And yet, it was also about that time that the fear and anxiety began to take hold with both hands, and every moment that I wasn’t occupied with nurses and doctors (which was a fair amount of my time…I swear to god, I said, “Stephanie Van Sandt, March 4th, 1986” seven bazillion times,) crept by achingly slow. Eventually, Kyle and his mother (who stayed with us for a while to help take care of me, and to whom we are both eternally grateful,) were allowed to come see me, but only after getting the world’s two largest IVs with the world’s two biggest needles put in my arms and a shot in the stomach. So needless to say, Kyle pushed aside the curtain to find a very anxious, very afraid monster.

Moments later, I was being wheeled down the hall and into the OR. It wasn’t until they rolled me into the OR and I saw all the staff in scrubs that my nervousness became outright terror; it was all I could do to keep from bursting into tears. But luckily for me, I was only in there for a few minutes before…


…waking up in recovery and hearing someone say that I’d be able to go home today. I think. The rest of the day was pretty fuzzy.

I found out later that my “grapefruit” turned out to be a gigantic benign dermoid cyst, which is a blob of tissue that can be made of hair, skin, teeth, and sometimes even eyeballs. (If you have a strong stomach, google that shit. It’s like something out of a goddamn sci-fi movie.) Mine enveloped my right ovary, which was also removed. This wasn’t exactly something we’d seen coming (we’d actually specifically been told that it most definitely wasn’t that,) but it turned out to be the best possible diagnosis. No cancer, no chance of cancer forming, no chance it will grow back. It was a freak mutation that laid dormant from the time I was born until a few months ago, and as soon as I heal from surgery, I’ll be right back to normal. Just, you know, minus an ovary.





Author’s note: This is part one of what I’m thinking is going to end up being a three-part saga all about how I got cut up. I know, that’s a lot, but bear with me through these last few posts and then I swear, you’ll never have to hear about any of my internal organs again. (Probably.) Part two in a few days, kisses until then!


The Grapefruit Is Out

…..And it had teeth and hair.  Kyle here.  Steph’s out of surgery and will be going home today.  Turns out the grapefruit was not actually a tumor.  It was a dermoid cyst.  Just google it… I won’t post the pictures.  Basically its a cyst composed of teeth, hair, and whatever else.  She lost an ovary due to it, but all should be normal going forward.  No cancer.  No risk of cancer in the future due to this.  Thank you for all your support, she (and I) have really appreciated it!


When It’s Okay to Call Me ‘Baby’

If you are a member of road crew or a client working with me, you have a wide selection of ways to piss me off. Talk to me like I’m an idiot. Make us unpack and repack portions of the truck because you can’t remember the order of the pack. Argue with me over why you should be allowed to use your clearly-not-up-to-code, very homemade power distribution.

But there is only one surefire way guaranteed to ensure that I will have to grit my teeth and force myself not to stomp on your neck. The fastest, most efficient way to make me hate you is simple: just call me ‘sweetheart’.

And you don’t actually have to stop with sweetheart, either. ‘Honey’, ‘babe’, ‘darlin”, ‘sweetie’…any of them will get you a sharp look and me telling you, “It’s Stephanie, actually.” A second occurrence, and you’ll hear, “My name is Stephanie, don’t call me ‘sweetheart’.”  You will also ensure that I fantasize about your death and give you nothing but short, polite-but-curt responses for the rest of the day, or at least until you can prove to me that you’re not a complete asshole. Call me that a third time, and…well, let’s just say that I’m glad there’s never been a third time, because I’m not quite sure what I’d do if someone did.

But I assure you, it wouldn’t be pretty. Or ladylike.

Nothing makes me more furious than when someone on deck calls me by a term of endearment, because regardless of intention, it’s incredibly disrespectful. I get that people often can’t remember my name, and I totally get that; you can pretty much guarantee that on any given day I forgot the road co’s names approximately 15 seconds after we were introduced. But hundreds of other clients and road co have figured out ways to address me without being disrespectful: my name (for one,) Ma’am, Ms, Miss, Captain, Boss, Mate, even, “I’m so sorry, I’ve forgotten your name,” is okay by me. Never ‘honey’, never ‘sweetheart’, never ‘darlin’, and never *’babe.’ It’s especially disrespectful when the client has just introduced themselves to, say, our audio guy and replies with, “How’s it going, sir?” and then turns to me and says, “Nice to meet you, sweetheart.” That is so beyond insulting that it makes me want to spit.

*I have come upon a single exception in the almost-ten years that I’ve been in this industry. I met a road guy once who called everyone ‘babe’. Me, our audio guy, our House Manager, Kyle, the Artistic Director, people above his position, below it, men, women, everyone was ‘babe’. By the very nature of its inclusiveness, I had a hard time finding fault.

I go through life–even outside of work–cringing every time I hear a pet name directed towards me. Unless you are a member of my family or a very, very close friend, I am never happy to be addressed in that manner; I just may not respond with outward vitriol. But I definitely take it as an insult, and it definitely sours our interaction.

Until the other day.

I had my pre-op appointment with my gynological-oncologist last week. She talked me through the exact procedure they’re planning to use, and what risks are involved. They also scheduled my surgery (May 5th,) talked through my pre-op regiment (I won’t go into details, but suffice to say it involves 119 grams of Miralax and Kyle being out of the house for the afternoon,) took some blood for routine pre-surgery blood work, and gave me a chest x-ray.

The entire process had me interacting with almost a dozen different receptionists, doctors, nurses, and technicians. My doctor called me by my name, of course, as did anyone who spoke to me from behind a computer station. But a few of them, particularly the nurse who took my blood and the technician who gave me my x-ray, called me all variety of pet names.

“Okay honey, now you just relax those shoulders and give me a nice deep breath, that’s my girl.”

“Now in just a moment, you’re going to feel a little pinch…right there it is, good job, baby, almost done.”

“Don’t worry about a thing, sweetheart, we’ll take good care of you and get you back to your old self before you know it.”

Unlike every other fucking time in my entire fucking life, being called an endearing name didn’t fill me with hate-rage. Instead, I found it soothing. It made me feel safe and cared-for. So help me god, I actually liked it, which in itself filled me with confusion and a little guilt. Why do I loathe it when someone on deck calls me ‘sweetheart’ but not when a nurse does? And does that make me a hypocrite?

This gnawed at me for a while before I finally figured it out. It all comes down to the perceived position of strength in a relationship. See, terms of endearment are words that we use towards small children. It’s a name that lets the child know that even though they are much smaller than you and you could potentially eat them, you feel enough tenderness towards them that you will protect them; they are safe with you. A pet name communicates something about the user’s views of both themselves and you: that they are in a position of strength and that you are in a weaker position, and they will protect you because you’re in that weaker position. And in the workplace, I don’t need a fucking protector. It doesn’t matter if you’re the parent of a girl in a dance recital, member of a legendary rock band, or the goddamn governor (who, for the record, has been nothing but kind and respectful towards me,) I still expect you to respect me as a professional who knows what the fuck I’m doing and can handle my own shit. Not a fragile creature who needs to be protected.

But in the hospital, preparing for surgery for the first time? I was afraid. I was waaaaay outside of my element, and facing a huge unknown; hell, the most invasive surgery I’ve had up to this point was getting my wisdom teeth out, so this whole process has had a swirl of the terrifying unknown darkening it. In this particular instance, it was reassuring to have a person communicate to me that they were going to take care of me, that they wouldn’t let anything bad happen to me. I wanted a person to be in a position much stronger and knowledgeable than mine. I wanted a person to protect me from my fear. So when the nurse called me ‘baby’ and patted my back, two things that on deck, will get your head detached from your torso? Like a warm blanket fresh out of the dryer, they were.

So much of what has been difficult about this entire experience is that it has shaken so very many of my previous thoughts and beliefs. The way I think about control over my body, the way I think about my reproductive system, the way I view myself as a woman: so much of my beliefs about myself have to be viewed through a different context than previously. And one of these new thoughts that has been hardest to accept is how to reconcile my feelings of vulnerability with the public part of my person. Before I found out about my tumor, vulnerability was a secret part of myself, rarely to be shared or shown. It could be expressed to very close friends and family, maybe even discussed with the public in an abstract way. But it was never to impede my life in any way shape or form, and vulnerability didn’t even exist once my boots hit the deck at work. I’m a fighter who doesn’t flinch and sure as shit doesn’t need someone to take care of me. I got this.

Except that’s not totally true anymore. In very short order, I’ll be physically vulnerable, unable to do things for myself that I used to. I’ll need people to do things for me regardless of how much of a fighter I am, because fighter or no, there’s going to be a hole in my stomach that had to be sewed up. And in addition to the physical vulnerability, there is/will be a fair amount of emotional vulnerability. I’m strong, but the fear that I’m facing is a pretty formidable fucking foe; even though the surgeon is confident that the surgery will be straight-forward and I’ll be completely free of cancer, there’s a small amount of uncertainty, and that’s enough to feed the fear. I’m afraid in a way that I’ve never been before, an intangible but very real way, and it’s made me feel emotionally fragile in ways that I’m not comfortable with. I’m not used to leaning on others–especially strangers–for comfort.

So for now, I will just accept that as part of my physical and emotional healing, I will be doing things that I don’t normally do because right now, that’s what I need. I will be eating a lot of popsicles and frozen chicken potpies, because that’s what I need. I will be letting my coworkers lift all the heavy amps and push all the cases when I initially go back to work, because that’s what I need. And I will find it comforting when the stranger inserting my IV calls me ‘sweetheart.’

Because that’s what I need.