Written by Jennifer Kanaan
When I first decided to write this, I thought I would know exactly what I wanted to say, but it turned out, I didn’t. It has taken me a couple of trials to get it out on virtual paper but I kept trying because it is important for me that my message reaches the people who may need it most.
The story I would like to share with you started about two years ago when I had a terrible karting accident in the Netherlands.
Although the accident itself was minor and I was able to walk out of the car, I felt a pain in my ankle. I didn’t want to go to the hospital at first but friends and colleagues insisted to be on the safe side. I entered the ER and did not leave the hospital for the next 10 weeks.
The accident had resulted in a ruptured pancreas and a broken ankle. Although I was in indescribable pain, I had no idea (at the time) of the severity of the injuries I had encountered.
As I learned more about the impact of these injuries, I began falling deeper and deeper into an unwillingness to fight for my life.
I was really struggling to accept what was happening to me and kept asking myself: how did I end up here? what did I do to deserve this? This made me very angry – and mostly, at myself! It was so much harder for the doctors and everyone else around me to help me when I felt this way. After all, how could they help me if I was unwilling to help myself?
Accepting and getting over that anger was the first and most important step towards my recovery. The sooner you do that, the sooner you start allowing the treatment (any type of treatment) to work.
After two months of excruciating pain and many repeated medical procedures, I decided to return home (to Lebanon) with the idea that being surrounded by friends and family would help me want to get better. And that slowly worked out.
The next major step in the recovery process was accepting that I had to go through surgery. The type of injury I had was rare and the type of surgery that would help save me was even rarer. The surgery had to be performed by an experienced surgeon and under the most calculated conditions otherwise I could very easily end up with diabetes at the young age of 25.
Being home was helping me heal. I was getting much better than when I had been in the hospital in the Netherlands, to the point where I was told to start preparing for the surgery (mentally and otherwise).
And because I was not mentally-ready for this, I desperately wanted to find a non-surgical solution, which is why I sought out the best gastroenterologist in the country. However, by the time I got to his office, I was screaming of pain. I couldn’t even stand up anymore. After a few exams, we unfortunately discovered that my health status was back at square one. It was as if nothing had changed since I was being treated in the Netherlands. I had to be hospitalized, again.
I did not believe how strongly you could affect your own health until that moment.
For some reason, I did not want to get better and when they told me that I was finally medically ready for surgery, I subconsciously allowed my health to regress in order to simply avoid it.
Nothing happens by accident, not even accidents. They are there for you to learn what you need to from them and move on. They will keep on happening until you do.
I obviously needed to learn another lesson at this stage to be able to move on, and that lesson was that your mind can affect your body in ways you wouldn’t think possible. I generally fear change and believe it or not, I found a certain comfort in being sick and stuck in the hospital. My fear of getting back to a normal life made me realize that I was avoiding getting better because that would mean back to independence and responsibility – and that was scaring me.
The moment I was hospitalized this time, I had to stop eating food in order to allow my pancreas to rest. And this, under my doctor’s orders, was until further notice or until I was ready for surgery. Out of everything I had gone through up until then, that was the hardest thing I had to do. There I was: in pain gain, stuck in the hospital, and to top it off, not even allowed to eat!
At this point, you might be asking yourself: why is this article being posted on a cancer support blog?
Well, because besides the steps towards recovery being similar for anyone going through a traumatizing experience, a few of the experiences I went through actually helped me relate to some of the challenges cancer patients face.
The three months I had to spend without eating and taking nutrition from a bag took their toll on me. Needless to say, I was losing weight dramatically and my hair with it. Slowly, I started cutting my hair shorter and shorter until even the water drainage pipes at home got clogged. Just running my hand through my hair, I would wind up with a huge clump of hair within my fingers.
It was getting exhausting to do any kind of activity and I was starting to see my bones. At this point, I had nothing to lose and everything to gain so I decided to do what I never would have thought of doing: shaving my head.
For the first couple of days, I felt judgment in the eyes of others. Those who didn’t know me (or what I had gone through), thought I had cancer and were staring at me with pity. I would only leave the house to go to the hospital, but even there, people would look at you, making you feel empty of anything except the “disease” you were carrying.
I was feeling it, even though I did not have cancer.
At first, I opted to cover my shaved head until my friends convinced me that I actually looked good like that. To show my revolt against people’s judgement, I took a picture of myself and uploaded it onto Facebook.
The support I received from my friends was really heart-warming. From this point forward, I walked with pride – even along the corridors of the many hospitals I had to visit when I began looking for a surgeon qualified, decent and honest enough to operate on me. I was ready to go through with it.
I ended up getting the surgery done soon-after and I am now in much, much better health – even better than before the accident!
A very important part of the story, which I forgot to mention earlier, was what finally motivated me to get better and fight for my life: at the beginning of this experience, I saw the whole accident as a dark period in my life that was not going to get any better. I was convinced that everything in this world was evil and that there was no reason to put any hope in the goodness of mankind.. until I met a doctor who had faith in me and who also put up with my depression and mood changes. He was, and still is, one of the most humane, honest and dedicated persons I have ever met.
That was the moment I regained hope in humanity.
He prepared me for the surgery I was so-dreading, stood by me and walked all the way with me until he was sure I had the best possible surgery outcome.
Now, two years after the accident and one year after surgery, I thank god for making me go through this experience as it has changed me in so many ways and helped me know myself better. I am a much better person because of this and this is the only way you should see any negative experiences in your life.
For someone who had no idea what she wanted to write, I think I have said enough and hope these messages stay with you. Let go of anger and fear, accept the pain as it is the only way for you to release it and, most importantly, forgive yourself because this is the only way to heal – both mentally and physically.