Action Hero Survivors  :  Sheila Wright, Professor

December 1, 2012

Sheila WrightToday I’m sitting at home in Denver, robust, happy and feeling healthy.  Eagerly awaiting the holidays, I’ve gone for an early walk, posted on my blog, gone to yoga class, had coffee with a friend and answered some e-mail and texts.  Tonight we are off to the movies.

Two years ago today, I was sitting on a piece of cardboard and small pillow listening to the Dalai Lama talk at his temple in Dharamsala, India.  I had been in India for several weeks at this point, accompanying my husband Roscoe, and a group of students from the University of Denver. Each day was a glorious adventure, filled with meetings, long walks, visiting friends and having an interview with Jetsumma Tenzin Palmo, the highest placed female Buddhist anywhere. While in India, I was writing/recording the biography of a good friend and well-known artist in Dharamsala, Sarika Singh. I’d bump and thrash around in old, tiny rickshaws early every morning to get to Sarika’s, spending many days at her home, just being with her and her beautiful family. Life couldn’t have been more filled with adventure, grace and joy.

December 18, 2010.  After travelling from the Dharamsala area back to Delhi for a few days, I was headed back to the Denver.  We had a plan: I’d come back, pack gifts and send packages, Roscoe would return from India early morning of December 23,and later that night we’d fly to Florida where we’d be spending the holidays with my family in an upscale rented house in Delray Beach.

December 20. I had a stomach ache that wouldn’t give up. ‘Delhi Belly’ I figured. Who was I to think I’d escape Delhi without it?

On the 21st, I figured the smart thing to do was take Senocot, to rid myself of what I thought was giving me the stomach ache. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happened and I had taken a fairly large dose. I shuffled around and got things done, still in pain.

December 23. Roscoe arrived from India in the morning; we left Denver in the evening, nestled in luxury in Delray Beach that night.

December 24 – 25. I couldn’t eat much Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. I kept ducking into the bedroom, taking a brief rest, missing time with my boisterous brothers, sons, sisters-in-law, and two young grandchildren.

After the home-cooked, gourmet meal that I could not eat, I headed to the bedroom. One by one, each member of my family came into the room with a clever reason why I should go to the emergency room. ‘Delhi Belly’ I said. ‘I’ll get over it.’

But my family is nothing, if not relentless. I gave up. Wouldn’t you know it, not Delhi Belly at all. Ovarian Cancer 3C was the Christmas Night diagnosis. The stomach ache and constipation weren’t caused by anything other than a tumor wrapped around my colon. Actually, there were lots of tumors and none of them benign. I had it all, got myself debulked, bowel resectioned,  unwrapped, sliced and diced, and a blood clot serious enough to get a filter put in.

Far from home, I fortunately ended up with a top gynecologic oncologist. I spent a little more than three weeks in the Del Ray hospital, another week in Florida home care, and then back to Denver for chemo.

Six rounds of chemo, starting in February and ending in May. And from February to September, I had a visiting nurse, Maureen, three times a week to clean and care for my surgical wound that had decided not to heal.

The chemo effect was insidious. I was nauseous, tired, had the usual array of side effects. I didn’t get physically sick, but I sure had an emotional smackdown. I’d never had a bout of anxiety in my life until chemo invaded my body. And it was worse, post-chemo. In addition to the trauma and the chemo, I’d fall into that deep black hole, climb back up, and stumble in again. And I’d feel guilty for not being filled with elation at just being alive. Little by little, I felt the shift. Setting a couple of specific tasks each day, the accomplishments made me feel better.  I finally climbed out for good and have stayed away from that hole ever since. The emotional side effects of chemo shocked me; I had thought it was merely a case of being tired and vomiting or not vomiting. Way off the mark. But the elation came.

I am one of the lucky ones. With so much support and love coming from my husband, family and friends from all walks of my life, I couldn’t just hang around and wallow in my stuff.  I had people to see, places to go. I don’t think a day went by that I didn’t have a phone call from someone in my family. Each morning I’d go for a walk, and on that walk I’d think of something positive to say when the calls came in or a friend stopped by. For me, those positive thoughts came so much more clearly and quickly in the fresh air. Sounds like a cliché, but it’s so true. Inspiration.  Breathe in.  Breathe out.

By the time some visible strands of white hair showed up on my head and my wound finally closed, I was already up and running – ready for prime time. And it’s been prime time ever since. I’ll be travelling across the country for the holidays with my family, celebrating at Christmas the two year anniversary of my ovarian cancer diagnosis. I don’t know what the future holds.  For now, I’m looking forward to a joyful and healthy holiday with family and friends.  Gratitude fills my heart.

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