The Hero’s Journey

Sort of a grand title for what’s really a very human and rather gruesome bodily experience. But hear me out. If you’re not squeamish.

I have decided to have a hysterectomy. The pain and debilitation caused by my uterine condition is just too much to bear. Dietary changes and exercise are definitely in store, but they’re currently impossible. I don’t feel like even walking, let alone more intense exercise. I can’t stand up long enough to cook a meal, or play with my sweet boy, or do the things I have to do in a regular day. I haven’t been writing or making art. Something’s got to give.

So we saw the gynecologist yesterday, and she agreed that I’m a good candidate for the surgery. The ultrasound today didn’t show anything scary: no tumors or even fibroids or polyps or anything. No cysts on the ovaries. In fact, the tech couldn’t even find one of my ovaries. She said it was actually a good sign. If there were a cyst, she’d see it right away. Now we wait for the doctor’s call tomorrow, to see if she needs a biopsy before the surgery, and we’ll go from there.

I feel hopeful for relief, but I also feel very, very sad. I’d always wanted lots of kids. But even beyond that, even if I’d only ever wanted one child, I’m losing something very important to me, an organ from my very center, Jack’s first home in the world. It did such a wonderful job of keeping him happy and healthy in there. Despite the times that I’ve cursed it for hurting so much, it’s always done its job. Even the horrible pain is a reaction to the endometrial lining growing into the muscle. By sloughing off blood and contracting, it was just trying to get rid of the invasive tissue.

And this brings me back to Jacob. When Jacob wrestled with that angel, he left changed. From then on, he would limp from the wound at his hip. His name would be Israel. He could never go back to the way he used to be. When I mentioned this to Brian, he reminded me of Joseph Campbell, the mythologist and author of The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Campbell wrote and talked about the hero’s journey, and in one example, he used Luke Skywalker from Star Wars, who loses his hand. He’s fitted with a prosthetic hand, but he’ll never be fully, physically whole again.

I’m very, very lucky. I’m losing a part of me that I no longer need. When my mother was only five years older than I am now, she lost most of her large intestine. I was eleven years old. She would poop into a bag through a hole in her belly for the rest of her life, which would turn out to be another eighteen years. I have a dear friend who has lost both breasts and most of her lymph nodes in both arms, to cancer. I have another dear friend who has lost her thyroid, also to cancer, at a very young age. I certainly don’t have the market cornered on pain. Not even close. I am very thankful that for me, this is not only possible, but easier than so many other life-altering procedures.

But it is life-altering. This changes everything. I can never go back to being a woman who can have babies. Just like my friends can never recover the parts of them they have lost. Just like my mother never could go back to “normal.” Just like Jacob, just like Luke Skywalker.

Just like everyone. None of us gets out of here without getting marked by our lives. Caesarian sections, scars, burns, injuries, illnesses. By the time we die, our lives and bodies will alter many times. There comes a point in everyone’s life when you have to lose something to move on. We all have to take the hero’s journey.

This feels a lot like when my mother died. And when Jack was born. And when my dad died. Nothing will ever be the same. I will never be the same. And as earth-shaking and shattering as it feels, it doesn’t have to be the end of me. Just the end of the old me. Now I get to create a new me who will limp on from here.

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