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I think of my cancer like math: I’ve accepted it, but I don’t fully understand it. Writing about the experience helps me get to the bottom of my feelings. I had to get the words down because people are kind, and enough of them asked how I felt about my upcoming surgery and what it entailed.

I wanted to start by saying, “They are removing my stomach,” but this sounds so impersonal. The procedure will be performed by the wonderful and warm thoracic surgeon I have come to trust and admire.

My next impulse was to say, “I’m having my stomach removed,” but this makes it sound like it’s a service I’ve requested like having a rotten tree cut down and hauled off. The rotten tree analogy is apt, but the tone is all wrong.

Fussing with how to describe the procedure is just another way of skirting the question of how I feel about the procedure.

I could just say “I’m having a gastrectomy,” but calling it by an unfamiliar medical term is just another way of obscuring the reality of it. Basically, my entire stomach will be removed and attached to the lower portion of the esophagus. It turns out the stomach is not considered a “vital” organ. This is because one can live without one’s stomach. I’m told many people do, so I’m not joining any kind of exclusive club here. Am I purposefully diminishing the seriousness of this by calling out how common it is? Yes.

Going forward, I don’t get to make jokes about “not having the stomach” for something because that’s just too obvious. I declare here and now that I owe $100 to the first person to catch me saying I don’t have the stomach for something. This includes shark wrestling, skyscraper base jumping, stand-up comedy and bare-knuckle street brawling. Come to think of it, if I survive this ordeal, I should have way more confidence about what I can handle in life.

Living without a stomach is, apparently, as simple as eating less; five or six small “half adult size” meals a day instead of three normal-sized ones. Kiddie-menus it will be! I’m told there are no restrictions on what I can eat, just how much. These meals will need to be nutrient and calorie dense as people who have had a gastrectomy often have trouble gaining weight and muscle, and commonly experience B12, folate or iron deficiencies. I’m sure it will take getting used to, and I’m sure I’m oversimplifying. There’s no way to know until it’s done, and I’m living with it. Or, without it, as the case may be.

I still haven’t addressed how I feel about it. On the other hand, I have settled on the right description of what’s going to happen: “A team of trained medical professionals led by a competent and kind-hearted thoracic surgeon will remove my stomach and the lower part of my esophagus because they are cancerous. If they don’t perform this procedure, the cancer will most likely return and kill me.” There it is.

Yes return. The chemo had worked “better than expected,” and that tumour has “melted away,” according to the doctor. But surgery is still required as the tumour will most certainly return and keep growing if it isn’t excised completely. That’s the thing about cancer.

Obviously, I asked if removing my stomach means space can be made for something else to be installed in its place; a 5G WiFi station, a miniature power source, flux capacitor, shield generator, laser emitter! The surgeon laughed in a way that suggested he’d heard the joke before. That might have hurt even more than the time he told me he’d have to remove my stomach.

I worry about waking up feeling like I’m not me any more because pieces of me will be missing. Rationally I know I will still be me; I am greater than the sum of my parts. Irrationally, I worry about forever feeling like there’s a void that leaves me less than I am now.

Am I scared? I’m not conscious of being scared but this is my first time having my stomach removed and I have no idea what it will be like. That makes it the oldest fear in the book: fear of the unknown.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how I feel, this is just what must be done if I am to survive. Instead of thinking about the surgery, I’m thinking about the Post-it note I have on my desk in front of me. It says, “See This Through / See Through This.”

“See This Through” reminds that I am still here, and this is now. This is real and it’s happening, and I can’t go over it or under it. I have to go through it, and forge ahead regardless of my feelings.

“See Through This” tells me to look past this episode to when it’s over, and to focus on how awesome that will be as long as I get there with my head up and my outlook intact.

If my bravado balloon doesn’t deflate, I think I’ll have the guts to have my guts removed without too much fuss. And that’s the last time I’ll make that lame joke.

Barry Danilowitz lives in Toronto.

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