I forget sometimes, you see.
My memory isn’t what it used to be. I forget names and places. There are chunks of my young adulthood from which I retain only the sketchiest of memories. So, I guess it makes sense that I forget this, too.
It’s been 18 years since my cancer diagnosis, when they first cut that primary tumour out of my knee and rebuilt my leg. Some of the parts they used were from my body. Others were metal and polymer. But they were able to save the leg for me using a process called, inelegantly, limb salvage. It’s been 18 years since I saw the patchwork limb that suddenly seemed so alien to me, like a part of a stranger, livid and swollen. Eighteen years since I had to learn how to walk again, how to stand and climb stairs in a new way. It was supposed to be the end of it, but it turned out to be just the start and there were more surgeries, recoveries, processes, and learning.
And it’s been just over 14 years since they routed the invader and my body became cancer free, even though we wouldn’t know it for another five years.
So, it makes sense that I forget.
I’ve lived in my altered body a long time. And it’s been several years since the last revision on my leg, after I slipped and fractured the femur, an unpleasant mishap that actually led to a vast improvement in my function and ability. The improved mobility, release from pain and increased stability were a gift from whatever gods or goddesses regulate such things, and I made use of them.
But, every gift comes with a price. And in my case, the price was forgetfulness. As I moved away from the cancer into what would be my post-illness life, I pushed it away, did my best to forget the horrifying pain, the sickness from the treatments, the long, slow slog back from each of those invasive surgeries. I maybe made myself forget.
And in the process, I sometimes feel like I’m invincible, like I can do anything, like it all never happened, despite the story carved so deeply into my flesh.
Yesterday, for the second time this year, I did something to the knee that has already been through so much. Granted, the first time, I was dealing with a burst pipe and slippery tile floors, but last night, all I did was stand up. I literally have no memory of doing anything out of the ordinary. I stood to answer the door and when I tried to walk, my lower leg felt like it had detached somehow from the rest of my body, flopping free. I could walk, but it hurt and there was that lingering feeling of looseness, or wrongness.
And panic. Gut-wrenching, mind-numbing panic that I had wrenched the stems of the prosthesis free or shoved the kneecap so far out of place, and the only resolution would be to go under again. Be cut open again. Lose another six months of my life healing again.
I had forgotten that my body is no longer factory optimal. That I am no longer before, I am after. I am in a precarious balance and always will be. The tissues around that knee are logy and tight from radiation. They’ll never be what they were. Neither will I. We will never respond to stimuli in the same way again. My flesh responds to trauma differently, as do I.
I am alive. Worse for wear and still coping with timebombs from post-traumatic stress syndrome, but alive.
And still, after 18 years, in the midst of remembering . . .
Born on the prairies, Stephen Graham King has since traded the big sky for the big city and now lives in Toronto. His first book, Just Breathe, tells the blunt, funny, and uncompromising story of his three-year battle with metastatic synovial sarcoma. Since then, his short fiction has appeared in the anthologies North of Infinity II (Pas de Deux), Desolate Places(Nor Winter’s Cold) and Ruins Metropolis (Burning Stone). His first space opera novel, Chasing Cold, was released in 2012, and the first book in the Maverick Heart series, Soul’s Blood, came out in 2016. The second, Gatecrasher, was released in 2017. He is currently working on the next in the series, A Congress of Ships.
(Image: “Digital Lens Flare In Black Background Horizontal Frame” by vvadyab)