by Victoria Elizabeth Ruwi

The double doors swung closed as I sluggishly awoke hearing voices praying for me. It was an overwhelming amount of voices, all mumble and rumble. I was on a gurney being wheeled out of the operating room where my cancerous kidney had been removed. The voices were from afar and in my head. No one I recognized was amongst those voices.

Waking immediately after coming out of surgery was extremely unusual for me. I have worried nurses and others over the length of time it has taken me to become conscious in the recovery room after many past surgeries.

I said, “What?” to the voices.

My doctor, walking beside me, said, “Stitched, not stapled. Take care now.” I had requested him to take extra time to use stitches when he closed me up instead of staples, because my pale skin scared so easily and the staples left me looking like I had railroad tracks running throughout my body.

Weeks before the doctor first told me about the malignant tumor in my right kidney. Making a backward ‘c’ with his hand he demonstrated how large the tumor was, then with only a tiny movement widened the ‘C’ to show me the size of my kidney. With this I understood how the tumor almost filled up the entire kidney, making surgery an imminent necessity and laser surgery an impossibility. The scar would be a long one.

Concentrating on my vanity by wanting to be stitched, not stapled, brought only momentary relief to my concerns about this most recent cancer. It was my third major battle with cancer. My first cancer was breast cancer. I survived it by having a double mastectomy and six months of chemotherapy. Five years later, my second cancer was uterine cancer. I survived it with a total hysterectomy, including removal of my ovaries, and strangely, a surprise to the surgeons, a hurried removal of a grossly enlarged appendix near bursting. Surgery was followed by six weeks of external radiation and then a forty-eight hour stay in a hospital isolation room while internal radiation seeds were used to spot check for any leftover cancerous cells lurking around.

Days before entering the hospital for the internal radiation, I had told my students at San Diego State University, they would be having a day off while I underwent this procedure. I lamely joked that since it would be on Halloween that for my costume, I was going to glow in the dark.

I was walking by the campus library later that day, meandering through all the other passersby, already thinking about the need to be perfectly still while in the hospital, so the radiation would not damage any of the few body parts I had left, when I stopped short at the appearance of two entities, one on each shoulder.

The one on the right was small, like a toddler, and cuddled my shoulder. The one on the left was a taller, statue-like adult standing at attention. There were no wings attached to either and the child did not look like the cherubs of paintings. Neither were they a part of the classic devil versus angel scene of comics. I did not doubt they were guardian angels. Also, I thought, I would be filing this experience in the things I will never tell anyone part of my brain.

I had long forgotten about these guardian angels when, eight years later, I was diagnosed with kidney cancer. I felt the impossibility of surviving a third cancer.

Yet, as I was being wheeled on that gurney, the taller angel appeared, telling me it was over; it was done. I knew immediately the spirit did not mean death was upon me. I felt comforted that I was done with cancer; this would be my last battle with it. Recovery in the hospital was a mess, but I knew a chorus was praying for me and angels believed in my wellness.

Seventeen years have passed now without me having any more major cancers. Often, I think about why I did not also get to see the toddler angel again. She must be being saved for something special.

Victoria Elizabeth Ruwi is the author of Eye Whispers, a book of poetry. She earned a MFA in Creative Writing from San Diego State University. Her writing has been published in journals and anthologies all over the states. 

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