Invisible Rehab

Concience cropped

It has been about four months since my cancer surgery. The tests so far have been good. I have another round of tests in March, but at this point, I am expecting good numbers again. There’s no reason not to.

It’s been a long haul, the rehab. The healing. In the first few months, I was so broken from the surgery that there was nowhere to go but up. I could actually see progress every day or two. I am to the point where people tell me “You look good.”, obviously expecting me to look, well, pretty bad at this point. Progress is slower. I can see it over a week or two’s time now, but not day to day.

I have a fair amount of my strength back. The scars are healed and only moderately ugly. I can pretty much do what I want. But there’s still work to do. Most days, about early afternoon, you can find me taking a break from work, breaking out a set of giant rubber bands in various colors and doing exercises.

“The endurance is the last thing to come back.”

That’s what my sister, the doctor, told me Sunday as we talked on the phone. And I get it. Normally I am pretty energetic all day till nine or ten at night. These days I pretty much flake by night. Dinner, then time on the sofa reading or watching a movie and to bed by ten or eleven.  That will come, particularly once the weather warms up and I can get out more.

There are continence and other messy issues. The stuff no one likes to talk about, but part of the healing. All getting better with exercise and time, but still, work to be done. There’s emotional work to be done as well. Cancer changes you, and it takes a while to settle into your new skin. That too takes work.

But all that? It’s invisible. Or at least I try to make it invisible. So do most people recovering from anything, be it physical, emotional or spiritual. We go through the crisis. We dig out of the worst of it. And then we enter the period of invisible rehab. The work no one sees.

We are surrounded by people living in this invisible rehab. Believe me when I say this. I see it constantly in my work. At a certain point, you don’t want to be fussed over anymore. You want to get on with life. You don’t want to be marked as broken, even when parts of us still are. So we do the work in the quiet, lonely places, like 3 in the afternoon when no one is around. Or late at night as we lay in bed, thinking.

Don’t feel sorry for me. I’m gloriously happy with my recovery so far, even if I tire of the work. Rehab is part of the gig. I’m tougher than I look. I’ll get whole again. I am sure of it.

No, I am writing this because there are people all around us fighting their own rehab. Physical. Mental. Emotional. Just because they are a month, a year, even a decade from the trauma, they are still healing. You can’t see it, but the work is going on, in the invisible places.

Be kind. That’s all. Be kind and tolerant of foibles and brokenness, even the stuff you can’t see. Assume people are healing and the odds are pretty good, they are. And we can all be part of their rehab. You have no idea how powerful that makes you, in a good way.

Be well. Travel wisely,


PS: The painting is one of mine. It’s titled “Conscience”.


  1. Thanks for this one, Tom. As you heal you seem to be more and more comfortable in your own skin, and I find that hearing you tell of the ways you take ownership of your humanity encourages me to accept and love my aging self while treasuring what I have while I still have it.

  2. “Be kind. That’s all. Be kind and tolerant of foibles and brokenness, even the stuff you can’t see.”

    This is so good … and so true. Be patient. Be kind. Try to understand, even if you don’t. Most pain is invisible.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s