The Cancer Story

16 07 2008

Relay for Life: Madison, WI

I wrote the following to a friend a few years ago when I was going in for my annual oncology check-up. He asked:
“What kinds of results are you expecting? (As in, is it a binary yes/no thing, or more fuzzy than that?)”

Here’s my response:

I think it’s more of a “growth/no growth” thing.
I’m not really worried about it. The annual check-up is just a reminder of what happened, it’s not a time of much anxiety for me though. I have one of the best ob/gyn oncologists in the country…and one of the best ob/gyns, too. They play golf together & are good friends. Because of that & the way I was treated, I have never felt like a number. I’ve always felt that both doctors have a genuine concern for my health. I think my oncologist likes when I come in because my case is easy & very positive. He told me when it happened that the cancer I had was very slow growing, which is why I don’t have to worry about chemo…it won’t work. He said if anything does come back, I would just have surgery again. But he also said he’s very optimistic that it won’t. The source is gone (the ovaries) and he
used laser on as much of the inner abdominal surface as he could to kill anything that didn’t belong.

Here’s the cancer story:
I knew I didn’t want to give birth to any more kids. (I don’t have a
problem with adoption, just didn’t want to bring another kid into the
world myself.) So I went in to get a tubal ligation. In the process, I
had an abnormal PAP. The Dr did tests and couldn’t find the cause, but said he’d look around when he went to do the tubal. He kept telling me “You know this is permanent, right?” (I thought that was funny later, because a tubal is a lot less permanent that getting everything taken out.) So during the surgery, he found two growths; one on the ovary & the other on the abdominal wall. He called my oncologist into the surgery room and he was able to assess it right away, so he knew what we were dealing with.
My Dr called the next day to tell me & had already set up an appointment for me with the oncologist. This was in June/July. I had the surgery end of Aug/early Sep. It all went really well. I went for check-ups a lot, and now just go once a year to the ob/gyn & once a year to get a CT scan & see the oncologist. The only long term impact on my body is that I have to take estrogen replacement, and get a lot of calcium and, well, the orgasms aren’t quite the same.

Here’s some of the good that came out of it:
*My mom & I became very close. We’ve had ups & downs, but she was really there for me during the whole thing.
She drove 1 1/2 hours up for my appointments and came to see me every day I was in the hospital. She took Andy for a week while I was in the hospital. She was just completely supportive. It gave her a chance to make up for times that she wasn’t there for me in the past & let me feel her love me through her actions.
*Andy & I got closer. He took care of me the first week I came home & wouldn’t leave the house. Finally, at the end of the week, I told him he HAD to go play with a friend. That I’d be OK. I tried not to use the cancer word around him because I know it’s so loaded, but he eventually heard it & I just explained to him that I had bad cells in me that needed to come out. He was actually sort of relieved about the whole thing because he didn’t want me to have another kid & when he realized that I couldn’t, he was more ok with things.
*It was one of the steps in the process that brought my dad & I together.
*I’m a statistical plus on the side of people surviving cancer & moving on with life…and we need more numbers on this side.
*I also take better care of my body.

The only time I really broke down:
I had been handling things pretty well & just going from appointment to appointment and doing what I was told & taking it all in stride. BUT the day before my surgery, I had a phone call from the oncologist office. I had had a chest exam to make sure that my heart & lungs were ok for the surgery. The nurse was calling to say the x-ray showed my heart to be abnormal. I lost it. I thought, 2 months ago I was fine. Now I have cancer AND my heart is fucked up??? So I had to go to the cardiology center to get all this work done. As I sat there, all the people were really old and everything just hit me. I couldn’t believe something could be wrong with my heart, but it made the cancer seem really insignificant.
That was what I needed out of that experience…to be reminded that things could be worse. It turns out that after extensive tests that day, my heart is very healthy.

My favorite moment:
The day I was to be discharged and we were waiting for the Dr to sign off, my mom had brought Andy up to see me. The nurse said it would be a few hours and I told my mom she could leave, but she said she wanted to stick around. So, Andy curled up next to me on the bed, under my arm, and my mom was sitting right next to me in a chair and Andy & I slept for a couple of hours and my mom just sat there with us. I’m not sure why that moment is so significant to me, but typing it makes me tear up. When I woke up, I just felt this overwhelming love of mother to child: my mom to me and me to Andy.

I don’t see myself as a cancer survivor or anything that dramatic. It’s just something I’ve gone through. But it was one of the significant events in my life. We all have them and they just shape who we are.

16-Jul-2008 Update:
Last year at about this time, I had my 5-year check-up. The results were good and I was given the blessing to proceed without coming back. I still take Estradiol 0.5mg/day (when I remember) but otherwise don’t have much of a physical effect from the experience.
I’m very fortunate. I know that.

I’m posting this now in memory of Wanda Jo, who wasn’t as fortunate, and for DH. Thanks for sharing and elegantly expressing some of the deeper feelings I also had experienced.