When I was diagnosed with a form of endometrial cancer a couple of weeks ago, I debated whether I would write about it. Later this week, I will undergo surgery to remove my ovaries, uterus and Fallopian tubes, and then will begin the process of recovery.
Cancer is one of those words in everyone’s vocabulary that no one wants to experience firsthand. I watched my father die from lung cancer while the cancer cells marched insidiously through his body to his brain, and finally inhabited his skeletal system. Throughout that period he maintained his dignity—as much as you can while you’re propped up in a hospital bed and need assistance to eat, dress, shower and use the bathroom. Mostly he tried to ease others’ discomfort about being in the vicinity of someone with cancer by telling jokes. “How do you feel today?” a nurse or aide might ask. “With my fingers, of course,” he would respond. His daily chuckle, I think, got him through each day.
My own situation is far different from my father’s—hopeful where his was hopeless, treatable and well understood where his disease had progressed beyond the point of return, and painless (at least before surgical intervention!), where my father’s disease left him sensitive to every touch. I am fortunate to have an experienced oncologist surgeon who specializes in women’s cancers of the reproductive system, fortunate to work for an employer that supplies excellent insurance and a partial wage-replacement system while I am on medical leave, and fortunate to have a supportive husband and son.
Still, cancer remains That Disease Other People Get. When it arrives on your doorstep, you can wring your hands and ask, “Why me?” or deal with it one step at a time, concentrating on the present moment. When people ask me how I feel, I tell them that no one feels good when cancer knocks on your door, but that I can honestly say I feel reassured by the level of both physical and emotional support I am receiving, as well as by the typical prognosis for the type of cancer I have, when it is treated. “Reassured” is my word of the month. And it’s reassuring, too, to know that so many people are praying on your behalf. Thank you, everyone!
One of the pieces of advice my doctor gave me was to avoid reading every Web site in the world about cancer. I’m not sure whether he knew that I’m one of those people who eagerly research everything they can, but in any event his advice was sound. You can drive yourself crazy, reading about all of the potential detours your disease can take. My doctor pointed out that most Web sites offer general information, while every cancer is unique—just as every patient is unique. This becomes obvious when you hop from site to site, reading post-surgery advice about what you should eat and what you shouldn’t. One Web site encourages you to eat a high fiber diet, while your doctor may tell you, at least initially, to avoid such foods. Another site warns you about potential weight gain, while the next site is populated with testimonials by women who have lost weight.
While I think it is irresponsible to go into any surgery and subsequent recovery period without doing any research at all, or by not asking your doctor questions, it is equally irresponsible not to be selective about the sources you research. I like to visit www.mayoclinic.com, for example, for reliable medical information, at least as a starting point. And then I ask my medical staff lots of questions.
My goal, these days, is to live in each moment, and to not dwell unduly about the what-ifs. Worrying is wasted time, effort and energy. I’ve joined the C-Club, a membership that is far greater than I ever imagined. There is comfort in knowing you’re not alone, but also a bit of reticence about keeping your membership. The goal is to become cancer-free and healthy, and to leave that membership behind you.
© 2016 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.