Ten years ago today I was on the verge of an anxiety attack. I was lying on a hospital gurney so nervous I was sure that everyone near me would be able to hear the beating of my heart. Was my surgery going to be successful? Would they get all the cancer? Would they discover that it had spread? How much pain would I be in? The questions were endless—a continual scroll through my mind, only making everything worse.
Seven months earlier I had graduated from college full of optimism and hope for a bright future and the possibility of a promising advertising career. I had no idea that 2002 was going to be full of health problems. Fast forward three months and I was shivering naked on the bathroom floor, having nearly fainted wondering if I needed to call an ambulance and strategizing if there was anyway I could move enough to get some clothes. That weekend I nearly bleed to death—the only good news was that I didn’t have to call an ambulance.
I proceeded to have seven blood transfusions in eight weeks before I got the diagnosis – uterine cancer. I was so sure that my results would be no big deal I had scheduled my doctors appointment in the middle of my shift at work—and I returned after the news—shell shocked and numb. After returning from my appointment, my friend Irene asked what happened. I matter-of-factly told her my diagnosis and returned to my desk and my work. Years later she informed me that she had wanted to burst into tears and hug me when I had told her the news, but I was so stoic that she held it in and tried not to show any emotion.
With the diagnosis my doctor told me I had three options. 1) Get pregnant. It was a slow growing cancer and so she informed me that we could put off the surgery—of course I wanted kids—but getting pregnant wasn’t an option at the time. 2) Have a D&C and make sure the diagnosis was correct. 3) Immediately make an appointment with my cancer doctor and schedule surgery. I couldn’t contemplate option three, so I decided to go ahead and make sure the diagnosis was correct with a D&C.
I was very fortunate that the doctors caught the cancer in its earliest stages and consequently there was never a worry about dying. I didn’t suffer through any major pain and the only true struggle was dealing with my cancer doctor. He was the most deplorable human being I have ever had the displeasure of knowing. This blog post would take hours to read if I decided to share that part of the story. Needless to say I was ecstatic when I got to stop seeing him.
Handling the News
Cancer—what a frightening concept. During the six weeks between my diagnosis and the surgery I would repeat this word over and over again as though by saying it I would believe it. It was hard to accept that it was happening to me. Ironically enough, I had spent my preteen years obsessed with the idea of cancer. So much so that I spent an entire year reading novels about girls my age that had been diagnosed with leukemia or other forms of cancer. My obsession was so strong I became convinced that every unexplained bruise was a sign that I might have leukemia.
I have always been good at compartmentalizing my emotions—holding it in and putting on a brave face. I only cried once during this whole ordeal—even though I craved having a breakdown. A breakdown just seemed like too much work and a waste of time. I even hoped that someone (my parents or my friends) would have the breakdown on my behalf. I wanted a big display of emotion and some furious outrage about what had happened even if it didn’t come from me. Years later I found myself feeling a lot of resentment towards my friends and family for the lack of support I felt I received during that time of my life—only to realize that I never once asked for help or demonstrated that I needed anything.
I don’t like to tell people that I had cancer—mostly because my journey seemed so minimal compared to what others are forced to live through. I didn’t have to suffer through multiple surgeries, radiation or chemotherapy. It was almost too easy—and in some ways that doesn’t seem fair to me.
Even with all the anxiety I felt while lying on that hospital gurney all those years ago I made a number of promises to myself. I promised that I would be different, make changes, and stop being so afraid to take risks. I think this is a common feeling when we are faced with a massive trial. However, I didn’t really change—I did what I felt I had to at the time and then I went back to my normal routine and my familiar responses.
Ten years ago my life radically changed in a number of ways. First, I got to experience surgically induced menopause. Who knew that I would notice an instant decline in the rapidity of my mental recall and that hot flashes are both hot and they do come in a flash. Second, I said goodbye to the dream of having a career in advertising—but discovered my talent for teaching. Third, my dream of being a mother ended; although, I know that I can always adopt, I was surprised by the grief I felt at having to give up the option. Fourth, I discovered the depths of my own vanity—the weight gain and thinning of my hair have been more difficult to deal with than I would have thought (more side effects of my disrupted hormones).
I decided to share my story today because I am now officially cured. I also share this story to remind myself of those promises I made so very long ago in that cold hospital hallway—it is not too late to live up to those promises and embrace my fears.
Here is to another ten years of good health!