I realize that in cancer circles, most people don’t make the day of their diagnosis some sort of landmark, but hell… I’ll do it.
It was 5 years ago this weekend that my then girlfriend followed my gurney into my hospital room, fed me ice chips, and told me that the surgeon told her I had cancer.
In retrospect, it seems a bit sketchy that he left that rather ominous job to her, but it didn’t seem weird at the time. And also, my surgery was on a Friday afternoon, it was supposed to take 45 minutes, but ended up taking about 3 hours. I imagine he had some babe on his sailboat, waiting for him to show up and forget about his work week.
And I also think the surgeon is a big part of the reason that I am still alive.
Apparently, a surgeon trained in gyno oncology will increase one’s chances of survival by up to 50%, so I forgive him any procedural breaches.
He wasn’t much for talking, but I am still alive, and I’ll take that over him being a good radio host.
And, we may be broken up now, but in the moment when Elaine was left with the job of telling me I had cancer, it was sort of a big demonstration of how she and I often process enormous and difficult things the same way.
It went like this (as far as I recall).
The porter wheeled me into my room.
Elaine caught up with me/us at some point in the hall.
I looked at her, really in more pain that I can ever recall having been in, and said, “I’m thirsty.”
She brought me ice chips, cuz that was all I was allowed to have.
Then, after some amount of chit chat that I no longer remember, she told me the surgeon had told her I had cancer.
She handed me a strange anatomical drawing that, vaguely, showed where the cancer was and what chunks he had cut out.
I was reading an article last week that said Alzheimer’s was the second most dreaded disease, next to cancer, (which is funny cuz I have dealt with both pretty up close and personal.)
But when my then girlfriend had to tell me I had cancer, I don’t recall either of us sobbing or freaking out (which is not to say that we each didn’t have our moments at various points along the way but not in that moment).
But, what I recall was that we were both oddly and wildly practical. Both of us taking the position of, “okay, what do we do next?”
And I spent the weekend in the hospital. And people came, and some of them knew when they got there and some of them had to be told. And I can’t speak for my ex-girlfriend, but I sort of felt like we needed to cushion the blow for the people who came by. We had to look after them a bit.
Obviously some people were more freaked out than others and some people are better at containing that than others, and having a morphine drip really does make a cancer diagnosis just a tad less freaky.
Anyway, it’s weird to think back on all that.
Technically, I shouldn’t say anything about a 5 year anniversary till I hit 5 years from the end of treatment. That would be November 12/2009. for those of you keeping track at home.
And, it’s confusing because I am part of a clinical trial, so they will keep an eye on me for 7 years, rather than 5. So… when do I get to kick up my heels? 5 years or 7? Maybe I get both.
And, there is always the stupid BRCA 1 gene mutation hanging over my head.
I spoke to my GP a couple of days ago and she said that because I have a direct blood relative now dealing with breast cancer, my chances of getting it go up from an 80% likelihood to… who can say?
I mean really, once you hit an 80% probability factor, does it matter if it nudges up, since it really can’t nudge up very much before Dr. Kevorkian drops by and does his thing as a community service.
Anyway, this is the first of a few 5 year anniversaries.
I realize that, when I was sick, I just put my head down and pushed through it and hoped for the best. And now, there are some loose, freaky ends that need to be looked at and tied up.
Hitting the 5 year mark probably helps me with that introspective process. I think I have a bit to figure out, since, statistically speaking, I should probably be dead now, not hammering away on a keyboard on a beautiful May evening.
And, after 5 years in the trenches with this stupid disease, I want to take a moment to think about the various women I have known, mostly through e-mail, who didn’t do as well as I did. And I am sad it had to be so stupid and difficult for them, cuz it was difficult enough for me. I am so, so sorry it was harder for them, and often, with such shitty outcomes.
RIP, OVCA chicas.
You all helped me more than you will ever know.
I keep track of my diagnosis dates too. I bet a lot of us do – everyone remembers the day cancer sideswiped their lives.
Open invitation to you and your readers to participate in the Being Cancer Book Club. This month we are discussing “The Light Within: the Extraordinary Friendship of a Doctor and Patient Brought Together by Cancer”. “When young gynecologic oncology fellow Lois Ramondetta was first summoned to the room of a new ovarian cancer patient, neither she nor the forty-nine-year-old professor of religion she encountered named Deborah Sills thought they had much in common. They certainly had no idea that they were about to embark on a transcendent odyssey that would become a soul-deep friendship. Now their heartfelt story, The Light Within, follows these two women through a decade of friendship and “big lives”—husbands, children, friends, and careers—ultimately crossing the country and traveling to foreign lands, where they spoke and wrote together about the intersection of doctors, patients, and spirituality. Both women searched together and openly for answers with honesty and intimacy until Deborah passed away in the spring of 2006.”
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Take care, Dennis