My cancer journey has twisted and turned, but it hasn’t been fruitless.
|It’s been a little less than a year ago that I went to the local hospital to have something done about a questionable spot that made it excruciating to sit down. As the doctor and nurse checked out the area for themselves, the doctor cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, but this isn’t what you think it is. And [our hospital] doesn’t have the type of doctor you need.”
“What do you mean?” I asked worriedly.
“It means that you’re going to need to go to another hospital that has the specialists you need. I’m afraid that what you have is probably cancer. I’m going to send our patient care person in here to give you more details.”
“Oh, great,” I thought to myself. “I don’t need this. My family doesn’t need this.”
Gently, the patient care person came to my room and showed me the list of specialists at the other hospital. “You show this to them. Tell them you were already here, and we told you to see one of these doctors.” She pointed to the listing gynecologic oncologist. “Good luck to you.”
I left with discharge papers, a prescription for Ultram, and a hug from the nurse, with whom I had attended high school. The diagnosis? “Mass worrisome for carcinoma.”
After an unpleasant visit to the other hospital, I wrote a complaint. That ended up being a good thing, because my follow-up appointment at the women’s clinic was moved up two weeks.
That set off a whirlwind of follow-up visits, finding a new primary care doctor, and getting an EKG and a CT scan. Although I was on the financial aid program, I couldn’t stop thinking that I got cancer because I wasn’t a good enough person. (It has taken a while, but I’m starting to understand that cancer doesn’t discriminate.) All I could think of was the financial hardship of co-pays and lost income because of all the medical appointments.
Finally, nearly three months after my first visit to that campus, it was time for surgery. The chaplain stopped by to pray with my brother and me, and the nurses and anesthesiologist stopped by to assure me that they were going to take care of me. The anesthesia kicked in right away, and I was unconscious before the operating doctor had a chance to introduce himself.
During my hospital stay, a flood of emotions overwhelmed me. Part of me was regretful for causing my brother so much trouble. Another part of me felt relieved that the doctors had successfully removed the “malignant neoplasm.” Yet another part of me felt depressed because I was now “incomplete.” The nurses and social workers did their best to reassure me that my feelings were normal. My brother brought my stuffed Pikachu as a “therapy animal” and promised to do all the things the doctors said I’d need help with.
Not long after that, I began the next leg of my cancer journey: radiation therapy. This, like so much of my cancer journey, was foreign to me. So I started researching both the hospital and the radiation oncologist, in addition to visiting the American Cancer Society site and joining support groups. Although I didn’t get off to a good start with the radiation oncologist (because no one had told him or me why I had been referred to him), he showed me what the research indicated and told me he would leave the choice to me.
Soon after that, his resident called me to say that the whole gynecologic oncology department at the university hospital had met to discuss my case, and everyone had agreed that I should get radiation therapy and complementary chemotherapy. During the six weeks I was getting those treatments, I met so many courageous women who were fighting their own cancer. One put her arms around me and told me, “You’re going to make it.” The radiation therapists told me they looked forward to seeing me because I made them laugh.
That time in radiation therapy was intense and exhausting, but I came to appreciate the support and passion from the radiation oncologist, the camaraderie with my cancer sisters, and the love and compassion from family. At the end, I got a certificate of completion from the radiation team, congratulations from the valets and greeters, and hugs from the desk staff. We celebrated by getting half-priced drinks at Sonic.
The radiation oncologist told me that the next step in my cancer journey is to keep my follow-up appointments with him and the women’s clinic. At my last visit to the women’s clinic, I got the good news that I was considered “no cancer risk.” The radiation oncologist, who specializes in women’s cancers, told me he was pleased with my progress, although he was leery of asserting that the cancer was totally gone.
Throughout this journey, I’ve been surprised yet humbled by the outpouring of kindness and concern from family, friends, and even complete strangers in my support groups. I’ve had to reexamine how I view myself and my relationships with others. After a talk with the hospital social workers, I’ve started trying to find ways to deal with the past and learn how to forgive myself for my mistakes and shortcomings. With that has come a desire to find opportunities to pursue my passions.
Unlike my late college friend, Trent, I don’t look at cancer itself as a gift. I would love to hear the news someday that new cures are being found. What I can say, though, is that this journey has taught me to appreciate those who have stuck with me. I’m learning how to reach out and ask for help. Most importantly, I’ve become more aware that I’m not alone, that there are many kind and caring strangers out there. For all of this, I’m grateful beyond words.