It is that time of year once again when people tend to smile more readily, you catch them humming a holiday tune. The driver that flips you off for daring to be in the lane they want at the mall, even they have those delightful (insert sarcasm) antlers attached to their Dodge Minivan. Everything you eat has a hint of pumpkin or gingerbread flavor…the drunks in front of the courthouse are sipping peppermint schnapps. You have to love December, right?
As I have learned this Fall and Winter, it just takes one morning for your life to change. I will add this caveat at the beginning of my tale. I merely dipped my toe into the deep lagoon of cancer. There are thousands of people fighting a battle today that is all at once tragic and triumphant.
The doctor entered the room smelling of cigarettes and said, “Well, that’s a bad biopsy, but don’t worry, I know a good oncologist.” I had uterine cancer. The doctor went on to say that uterine cancer is the best cancer to have because it has about a 95% cure rate…we just take everything out. I told him he just ensured me several weeks of worry…had it spread? The doctor said to not worry and began to throw dates at me for the surgery.
I was all at once in a fog. I responded to the doctor’s flippancy with this comment, “What if you came into my office and I told you that you were facing 2-20 years in jail? Do you go home thinking you are a lock for 2 or do you worry constantly about the possibility of 20?” We humans usually worry about the worst thing that can happen to us. The doctor laughed, but got my point.
He told me that uterine cancer spreads first to the lymph nodes and lungs usually. I immediately started coughing as I walked out to my car.
So I went to the hospital for all the pre-op tests, including a full chest x-ray. I told the tech, “Hey, I didn’t do this in 1996 when I had my gall bladder out!” The 20 something tech responded, “Ma’am, we do this on all ladies over the age of 50.” Nice. Two days later one of the nurses called me at my office to say I had a nodule in my right lung, I would need a CT scan with dye injection. Wait? What?? Should I be worried?? The doc and Google says that uterine cancer spreads to the lungs in lots of women!! Long pause on phone…”Ma’am, we will call you back with a date for the CT scan.”
I had the CT scan the day before Thanksgiving and waited seven long days thinking that I now had cancer that was spreading. My gynecologist had already helped me get an appointment with an oncologist and further tests and a possible second surgery were going to be discussed. Dr. Google told me I was basically screwed if the cancer had spread to my lymphatic system. I choked down a turkey dinner and nervously waited…for seven days.
You start thinking about your own mortality. You think about the ups and downs of your life. At no point during the waiting period did I ever get scared of dying. However, I was petrified of having to wage a battle with the Big C…and eventually losing it. It just pissed me off, I was supposed to drop dead of a massive heart attack one day…not die of uterine cancer!
You want to have a dark season and strain to see the light? Try going through a divorce and getting a cancer diagnosis all at once. I tried to focus on good stuff, like the possibility of being so sick that I saw size 12 again. Tremendous friends and family members circled the wagons around me for which I am eternally grateful. I waited.
The doctor’s office called and said the lung nodule looked benign…two doctors agreed. Just come back in 3 months for a follow up scan to see if it grows or starts to look, my term, “cancery.” I stopped coughing.
I had the surgery, a full hysterectomy. Not such a tragedy at my age…although I felt the pain of the younger women I saw in my same situation. They were fighting cancer and saying goodbye to the possibility of biological children.
I consulted with the oncologist, she reviewed my pathology reports and decided after reviewing the size and location of the tumor in my uterus…that I had about a zero chance that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. I am going back to the oncologist in a couple of months for some follow ups, but she basically has declared me cancer free.
In the grand scheme of things, looking back now, it was indeed just a quick slap to the face. I have such empathy for the women I sat with, in the waiting room, at the local cancer treatment center. Such strong women…I knew as I sat there I was not a member of their club. I am a complete wimp.
If I had the misfortune of having the cancer spread…of dying of cancer…I would not have engaged in a “courageous battle” as the obituaries say. I would have whined, bitched, and moaned all the way to the end. It would not have been pretty with me. What is that saying about people getting what they can handle? I got the “Wimp/Level 1” version of a cancer diagnosis. I respect all women facing a cancer diagnosis. If you are reading this and in a battle with the Big C…be strong….I am in no way making light of your fight.
So, I dodged a bullet. I find myself smiling when the stranger in the elevator is humming Frosty the Snowman and my pumpkin latte tastes just a little bit sweeter this year. I am going to appreciate those small moments I preach about this December. Life is fleeting and can change in an instant.
My gift this year didn’t come in an envelope or a box. It wasn’t tied with a pretty red ribbon around it. It was two words uttered by an oncologist during a conversation I thought I would never, ever have. “Cancer Free” What a gift indeed? I think I’ll go be jolly…’tis the season.