Category Archives: hysterectomy

Messages from my mirror

The face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart.
~St. Jerome  

Today I scheduled a follow up eye appointment for October.

As I opened up my calendar I realized that the four months would land on the day before I had my surgery, which was when my eye problems started.

In the eight months since my life was spared and my body was torn apart in order to do that… a lot has happened.

One of the things that I find most striking is that my eyes have changed. And I have been trying to figure out what it is that I have noticed.

I am not sure when I started to think my eyes looked different to me, but I recall wondering if somehow my irises had become lighter or cloudier in color. Cataracts at my age?

The crux is that they don’t look happy to me, they looked pained, tired, and perhaps even scared.

I don’t know that I am any of those things, but I am a very different person than I was in 2014 B.D.

That B.D. is Before Diagnosis.

This process has been hard, but the hardest part was learning to stand up for myself. Standing up to a mother and aunt that I know love me, but who felt that age gave them some sort of prize that included tearing me down… I am sure that is (was) not their intent… but as they threw things at me that I would have previously have bowed my head to and ignored but in the middle of my fight to feel whole again seemed unduly cruel coming from them. As I said, I am sure they did not mean it, but they still hurt me very deeply on a level that a doctor could not touch.

I think, perhaps, that is part of the cloudiness that I see in my eyes.

It is also navigating my health after a pretty invasive surgery, the unwanted weight gain, the change in shape, the pain, the aches… the health of my eyes included.

They are better now though, the scars left on them through repeated injury and a misdiagnosis are healing, almost gone. The burden of the change of lifestyle for them is permanent… eye drops for life, they said. Keep them moist, they said. I will, I reply.

But when I got home from my appointment today, I looked in the mirror and still saw that certain kind of cloudiness, and I hoped it was not permanent.

Then there is this.

“Behind these eyes there is a girl trapped within her pain – a girl feeling all the emotions of anger and sadness. She’s fighting for a way out.”
~ Chimnese Davids

Advertisements

Queen of my cancer domain

There is a certain nervousness and apprehension as I approach my oncology follow up visits. 

I know to expect the following;  a vaginal exam, a pap smear, and my scar gets a review. 

I never really thought I would ever blog about these things, but here I am talking all about my girly bits.
My oncology center has a pretty new office, it is fancy schmanzy. I was able to see their previous office space several years ago. I helped a colleague through their own diagnosis. The space has different kinds of patient rooms and this visit I got a room that I call a throne room. They have these modern chair-that-turns-in-to-an-exam-table-complete-with-stirrups-that-miraculously-appear things.

After being ushered in to the room by the nurse  I proclaimed that I was glad I got to get a throne room. I  sat down with royal aplomb, gestured grandly,  and proclaimed myself as queen of my own cancer.

This is the chair, with me in it… and yes, you can see my butt poking from behind that silly paper drape if you look hard enough:



Anyway, turns out that my abdomen is not lit up by my disco ball ovaries. 

My oncologist is incredible, there is a gentleness to him that is unseen in so many other physicians. All the Ob-gyn’s I know consider him their go-to guy for their patients with oncology needs. I understand why.

When he examines me, there is a certain gentleness. A real look at his handiwork not in how they reflect on him, but on how they are for the patient. If you are open to the idea of therapeutic touch, I would say this doctor was born with it. 

So, as I lay on that table-formerly-a-chair, I asked him what he had done with my ovaries. He explained that he had tied them down to a ligament. He followed up by explaining that they are about 3 cm lower than where they used to be. he added that they should continue to function as long as they normally would. My ovaries were not left to roll around. Nor were they hung up on my ribs like a disco ball.  

I told him my story was better. He laughed and said he thought so too.

Cancer patients tend to develop a kind of crush on their oncologists. I can totally see that. It is not the kind of crush where you feel love. It is the kind that comes from feeling gratitude, It is pretty amazing.

I am still reflecting a lot on gratitude. It is hard to properly express gratitude to people  in this experience. Gratitude, it seems, is my lesson that is still being developed in this experience.

On The Facebook today, I came across an essay on suffering and gratitude. There was something intense to ponder  in the message. And the message was made moreso when the essay ended with this message:

I am grateful for your hair, the beauty of your eyes, your way with words, your heart that always is ready to give, your willingness to grow, your willingness to not know, the way you garden, naked, early in the morning, your love of family, your love of wine, your love of Scrabble, your glass-half-full ways, your love for your son, your belief in God, your belief in the power of poetry, your belief in the power of love, your Catholic ways, your love of your mother, your love of Mother Divine, your pale white skin, your lips, your smile, the way you love your friends, the way you love. (Source)


It appears that little piece was about a woman named Adele. I believe Adele is pictured at the bottom of the page in source link. That part, though, touched on some of the things that people comment about me or that I feel about me. In some divine sense, I want to believe that I was meant to see it. And to relish this sisterhood I share with this woman named Adele.

TMI

 Navigating a cancer diagnosis that has a surgical intervention is pretty complicated. In the case of breast cancer  the mastectomy or lumpectomy scar is right there for you to look at, it is hard to hide from, even in a case where the patient has opted to get reconstruction. 
Girly bits, the lower ones, cancer is a little different. 
Both breast and cervical cancer are traditionally considered women’s cancer (though men can and do get breast cancer). Our breasts and vagina’s are the most obvious parts of what makes us women (yes, yes, yes, aside from all that inside touchy-feely kind of stuff).
I have not had breast cancer, but I used to sit on a board for an organization that served women who had breast cancer, and as such I heard a ton of stories. Women’s sexuality, for many of us, are tied up in our boobs.
Are they small. Are they big. What kind of nipples. Do they sag. Do they perk. 
People we, as women, love intimately, typically love them.
I can’t imagine the mental turmoil surrounding losing your breasts.
I know too well the psychological turmoil in losing your lower girly bits.
For starters, here is a pictorial cartoon like representation that I took from the ethers about what those girly bits look like. I would have used actual body parts, but really, it can be hard to tell from something like a medical school cadaver image. 
It should not be a surprise to anyone that I owned these parts. These parts are also part of what made me a girl. Aside from boobs and all that other stuff. Gender identity… I believe that is the new buzzword.

This is me, before the surgery.
So, below is a picture of me after the surgery. I had to use some fancy apps on my phone to remove those parts which I had removed. But this is all that is left inside me. Most of my vagina. And my ovaries. Everything else was taken out. My uterus – OUT. My cervix – OUT. My Fallopian Tubes – OUT. There were some other things that got taken out too; lymph nodes, tissue… but those aren’t girly bits.  Oh, and you may be wondering what is up with my ovaries. For now, since I plan on asking my oncologist about them at the next meeting, I just imagine that he blinged them up and hung them on my ribs  or something once he separated them from my uterus and Fallopian tubes. I imagine that they are dangling like a disco ball for my abdominal region (what seems to have gotten big enough to play host to an CRAZY internal organ dance party).
This is me after.
But this is my trying to make light of something that is far more serious. My scar from this surgery is on my abdomen. It has not really exemplified what exactly happened to me. 
I had all those parts removed. My vagina was shortened. 
For the past 5 months, I have been terrified to think about what my new body was like. I knew and celebrated it being cancer free, but it changed. it changed in ways that make it very obvious.  
But these are things I cannot see. And because I can’t see what my new vagina was like, I had created horrible images. These were courtesy of words like scar tissue and granulation that were tossed my way in my post surgical exams. 
Those are not pretty words, images of keloid and granulation in my mind as to what my new vagina looked like. I had images of puckers tough tissue reminiscent of the ears that a bullfighter cuts from a bull.  In my head, my new vagina was hideous. I was ashamed and horrified.
So, finally, after five months. I got up the courage to take a feel and see what it was like.
It wasn’t hideous to the touch, there were no areas of puckered keloid tissue with granulation that I could identify. The tissue was smooth, taut, moist. Just what it should be, though missing the nose tip of a cervix.
I cried with a sense of relief.

Day 1 – 40DOW – viewpoints on vaccines

This morning was a struggle. 

I am trying my damnedest to get this to happen:

If you can RSVP for a Phoenix event click here.


I struggle because I want it to be successful 

The team I am working with has been UNBELIEVABLY supportive… but it is so hard to get buy in from other folks.

I struggle with that.

But it, my sense of struggling, may have been that I had an unscheduled visit to my oncologist today. 


Bleeding.


Something I am not supposed to be doing at this point.

So I went in and saw my doctors nurse practitioner. Who performed a biopsy. 

I have had biopsies before, in that area…  it hurt like a motherf*&%#r. 

Even though she told me that it was my job to assume it was due to scar tissue, she also told me it was her job to rule out recurrence. She reassured me that it looked like granulation (BTW – don’t Google it).

What makes this situation even crazier is that the woman who did my biopsy is also a woman who will be on the panel for the movie screening.

Following up on the fact that I am helping to host a conversation about a preventable cancer
and that one of the panelists will have seen my girly-bits, I just got word who a second panelist will be and…. guess what??????

She has seen my girly bits too.

She was there when my son was born, as in the room… standing right between my husband and my mother.

So, I am trying to find the beauty of all of this. So, “this” being a weird place in my life (waiting for biopsy results) the week before I am helping host an event. The event which happens to be about something that most likely got me into the biopsy situation in the first place.

Anyway, the big shift for me has been to try and be kinder, gentler, more gracious… and yet stay my own person. Hard to do when you are in pain.

I lay there waiting for the biopsy, pretending to be under a fancy kitchen heat lamp


The biopsy was really painful, it still hurts as I type this some 12 hours later.
I still have so much to be grateful for, But it is kind of nerve wracking to be in my position, again… you know, waiting for results. Not the most fun place to be.
Anyway, after my ridiculously painful “procedure” I yelled out “fuck, that hurts” and immediately apologized and lay on the exam table, in tears, for a while. The nurse practitioner who took the biopsy was so very kind and seemed very distressed by my reaction.
I was pretty shocked by it too. It was, however, really painful. I have had biopsies of my girly bits before, without any numbing agent, and it was nothing like this.
At one point, during the second “grab” for tissue I screamed out “oh fuck that hurts”, and then immediately apologized. I am generally not one to curse much… I was embarrassed.
I lay on that exam table, tears streaming down my face, trying to get back to a normal breathing, staring at the bright light above me wishing there was something like a rainbow pooping unicorn to look at…
The nurse practitioner held my hand, asked me how I was feeling, helped me get some of my ibuprofen and drink it down. She seemed very concerned. All very kind considering that she had just learned she would be speaking at the HPV movie thing and that I was involved.
After my breathing got back to normal and the tears stopped falling down my face, she told me to lay there as long as I needed. She, and the other NP with her, quietly left the room. I lay on that exam table, and the tears came back.
It was a pity party I suppose. I lay there crying and trying to remember to be thankful that this was an experience in which I had had tremendous luck. No chemo. No radiation. a tumor the size of a grain of salt.
I lay there looking at the light above me. Trying to make it something more than just a light, making a distraction from the pain in my internal surgical site and the pain in my heart.
My heart did hurt, I had a vaccine preventable disease.
Let me say that again, I was diagnosed with a vaccine preventable disease.
One that would have prevented everything, a sub-total hysterectomy, worry, agony… and today’s darn biopsy.
It is a vaccine preventable disease.
Granted, I was born before this miracle vaccine was developed. But it is a vaccine preventable disease.
And as I ran through a list of people I do not particularly care for, not one of them and not one of their children were eligible for my wanting them to suffer what I had suffered through, I AM suffering through.
Vaccinate your children. In some cases yourself. Your boys. Your girls. This alternative is not fun. not fun at all. The HPV vaccine is good for kids aged 9 to adults aged 26.
It is a vaccine preventable disease.

..

A year in my life

A year ago, I had sent my son off to Europe and missed him terribly.

I think it was the Starbucks app of the week that was a picture a day app. I downloaded it, because;
1) it was free
2) I was thinking about documenting how much I missed my son

So, I took the selfie… and time flowed and I stuck to it and yesterday I got a notice that I had taken 365 photos.

One year, one insane year.

A son sent abroad at a very young age and being diagnosed with cancer. Not really sure which was hardest at the inception.

I missed my son terribly and was so happy when I reunited with him.

And hearing you have cancer sucks, sucks, sucks… and somehow it infiltrates everything.

But I missed my son and that was the hardest thing ever, and yes.. in a way, it was harder than being told one has cancer.

But the cancer things has its own craziness, craziness that makes everything outside the norm seem so much scarier.

So here is that one year of selfies, and as I sit here trying to figure out what all to tell my oncologist when I call him tomorrow, I think I look so much happier now than I did when I missed my son so much!

https://www.flickr.com/apps/video/stewart.swf

It was smaller than a mustard seed (or “How ya doin’?”)

“How are you doing?”

I get asked this a lot. I mean a lot more than usual, a lot, a lot. I imagine it is the result of their knowing I was diagnosed with cancer, and with a subsequent surgery.
It is an even more complex question to answer now.
The nuances of recovery from my surgery are interesting.
On one level, I am so incredibly lucky that it is a true cause of celebration. I wonder how rare it is to get a cancer when it is under 1 mm.
In one study that I read about cervical cancer, the data regarding the tumor sizes (not direct to the study, but the data was presented) said the mean size was 2cm and the median was 1.8 cm (of the tumors in the study).
I was at 0.8 MILLIMETERS
a grain of salt.
       a grain of salt, on a pinhead.

Smaller than a mustard seed.
The average size (from that one study) is like a marble, or a quarter, or a stamp.
A stamp, rather enlarged
I am so insanely lucky. However, my cells had made the crossover from being atypical to being cancer. The cells in question had moved from being In Situ to being nefarious (micro-invasive was the word) things…. So I said get it out.
It was aggressive in terms of the treatment I chose. I didn’t, however, want to revisit this conversation of “You have cancer” again. At least not for this.
So, the surgery for a grain of salt included my  the removal of entire uterus, through a long abdominal incision. It included the removal of my Fallopian tubes, sixteen lymph nodes, and some tissue that surrounded my uterus.
For something the size of a grain of salt.
The surgery was traumatic. My body does not feel normal, though it feels like it should feel normal. No visible parts are missing, but there is the scar that travels along my lower abdomen.
My girly bits and stomach are numb. My scar itches. There is a heaviness where I image the lymph nodes were. Cold causes a strange ache. I get exhausted easily and try to balance everything.  There is something I will refer to as exudate. My stitches have yet to dissolve. I don’t feel good in the sense that I feel limber and mobile. My abdomen feels  tight and yet wobbly.
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Johnston
This post originally appeared elsewhere.