Category Archives: invisible

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.

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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.

A seasonal urge

I grew up in the land of eternal spring… some even called it eternal fall.

I never have experienced four strong seasonal changes… usually it was two… but it could even be argued that there was one season unless one counts “more rain” as another season.

Ecuador had that… rain and more rain, it was eternal spring, or something akin to the glorious autumn season of the southwestern US.

Yes, it is confusing, but the big seasonal denominator for me has been the presence or absence of rain.

Today was that kind of day here in my beloved American Southwest… overcast and lightly rainy. A huge high pressure system that seemed unexpected causing tension headaches and achy bones. The release when the rain managed to push past. The smell of creosote wafting in the air.

I always feel a different kind of contentment in the rain, no matter in what part of the world I am in. If there is rain, I get this feeling. It isn’t particularly productive, but is a certain kind of peace or contentment. Though I do tend to write more when I can hear water droplets hitting the windows or the cadence of rain on the tin roof of my back porch. I feel the magic that my favorite authors are able to convey about this world, the kind that feeds the stories of Borges, Allende, Esquivel, and Garcia Marquez. While I do not claim that there is a Latin Exclusivity to the genre, as a daughter of its lands, I can understand the origins every so deeply.

When it rains, the world feels magical.

Rain in the magical jungle city of Tena in Ecuador


“The seasonal urge is strong in poets. Milton wrote chiefly in winter. Keats looked for spring to wake him up (as it did in the miraculous months of April and May, 1819). Burns chose autumn. Longfellow liked the month of September. Shelley flourished in the hot months.” Helen Bevington 

Peek-A-Boo – I can’t seeeeeeeeee you…..

Oh my, how many times did I play that game as a new mother…. There were countless delights in the delight and giggles of my newborn son. I loved watching my son take his turn,  cover his eyes, and then swiftly moving his hands away. Staring at me, wide eyed, with the expression of “Mom, I was here the whole time”, laughing as I pretended that I could not see him.
The idea is to learn object permanence.
My brother, when he was young, used to close his eyes when he wanted to be alone (no matter how many people were in the room with him). He was completely convinced (I believe) that if he could not see us, that we were no where near him.
People were and are always present to each other. This is true, even if you adopt some sort of frantic philosophy in which you would argue that everything is not real. That my brother was, in fact, alone and/or there was no one in front of my son when he had his eyes covered.
I thought about these times after I read this article  the other day.
I find humans to be fascinating, we are social beings. There must be some kind of thinking that has an application to technology and how we tend to act towards each other. I mean, why do we act so terribly when we can’t see the face of the other… trolls, for example, thrive on this, I would argue that they depend on it.
I’ve been told that gossip serves a crucial social role for us humans. Gossip moderates our social behaviour… and I think that it applies to this in a certain context. So, imagine if you will, how easy it would be to scold someone you know via text or email if you did not have to see them. One would put their scorn into a few words and be as clear, concise and I might argue brutal… after all we want to make sure the point gets across.
This message puts the other end of the social interaction on the defensive. It is more likely than not, that a series of texts or emails get exchanged with a defensive end and an aggressive end. For delicate social relationships, this is probably not the best way to go about communicating.
This is so hard for people like me who hate talking on the phone. I prefer a text, or an email. I tend to not even want to talk to people. I am an introvert.
This is a modern day reliance that tends to be abused. When I sit on a board or committee, I tend to default to this. I have noticed that feelings get hurt so much more quickly over text or email. I know that I have been on the hurt end. I know I have also been on the giving end…. though not usually in giving of a complaint, but in pursuing a conversation.
So, I ponder the reliance I myself have on technology to communicate my feelings. I am trying to move away from it. Of course, I have this (these, actually) blog(s), they are a public written communication. And my blog is also subject to vitriol and complaint.
Text, email, and even blogs are devoid of any kind of social interaction. When we speak we can at the very least know that the subtle intonations are being heard (even if misheard). When we write, sarcasm doesn’t usually translate. When we speak, there is a possibility we can react to body language. When we text, we don’t.
So much is inferred through sight and hearing. I can see if the person I am speaking to has outward signs of having a bad day. I can hear if someone is making a joke. And though people miss these cues often when in person or over the phone, we are less likely to miss them than if we text.
In the days of “The FaceBook”, Twitter, email, text, instant message… we have lost the physical interface.
If you consider things like FacebookTwitter, or even blogs you can see  how there is a modicum of backlash. Will we learn how to do this better? 
When will learn to be more gentle with one another?