I received a phone call one day from someone I care about but I’m not vey close to. He called to tell me that he had cancer. He didn’t tell me what kind or what was being done about it. A year later, medical records confirmed that he did indeed have cancerous cells removed from his body. To this day he doesn’t talk about it. I remembered thinking how odd it was and if he had it, why didn’t he just talk about it?
Many people handle their illnesses differently. Some choose to join Relay for Life. Others choose to stay quiet. Some rely on their family and community and others will tell complete strangers. Some blog, some Facebook, some get angry if you even bring it up.
Recently, a very good friend of my dad’s passed away from a difficult battle with cancer. I want to be there for my dad; be someone he can rely on, someone he can talk to. I want him to know I care. But it’s not something I can do.
I don’t join Relay for Life even though I believe in it. I don’t talk to family or friends about it, and I definitely don’t make a big deal in front of my kids. When people ask me questions, I smile and joke and tell them it wasn’t that big of a deal.
If you ask me about my wig, I’ll tell you the best places to shop. I’ll joke about bad hair days and show you what I look like with a blonde or purple wig. But if you ask me how I lost my hair, I’m bound to tell you it’s a long story that doesn’t matter. I even allow my son to pat my growing belly and joke that my baby is getting bigger.
There’s no baby in my tummy. According to latest x-rays it’s a 3 cm lump that looks like a fluid-filled cyst with something more than fluid in it. Not cancerous they say. But with it growing, it’s bound to come out by surgery soon. I don’t worry about it much; I’ve been through worse.
Today when I came home I looked at my medical records one more time. I recently ordered all my records from the various doctors in the various states that I’ve been treated in. I’m surprised that I never took control of my health before. Had I paid more attention, I would have noticed that five years ago that simple day surgery was much more than I had ever thought it to be. I remember weeks after that surgery the doctor telling me that the cells they removed from my cervix were much worse than we thought (not just HPV) and that I had to see an OB every three months. He said “OB doctor” so I didn’t think much of it.
Another doctor told me that was too extreme. Of course, he didn’t have those medical records either. If we had had them, we would have realized that the HPV had become so advanced, that I would have died from cancer without that surgery. I’m just now finding out about it five years later. I didn’t have insurance back then. No one bothered to have a sit down with me to explain it. Just a “We got all of it in surgery. You’re going to be okay.” No oncologist. Just regular OB follow-ups.
Last year I went through the same thing. Went in for a yearly exam and walked out afraid for my life. “It’s bad,” she told me. I had a few surgeries that year. Turns out there were other complications: a thyroid issue and a dietary problem that could only be fixed by going on a gluten-free diet which I don’t exactly follow like I should. At one point I was sent home with medications in which I was warned that I would become very sick, bed ridden. My hair began falling out until I couldn’t take it and shaved it all off. I never lost all of it. My eyebrows and eyelashes thinned but that was all. Nothing like the scary stories you read about on the internet.
I pulled those medical records not long ago and finally went to see someone. My parents would not be happy to hear that it is alternative medicine, but it’s what I can afford without insurance and honestly, he’s one of the few people who has helped me. I know that the next tests and possible surgery is still coming very soon, however. But I’m still not worried. I know what they’re looking for at this point.
If you ask someone about breast cancer, you will have a broken heart hearing about all they went through. But every time I have ever spoken to someone in my situation, you will hear guilt. Cervical cancer is often caused by HPV – an STD. It’s embarrassing and the woman will feel like it was all her fault and she could have prevented it but didn’t.
In these situations, you are bound to find a woman who doesn’t open about it. In my situation, it life as we know it. I keep things as normal as possible. There’s no reason not to – I’m not dying. But even if I were, I wouldn’t want to put that stress on my children.
We don’t use the “C” word in my house. Not because we are afraid of it, but because it symbolizes, in my mind, a terminal illness. And I know that I will survive, and I will do it my way – by going about my daily routine, wearing my wig until the long dark hair I had before grows back, joking about what did happen, and not talking about what could have but didn’t happen.